The directors… ‘Oh what a lovely war’

Shelley Brownlee co-directed Oh what a lovely war with Laura Merrett. Both were new members of the Players and neither had directed before.

Laura Merrett and I, co-directors of the most recent St George’s Players production, Oh what a lovely war’ (OWALW), met when we were both cast in Rope (Spring 2015). We discovered a shared love for OWALW; Laura’s parents performed in it when she was young, as did I when I was 18 (a long time ago now).

At first, we were a bit anxious about the idea of directing. But with the support of the group – and belief in our own ability – we took it on and didn’t really look back (mostly because if we had looked back, we would have panicked).

This was our first time directing and we found it challenging, but in the best possible way. You need to be committed from the very beginning, and you need to pick a play you understand and for which you have a passion.

The right team

The success of this production would not have been achievable without the team work of the cast – along with an ability to have a bit of fun and laugh at ourselves. The other crucial part was the backstage assistance. We had an excellent team in Madeleine (ingenious costume and props design and sourcing), as well as Vicky (our militant and hyper organised stage manager) and Tim (musical maestro).

Get the scripts down as soon as possible

We instructed the cast to learn their parts by heart quite early in the rehearsal schedule. It worked effectively with this play, as movement and interaction between the cast were as important as the words themselves. And it allowed the cast to devote more time to understanding the characters.

Inform the cast

Another tip for a production such as this, where historical context (not only on the First World War, but also on the time that the play was developed) is essential, is to make sure you inundate the cast with podcasts and articles to read online. There is a wealth of publicly available material on which to build on understanding of the times. It really helped the cast understand the significance of the play and its many devices.

Do not take yourself too seriously

You really do need to have fun with it! Production week is always a bit fraught as nerves are building and there is a real sense of having to deliver. But it should remain fun, enabling people to relax and enjoy each other’s’ company, as well as each other’s mishaps.

Do what you’re good at

One last piece of advice – play to your strengths as a co-director. Do not duplicate work for one another. Laura and I brought different qualities to the roles and I know that really assisted the cast.

If Shelley’s account of first time directing has inspired you, do contact us to discuss the play you are interested in bringing to the stage. Remember, while the director leads the production, the Players are on hand to help out with everything from costumne and set design, to puiblicity and front of house.