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Brief Encounter With ... Mick Gordon

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Written and directed by Mick Gordon, Bea opens at the Soho Theatre on 7 December (previews from 1 December 2010) where it plays a limited run until 8 January 2011.

Pippa Nixon takes the title role in the play, which tells the story of a woman who suffering from MS and the impact the debilitating condition has on those around her. She is joined in the cast by Al Weaver who was recently seen in the BBC television series Sherlock Holmes and Paula Wilcox who is best known for her role in seventies TV drama Man about the House and more recently appeared in A Touch of Frost and Emmerdale.

Formally artistic director of the Gate Theatre and Trevor Nunn's associate at the National Theatre, Mick Gordon, tells us about producing the show, and other work of his company On Theatre.

What is Bea about?

Bea is a young, vivacious woman who asks her mother to help her do a terrible thing. I am trying to write a play that deals with a situation, which we might all prefer not to empathise with. I don’t want to say too much more otherwise I will ruin your evening at Soho Theatre!

Bea is your next show at Soho Theatre. What is it 'On'?

Empathy. What is the expanse, and what are the limits of human empathy? It is a central question for us all in our attempt to understand one another. Can we really put ourselves in someone else’s shoes? When and why can we not even be compassionate? And it is a fundamental question in the theatre, which relies on the empathy of audiences to work. Exploring how empathy functions is a key part of every theatre-maker’s job.

On Theatre has a unique creative process. Could you tell us a little bit about it?

Yes. It’s very simple. We identify a theme we think would be interesting for today’s audience, and then we ask a question of it. So for example with On Religion we asked: what place religion in 21st century London. For On Ego we asked: what makes us up? For Pressure Drop (On Identity) we asked: what makes reasonable people vote for fascists? Then we research the theme thoroughly, and largely by interviewing leading thinkers. Then we workshop the ideas and I then write a script which goes into production.

What are the trade-marks of an On Theatre show?

On Theatre shows are theatrically vibrant in terms of performance. You saw Pressure Drop at the Wellcome Gallery space where Billy Bragg, my co-writer performed with his band during the show. They are actor-centred. I go to the theatre to see great acting and On Theatre shows demand great acting. They are always very, very funny. I think this is partly because of my own sense of humour and partly because of the energy humour can bring to the stage. They are essentially human and humane, modern, thoughtful and hopefully, gently provocative.

You demand a lot of your actors and often complete your script in rehearsals. How does your cast find working in this way?

I wrote this play for Pippa Nixon whose work I have admired for years. She is a star in the making. Al Weaver is also exceptional and he has brought a supreme talent to his part. Paula Wilcox is a legend and her delicate experience and knowledge of play-making has helped me beyond description. Bea would be nothing without them.


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