Ben Kidd: 'Directing can be a very lonely job'

The director of hit show ”Lippy” discusses his approach to directing and the new play he’s worked on at the Gate Theatre ”In the Night Time (Before the Sun Rises)”

Director Ben Kidd
Director Ben Kidd

If you want to make a proper living as a director, you do have to be a bit cynical to get the jobs. But at the same time I think there’s something to be said for the places you want to work finding you. Chris [Haydon, artistic director of the Gate Theatre] thought of me when he read In the Night Time (Before the Sun Rises). He had a hunch I would like it, which was right. The Gate is a good place to be. It’s a place of great creativity.

In the Night Time … is quite fantastical. Which attracted me to it. Nina [Segal, the writer] has made it formally experimental. The way it tells the story is just as important as the content, or is even part of the content. I’ve always been interested in plays and theatre in which the performers acknowledge that they are there and they talk directly to the audience. That’s something I think should happen in every show.

The play deals with concerns that seem to be swimming around my head a lot. It has a tone of anxiety and fear. I think there have been quite a few works recently that have tried to address what the internet means to us. I think Nina's play is an internet play, in the best possible way. There’s a line in it: "the world is more than we could ever hope to know or understand." It focuses on two parents, who are up all night with a crying baby, who are crippled by the amount they know about the world and the lack of what they can do.

The piece is freeing, in a way, it’s very poetical, it’s provocative. I’m always excited by working out what something is, how it can live. I think my role as a director is to try to imaginatively connect with the play, then connect to the writer. Then you have to get the actors to return the sensation you had when you first read it.

Alex Waldmann and Adelle Leonce in In the Night Time (Before the Sun Rises)
Alex Waldmann and Adelle Leonce in In the Night Time (Before the Sun Rises)
© Bill Knight

I went to Dublin in 2012 because my friend had a script he wanted to stage. That was called Souvenir, and it was slightly silly, very mad. Then we made Lippy, which went to a lot of countries, people liked it, although it was also quite a divisive work. Lippy has had the sort of reaction that would give anyone a boost. It’s not financially lucrative, but it has toured to a lot of countries.

One of the hardest things in this job is to work out where your career is at. I feel blessed that I’m working. I’ve not had to do much temping in the last few years. But I’m not buying a house or anything.

Directing can be a very lonely job. Often you feel as though you’re in competition with everyone. In my subjective experience, it’s been a slog, often depressing and really badly remunerative. But on the other hand what I like about it is that you’re caring about art, thought, emotion and people’s souls.

Most of what I’ve done in the last few years has been new work. The idea of just doing an old text again – I don’t think I have the sensitivity for that. Some people are turned on by recreating a room, a fictional era, with sensitivity. I am better at just having a go, rather than being very precise. Often I feel as though I am making it up as I go along.

In the Night Time (Before the Sun Rises) runs at the Gate Theatre until 27 February.