Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Dramaturgy Trap: Johnny McKnight @ Dundee Rep


With an exceptional cast assembled and an exciting creative team ready to go, Dundee Rep Ensemble’s first show of 2018 begins with the most successful thriller in Broadway history. Today, rehearsals begin for the highly anticipated production of Ira Levin’s Deathtrap – performed by the award-winning Dundee Rep Ensemble.

Deathtrap will run from Tuesday 20 February – Saturday 10 March at Dundee Rep Theatre.

What was your inspiration for this performance? 

Deathtrap by Ira Levin is a clear play upon the popular thrillers that have went before it - Dial M For Murder, Sleuth, Rope, Gaslight.  The piece plays with the genre, plays with the idea of what sort of mind would write one of these thrillers and, indeed, are they a clear thrill seeker just like the devious minds of the characters that live within the play.  

There’s an over-arching meta angle running through the play that - despite it being written in the late 70s - still makes it feel questioning and interrogating of the theatricality it presents.  In terms of how I’m directing the piece I’m drawing reference on all of that genre - the work of Hitchcock, film noir and, indeed, those thrillers that are referenced throughout the piece.  

How did you become interested in making performance?

I studied at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland on the Contemporary Theatre Practice course (now CPP).  The work we made was devised performance but, as I developed through the course I started to get interested in how the process of devising can become a written piece of work.  My initial work was devised in the room with a group of performers but then I started to get frustrated at the lack of a cohesive voice, or author.  From there I started to write, and then adding ten years onto that journey and exploration, I veered on an entirely new path - my interest being in written text - work thats made in the room from a very cohesive and structured blueprint of an author.  

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?

Absolutely.  The exciting thing about being in a rehearsal room is that you and the actors and the production team are there to try and solve a problem - how to present a play/an idea/a story.  How do we tell that story?  Through whose eyes?  What attitude and view do we place on that story?  How do we wish to present it to an audience?  I think theatres at its best when its audience is engaged and questioning.  

Answers aren’t required but that moment that draws an audience forward in the their seat - that’s where the magic is - that moment where the question on stage draws us in further, makes us wonder what will happen next.  Theatres at its best when it questions, not answers.  

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

I think my approach differs from piece to piece.  its about working with the creative team, finding a way for all of us to work through the piece and examine it as rigorously as possible.  I always have a few ground rules that I think I need for myself.  

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

In some ways its a bit of a departure, normally I suppose I work with my own new writing (and I guess I work a lot on comedy).  This piece is different though - tonally, story wise.  It's American in flavour, heightened and operatic at times, there’s a sense of melodrama that runs through it.  That's quite a departure from my normal Scottish based work.  

However I think when you have a piece of writing like this script -  that’s so taut and tight and well thought out - you’re starting rehearsals with a  real sense of security (my own insecurities of being the author are, indeed, chucked out the window which is nice).  What it all comes down to is telling a good story, and this ones pretty bloody great it has to be said.  

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I want the audience to experience exactly what I felt when I read the script for the first time - the thrill of the story, the twists and turns and thrills that keeps me turning the page with a  real sense of excitement.  

I want to make sure we capture the laughs and thrills and jeopardy that I felt for the characters when I first read it.  For me, theatres at its very best when its unapologetically entertaining, when it absolutely grabs its audience and doesn’t let it go for the whole performance, that’s what we’re all hoping to find in our production of Deathtrap.   
Dundee Rep is thrilled to welcome award-winning writer and director, Johnny McKnight who will be directing for the first time at the Rep. Perfectly combining suspense and humour; this Tony Award-nominated play offers twists and turns, as well as laughs. 

McKnight brings this truly satisfying spine-chiller with gasps and giggles that is guaranteed to surprise and challenge audiences. Deathtrap promises a maze of shock plot twists, following washed-out playwright Sidney Bruhl who hasn’t had a hit play in years, we witness how far he will go to become a Broadway hit once again.

This edge-of-the-seat production of this murder-mystery play stars the Rep’s resident Ensemble members Ewan Donald, Lewis Howden, Irene Macdougall, and Emily Winter alongside new graduate apprentice, Tom England – who is making his main stage debut at the Rep. 

Speaking about what audiences can expect from this iconic play, Johnny McKnight, Director, said:

“I’m delighted to be working at Dundee Rep. As my first time working at the theatre I’ve admired the plethora of excellent productions presented at the Rep over the years: from Sunshine On Leith to Great Expectations, The Cheviot, The Stag and The Black Black Oil to And Then There Were None. I’ve always been struck by the sheer versatility and power of the Rep actors, so to finally have the opportunity to work with them is a real joy. The script Deathtrap proved irresistible - where else can you find a thriller that so enjoys playing with its audience, taking them through a maze of twists and turns, providing shocks and belly laughs.  I’ve always said that theatre’s at its best when it’s at its most entertaining, Deathtrap provides us with this – it’s full of gasps, giggles and horror. Our aim for this production is to give the audience at Dundee Rep a real rollercoaster of a night out.” 

Cast List

Ewan Donald

Tom England (Graduate Actor)

Lewis Howden

Irene Macdougall

Emily Winter

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