It’s late on the Monday night of Reading week and I’ve met Tamsin and Ben in the Arts Building Foyer. They’ve just finished another near 3-hour rehearsal, and have been running Ben’s lines for 45 minutes after everyone else went home because the principal character, Charlie Hunt, barely leaves the stage throughout the entire run.
What should the audience expect when they turn up to a performance of How To Disappear Completely & Never Be Found?
Tamsin: I think they’ll be expecting standard Jane Holloway show. You come in, sit down, mumble a bit, then the lights go down and the show begins… that’s not what they’ll be getting at How To Disappear, not in the slightest. The audience should expect to be immersed in the world of the play, for the full two and a half hours – interval included.
So when there are plays floating around Campus like The History Boys, that people know, have seen before and know that they love, why should they go to see How To Disappear…?
[Ben gestures to Tamsin, pointing out something on the inside cover of his How To Disappear edition]
Tamsin: Yeah [they laugh], people should go and see it because it’s ‘An Award Winning Play’. No, they should go and see How To Disappear… because it’s something new – it’s something that they haven’t seen. With The History Boys there’s been a film, a long run at the National, it toured. Everybody knows it and in some ways, people knew what to expect. With How To Disappear it’s new and exciting – and not just a play, It’s going to be a theatrical experience as well, rather than just ‘sit down and consume’.
So is that your aim, to make something that’s different?
Tamsin: Yeah, I wanted to make something that people hadn’t seen before that was new and exciting and make people get excited as soon as they’ve walked in. And when they leave, be reeling from it for a while. I didn’t want them to feel settled and warm inside when they leave.
So why did you choose this instead of something else?
Tamsin: I chose this play purely based on the title, I did a bit of research and offered two titles of plays to a group of friends and the majority chose this one. I’ve realised that advertising on campus is key, so I wanted an interesting play title. Then I ordered the play, read it and loved it and … the rest is history as they say.
So what was it that made you decide that you had to put it on?
Tam: Because it captured my imagination and I saw it onstage in my head after the first reading. And I can’t rest literally until I have put it on stage.
So what are everyone’s chances of having heard of How To Disappear… beforehand?
Tamsin: I have no hope that anyone will have heard of it before, except I think that it was used as an A level text last year… but other than that people won’t know what it is because it was first performed in 2007, so it’s very modern, but I think that’s really good because it’s really up to date and on the pulse and it’s interesting for everyone. It’s like a modern morality tale/fable, and also because it’s about London and Southend – so close to Holloway.
So what’s the difference between this production and the others that you’ve worked on?
Tamsin: It’s a step into new writing, which I haven’t directed before. I’ve directed modern classics and early 20th Century classics, but this is brand-spanking new which was really exciting for me because it means that my interpretation of the text and my staging wont have been done anywhere else and that’s what I really enjoy, I really love finding new ways of staging things and this play was very easy to stage in a new way.
So Ben, how has it been different for you?
Ben: It’s infinitely more depressing than anything I’ve worked on before… to play, that makes it quite difficult because what you don’t want it to become is too much of one note. A lot of the roles I get in plays are smaller and so you try to spice it up a bit, but with this its very clear how it’s supposed to be done and you’ve got to bring the variation yourself I guess. It’s a very different style of writing to what I’ve encountered before. I done classics, Shakespeare and a 21st Century classic – The History Boys – which is very sparse writing, this is very heavy.
What about the way that Tamsin’s running the production?
Ben: Personally, I’ve never done something that involves so much character work, I’ve never ever had a director take so much time and attention over characters. It’s always been very much ‘get up, do the words’. Most directors don’t seem to pay much attention to the words and it’s great to see someone who does both.
Do you think that Charlie Hunt is a character that needs that kind of care and attention?
Ben: I do, yes. Obviously the nature of the play means that he has a lot to say and it would be very easy to look at what he says and gloss over it and say ‘Well, the play’s about him, it’s inevitable that there’s going to be a line that gets rid of all the clunk; all the exposition.’ Tamsin made it very clear that nothing is throw-away. He deserves the attention because otherwise he would become the character of one note. If you don’t put in the time and the effort then he’ll lose interest – he’ll get very boring very quickly just because of the amount of things that he has to say. And keeping the variety means that you have to invest your attention in the language.
So what was the hardest part about becoming Charlie?
Ben: The extremity of the performance, what it requires – what it demands – is quite horrible. It’s quite big, and requires a big performance. You can’t hide in this play, quite literally I don’t go offstage. I’ve never done a play where I don’t leave the stage before. It’s terrifying.
And to capture the whole play in a sentence…
Ben: I find this play genuinely quite difficult to describe. What would you say?
Tamsin: The most stressful, but the most exiting thing I’ve done in my life?
Ben: Yeah, I’d say stressful, exciting… Because when I read it, it did jump at me. It was a shock to realise that what goes on in the play is quite common, not just statistics. Ah, you should put this in… [He gets the book out and begins to read out loud] ‘A 2003 study [on missing persons] ‘found that less than one percent are due to abuse or abduction, around a third are thought to have drifted out of touch with family and two thirds of these missing people when traced say that they did it deliberately.’ So it’s shocking, but shocking is too overused a word, it implies that it’s going to be about sex etc., but it’s not it’s about life.
Tamsin: It’s true I guess. It’s really truthful and it’s applicable to people. I think this play will pop the Holloway bubble and will shake people up, make them realise that it’s not all about going to the union and getting drunk and missing your lectures and fannying about… there is a world out there and it’s not very nice.