Director Sammi Canning explains how rehearsals are going for The Downsview Players’ next production, The Father, which follows the life of a man living with dementia and the impact this has on him and his family. The play starts at 8pm at Downsview Methodist Church, Waddington Way, SE19, on 23, 24 and 25 November.
Why did you want to direct this play?
"I read this play about five years ago after my husband, Steve, recommended it. It was such an emotional and powerfully tragic black comedy that I knew that I wanted to either direct or take part in this play. It’s so beautifully written with such care and attention to those small details and nuances. I finished reading it while on my commute to work, and cried whilst walking through Blackfriars Train Station – it was so moving!"
"I finished reading it while on my commute to work, and cried whilst walking through Blackfriars Train Station..."
How is the play coming along?
"I’m really pleased with the progress of this play; I’ve been exceptionally fortunate with my cast. They have thrown themselves into their characterisation. Not only are they asking questions and tweaking their performances, but they’re also gaining confidence and getting completely absorbed into the play. They have a great understanding of what they’re trying to achieve which makes my life easier, too. I’m blown away by their commitment and professionalism."
How have the actors dealt with the challenges of this play?
"I ran a few in-depth character workshops with the cast. It gave them the opportunity to look at their character’s motivations, purpose and objectives. It was a great exercise and opportunity to deep dive into their own personal experiences and that of their character’s psyche. A back story always helps, so I encourage them to develop this as it allows grounding, objectivity and empathy which can be a core driver for their character. We had some great insights and feedback, so it was worth exploring. It’s also made it easier for the actors to deal with the more challenging scenes."
How have you all kept your spirits up when rehearsing this play despite its tragic content?
"Luckily, and I mean luckily, we have a witty and funny cast, so we try to see the humour in the more light-hearted excerpts of the script (we make the most of it). Normally, we start with a few anecdotes of the day. One cast member went on holiday recently and posted hilarious pics and footage of himself reading his script, from mountain tops to floating on his back in the pool. It started a trend, so everyone is doing the same when they’re away. Having our dogs at rehearsals also relieves the tension, especially when they have a little accident on stage! Lastly, if that doesn’t work, then I ply them with sweets and chocolates!"
What has been the biggest challenge in terms of the set for this play?
"This is a popular play, and everyone has their own interpretation of how they feel it should look and feel. The biggest challenge has been how to interpret some scenes in terms of furniture placement, lighting and sound and pushing some boundaries to make the set look more intriguing in line with the script. We’ve had a great creative team, and they’ve understood my vision so, hopefully, everything will come together nicely! Other than that, my lips are sealed!"
What do you hope the audience will gain from watching this play?
"I truly believe that this play will have an impact on the audience - be it positive or negative. My wish is for the audience to leave with a better understanding of the complexities surrounding not only the person living from dementia, but of the challenges and impact facing their loved ones and families. I love the rawness of the script, with ever-changing emotions, which I think highlights authenticity beautifully. Dementia is a new and different reality, and it needs to be approached with patience, love, empathy and understanding."
The Downsview Players will have a cake sale at each performance to raise money for Alzheimer's Research UK - the UK’s leading dementia research charity working to revolutionise the way dementia is treated, diagnosed and prevented.
This amateur production of “The Father (Hampton/Zeller)” is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals Ltd. on behalf of Samuel French Ltd.
All photos (c) Lis Parham