At 24, Andrew Whyment has already done things that most would only dream of achieving in a lifetime. An acclaimed director and theatrical entrepreneur, his directorial credits include productions at the Old Vic Tunnels. He is an associate of the National Youth Theatre and runs his own company, Squint, which has received rave reviews for productions Bluebird and Frozen, the latter of which was described as “fascinating”, “skilful” and “slick” by reviewers.
On paper he’s a youthful amalgamation of Kevin Spacey and Alan Sugar. However, upon meeting Whyment, currently doing an MFA in Theatre Directing at Birkbeck College, it is immediately obvious that any hunger for fame and power is not part of his agenda. Rather, he’s the kind of director who believes in being absolutely engaged with every aspect of his productions, in working collaboratively and in challenging himself continually.
“I like to think I take risks as often as possible,” he tells me in between sips of tea. Whyment created Squint when he was only in his second year of university. “I knew that I wanted to test myself.” He describes the risk he took in staging the play Bluebird, which stunned audiences in 2011 at the Fringe. “[The playwright] Simon Stevens tells you in Bluebird that it is set almost entirely in a taxi. I would never choose to ignore that, because that is what he asks for in his script. But in theatre there is only so many ways you can do that. And we chose not to represent that taxi in any kind of naturalistic or conventional way. Our risk was to use the entire space as the interior of this taxi and have seats that could float about and move and people could stand up as much as they wanted and walk.”
Although dedicated to directing theatre, Whyment’s enduring engagement with film, music and acting strongly informs his work. “I guess somewhere I have always been directing but I’ve underscored that with lots of different things.” Having studied Film and Theatre at Reading University, aspects of film direction are integrated into Whyment’s approach to the stage. “I knew I wanted to be somewhere that looks at how the two combine.” He scans new writing for “pieces that have that filmic quality”, believing that it’s this visual panoramic feel that makes Squint’s work accessible to audiences.
Whyment’s history of working with sound also influences the musicality of Squint’s shows. “When I was at school, what got me into theatre was actually doing sound design and working creatively in technical fields. I do a lot of stuff with music and sound… but I’m not a musician by any means.”
Part of Whyment’s vast portfolio is an array of acting experiences. He enthusiastically emphasises the huge impact the National Youth Theatre has had on his career. “NYT has made me never feel intimidated by the industry because since I was 18 I felt like I have been in it already.” From being a young actor in the company to becoming an Associate, NYT seems to have provided Whyment with brilliant opportunities and he can’t recommend it enough to young people trying to penetrate the industry.
Does he miss acting? “I do! I love to be directed.” He recalls a particularly memorable experience from a run of interactive theatre in Glastonbury Festival’s Block 9, inside a set built to replicate the London underground. Whyment started performing at midnight each night and worked till 4am each morning. The run was for 11 nights. He confesses, “I didn’t shower the whole time I was there”.
With a weekend of casting for their new production coming up, I wonder whether Whyment looks for similar balls of steel in his performers. “If someone has a strange tic, that you can’t quite put your finger on and there is something just really intriguing about it, then they are probably more likely to be cast then someone who is a bit plain.” So is he only keen to direct eccentrics? “There are two things that I want, one is talent, but more importantly is for you to be a really nice person. It sounds really hippy but it’s essential. I don’t want any divas.”
It is no wonder that Whyment values congeniality so highly when a strong part of Squint’s ethos is collaborating with everyone involved in the creative process. “We are somewhere in between new writing and devised theatre, and I quite like that we are in the middle.” I ask him what defines whether a show has been successful or not. The reviews? The audience numbers? After a moment’s thought he responds, “If you can get every single member of your team, even if all they do is plug in something before the show and then cue someone on stage, if all of those people or as many as possible feel ownership of what they’re doing, then you are going to get the best theatre possible.”
Now well on his way to being a renowned director, it seems that Whyment is a bit of a Renaissance man; unafraid of getting his hands dirty as a performer, bringing aspects of film and sound into the creative space and taking risks at every opportunity. It looks like he’s got it all sorted, so is there any one piece of advice he would give to someone who’d like to take a similar path?
His answer is that you shouldn’t be afraid to take part in a lot of different projects. As long as you are engaged with each one of them, he believes there’s nothing wrong with throwing yourself into many roles. “If you want to juggle several things then do, because if you are questioning whether or not you’ll be able to, you probably can.” It’s an encouraging message for anyone with big ambitions who’s just starting out.
Squint recently showcased new show Broken News at the New Wimbledon Studio, with a tour in the pipeline for this year. To keep up to date with the company, follow them @squinttweet or visit their website, www.squintonline.com.
Image credit: Squint