The first time Hannah Davies and Mark Smith worked together as co-directors of a play, they faced a considerable obstacle.
The task at hand was an assignment for their MA in Theatre: Writing, Directing and Performance: a staging of Samuel Beckett’s Come and Go. Not surprisingly, they each had very different versions of it in mind. “We couldn’t have been more opposed in our interpretation of the play,” Smith recounts, “How were we going to direct it? We were sort of hitting our heads against each other.” Davies added: “It was either going to go really wrong or…”
Or, it would turn out well, and their professional partnership would result to be quite promising. Judging from the fact that next month the Drama Barn will house their newest collaborative endeavor, a double billing of one-acts—one written by Davies herself, who trained as an actor before switching to play writing, and who has participated in London’s Young Writers Festival—Beckett’s absurdist drama can’t have been too much to handle.
Davies’s one-act play, which she wrote over Christmas as another assignment, stood out to Mark Smith amongst all the other plays his classmates had written. “When I read Hannah’s, I was blown away,” he says. The success of their previous collaboration, in spite of the initial tension, says Mark, cemented the fact that they really could work together.
Davies’s play, Hot Stuff, premiers this weekend in the Drama Barn, and is directed by Smith. It explores the dynamic of a couple that goes on holiday to try and save their relationship, following them and an assortment of “third-wheel” characters; chronicling the ways in which their attempt to salvage their union ends up leaving them more damaged. Davies describes it as”‘witty and energetic, but dark”, and continues by saying “it is an autopsy of a relationship,” an artistic investigation of the different ways in which a relationship can go wrong.
“I find destructive relationships so interesting, especially ones which also have underlying love and friendship,” Davies describes. The play also relies on complicated stylistic structures that ask the audience themselves to piece the story together as the characters attempt to do the same to their connection.
Hot Stuff’s non-linear plot structure and enigmatic narration make it a good fit with the first play of the night, Pool (no water), written by Mark Ravenhill and also directed by Smith. The play has no explicit characters, relying instead on three actors simply following line divisions instead of portraying separate individuals. It focusses on a violent accident which profoundly affects a group of artist friends, and the resulting jealousies and fears.
So, are they worried about the response? Davies nobly admits that a finished script is still not a play, it’s the collaboration that matters, and that ideally her York debut will reflect this. She is keen that audiences judge the play on the same basis as they would any other, more established playwright, not focussing on the fact that she is a student.
As my last question, I asked Davies, “So, do you eventually want to be a playwright?” before immediately realizing—she obviously already is. If there’s another thing that one can be sure of, it’s that Davies and Smith exhibit that collective spirit necessary for the production of a drama. Now maybe at their performance, they will pass on the task of deciphering intricate stories and dealing with multiple interpretations to their audience.
Tickets are on sale in Vanburgh Stalls from 12 until 2, from Wednesday to Friday this week. The play runs from Friday 16 until Sunday 18. Performances begin at 7.30 pm.