20 Questions: Bad Jews director Michael Longhurst

‘I’m not Jewish but I found it incredibly universal in its appeal’

Michael Longhurst in rehearsals
Michael Longhurst in rehearsals
© Marc Brenner

1. What made you want to become a director?
Realising that if you gave a good note to a good actor extraordinary things happen.

2. If you hadn't, what might you have done professionally?
I was a big Ally McBeal fan so I'll say lawyer.

3. First big break?
Winning the Jerwood Directors Award at the Young Vic to stage debbie tucker green's dirty butterfly. An amazing play in an amazingly nurturing building.

4. Stand out career moment to date?
I've been privileged to direct two pairs of astonishing actors in Nick Payne's Constellations.

5. Any regrets?
Usually when I don't listen to my instincts.

6. What was the first thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you?
I remember a lot of dry ice in a production of Sleeping Beauty at The Orchard in Dartford.

7. And the last?
Watching Simon Stephens' Punk Rock in New York was pretty intense – the high school shooting finale was chillingly staged and chillingly resonant over there.

8. Who are your idols?
Productions by Robert LePage, Sebastian Nübling and Thomas Ostermeier have have blown my mind in the last ten years.

9. What's the best advice you've ever been given?
'Aim to be respected rather than liked' is pretty good if you've got a tendency to dodge giving tough notes.

10. Why did you want to direct Bad Jews?
Josh's writing is eye-wateringly funny whilst asking some incredibly profound questions. I heard about the play when I was directing in New York – I never saw it because we were previewing at the same time – but I was aware of the runaway hit it became and so was very excited to read it. I'm not Jewish but I found it incredibly universal in its appeal.

Ilan Goodman (Liam) and Gina Bramhill (Melody) in Bad Jews
Ilan Goodman (Liam) and Gina Bramhill (Melody) in Bad Jews
© Robert Workman

11. Describe the play in a sentence?
A rip-roaring inheritance battle between religiously zealous 'Super Jew' Daphna and her uber-liberal 'Bad Jew' cousin Liam.

12. What's your favourite line?
"Do NOT holocaust me" – 'holocaust' as a verb – ouch!

13. Any rehearsal room mishaps?
A burst inflatable mattress meant a fight scene became more vicious that it should have been.

14. What do you hope people take away from the production?
Sore cheeks from laughing and a moment's pause reflecting on the value of disappearing heritage and the rate of cultural homogenisation.

15. You recently took Constellations to Broadway – how was that experience?
Incredible and intense. In a city where one man's review has total sway over a production's success, I'm incredibly grateful it went our way. But it made me realise how incredibly lucky we are to have subsidised theatre over here that's made for artistic rather than commercial reasons and is affordable to watch.

16. If you could go back in time and see any production in history, what would it be?
John Tiffany's Glass Menagerie with Zach Quinto and Cherry Jones is one I'm gutted I missed recently. But probably a premier of one of the Ancient Greeks. Or Hamlet. Or…

17. How do you unwind?
Booze and a boogie. A walk over Waterloo Bridge at night is nice too.

18. If you could swap places with anyone for a day, who would it be?
There's some Catholic doctrine I'd rewrite if I were Pope.

19. Favourite theatre anecdote?
When pitching for a show in New York I was pre-screened by the (male) star's management and asked if I was straight or gay – bemused at the relevance I nonetheless admitted I was gay and was told to "be sure to concentrate when you meet him because he's really good-looking"!

20. What's next?
I'm directing Simon Stephens' Carmen Disruption at the Almeida. It's a haunting and surprising re-imagining of the opera exploring the possibility of love in our atomised world.

Bad Jews is at the Arts Theatre until 30 May 2015