A couple of years ago, I picked up a classic short story called The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, completely unaware how much of a feminist classic it is. An upcoming stage adaptation appeared on my radar and I was lucky enough to ask the director Dave Spencer about bringing the short story to life on stage. Dave’s directing credits include The Soul of Wittgenstein (Omnibus Theatre) and Dorian Gray (King’s Head Theatre). Dave was also associate director on La Boheme at the Trafalgar Studios. The Yellow Wallpaper runs at the Omnibus Theatre from 5th to 24th June, you can find tickets and more information about the production here https://www.omnibus-clapham.org/event/the-yellow-wallpaper/2018-06-05/
HS: What can audiences expect from The Yellow Wallpaper?
DS: Audiences should come ready for their expectations about the short story (if they’ve read it) to be blown out of the water. We’ve explored in depth the text and extrapolated it to find out how this woman came to be here, how someone can be ground down and abused subtly and constantly. We’re taking the short story and really seeing where we can go with it. So I’d like audiences to come on the journey with us!
HS: Where were the biggest challenges in directing an adaptation of a short story?
DS: In my view, you have the problem of being faithful to the original text, and the themes it uncovers and explores. With a longer story, such as a novel, there is more meat to get your teeth into, and if you therefore focus on the coming-of-age aspect, or the tragic aspect, you can pretty much get away with it because there will be that material there. With a short story however, there is far less to work with, far less to eke out. And if you go hugely off-piste the fans of the text will feel that you have done it a disservice somehow. I know we will avoid this, but it plays on my mind that people always have deeply held emotions for cult texts such as this.
HS: What made you want to direct this production?
DS: It is very current. Whilst we have made every effort to avoid contextualising the piece is a specific era or place, the themes and issues that the piece brings out are so of the zeitgeist. The ever-presence of gaslighting, misogyny, and social injustice is so much that work highlighting these imbalances is incredibly important, especially with the attack on civil liberties that is constantly occurring in today’s society.
HS: What was the collaboration process with writer Ruby Lawrence like on this production?
DS: Ruby and I have worked together previously and it’s always so wonderful to share a language and shorthand when it comes to creativity. We want a lot of the same results from theatre, and we also share a great number of ethical ideals, which I think makes us a great team to push this sort of work into the foreground. For the most part, the writing process was quite separate from me – I read an incredibly early draft and gave a few notes, and then a few months later saw the near-to-final draft and gave a few more notes. But I was never under any doubt that the resulting piece would be something that I would adore directing
Thanks so much to Dave for taking the time to answer my questions!
Until next time,