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Brief Encounter with ... Director Tamara Harvey

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Tamara Harvey directs the premiere of Joe Hammond's debut play Where the Mangrove Grows at Theatre503, where it opens tonight (9 November 2012, previews from 6 November).

Harvey's next project is at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of scale - the world premiere of Tim Rice musical From Here to Eternity, which opens at the West End's Shaftesbury Theate in September 2013.

What's Where the Mangrove Grows about?
It's about a young boy with a very big imagination who is trapped in a very small life.

How did you get involved with the project?
I was offered the project and as soon as I read the play, I knew I wanted to do it.  There's something very pure about Joe's writing - a simple honesty at its heart - which made me want to get into a rehearsal room with it. I think Lauren Benstead, our producer, had seen The Kitchen Sink by Tom Wells, which I directed at the Bush last year, and thought the play and I would be a good match. I'm also an admirer of the work that Theatre503 does so it was doubly appealing.

It's Joe's debut play - does that bring an added pressure to your role?
It's just a different kind of pressure. With a very established playwright or a tried and tested play, there's a pressure to live up to past successes.  The fact that this is Joe's debut means that we've all wanted him to have the best possible experience of bringing a play to life for the first time, which brings a certain pressure of its own.

Having said that, it also means that each step of the process is new and exciting for him - and therefore perhaps invigorated for us (though he's recently become a father for the first time so some of his excitement may just be sleep deprivation...).

Charlie Jones & David Birrell in Where the Mangrove Grows

There's an interesting disclaimer - 'contains themes that some audience members may find distressing' - could you tell us more?
Nope - not without spoiling the experience... But I will say it's a very witty play as well as leading us into some fairly dark places.  

How did you get into directing in the first place?
I was offered a place on an education scheme with an opera company that was visiting the Brighton Festival (where I grew up), which meant I was shadowing the two co-directors. About ten minutes into the first rehearsal on the first day, I knew with complete certainty that I'd found the work I wanted to do.

Career highlights to date?
Being a part of the Bush team during such an important moment in its history as we moved from the old home to the new. And then exploring the possibilities of the new theatre space as the first director to create a show in that building, both in its interim state (Where's My Seat?) and once it was fully open (The Kitchen Sink). Also I will never forget the marathon of running the technical rehearsals for Sixty-Six Books - teching 66 plays in five days with 23 other directors and 130 actors. Nor will I forget the intimacy of watching those same plays in Westminster Abbey at three in the morning with an audience who would never otherwise have been in that space in the middle of the night.

Dream collaborators?
Too many to name. Though I'm having a great time at the moment working with my husband who's composing the music for Where the Mangrove Grows.

You're directing From Here to Eternity next year - how did that come about?
Over two years ago when Lee Menzies first asked if I'd be interested in having a listen to some songs. I was in rehearsals at the time for The Contingency Plan at the Bush and I used to walk each morning from Elephant and Castle to Shepherd's Bush. It was a beautifully warm September and I would listen to those first few songs from the show whilst crossing some of the loveliest parks in London. It was a good start.  

It's not often you get to helm a new Tim Rice musical in the West End - would you describe it as your biggest project yet?
As I said earlier, every project feels big - or pressurised - for different reasons.  This one's no exception.  It's certainly been one of the longest in development, which is great now because we know we have extremely strong foundations as everything begins to gather speed.

What else is in the pipeline?
More and more of my time now is spent on From Here to Eternity but I'm also delighted to be developing a new project with Laura Wade. Watch this space...


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