Image by Simon Annand

The Father is a powerfully dark story about a couple at loggerheads over the future of their child. As Laura plants a seed of doubt to their daughter’s paternity, the Captain starts to unravel to a frightening climax. It is a fantastic script, one any upcoming theatre-maker would relish. Director Abbey Wright is no exception.

“I am drawn to Strindberg and find him terrifying,” she explains. “I think he writes from the unconscious and from a place of being lost, where anything can happen.

Jagged Fence’s production of The Father opened at Trafalgar Studios on the 11 March.  We caught up with Abbey Wright just after the show opened to talk about her experiences rehearsing, Strindberg’s play and her career to date.

“I was asked if I wanted to direct The Father by producer Emily Dobbs – I definitely did!” Wright speaks passionately about the script, adapted by Laurie Slade; “brutally real and absurdly poetic study of love and destruction”. Strindberg’s work demonstrates the treachery of one’s own mind, which fascinates Wright.

“The mind is a trap, and we are all trapped in our own way. Relationships bring pain and claustrophobia – there is no way out. We are all alone.”

Despite the bleakness, Slade draws out the humour in the story.

“This version is very funny. And we have a brilliant cast who can deliver the comedy and pain of the journey.”

The brilliant cast includes Alex Ferns, best known for his role in Eastenders, as The Captain, as well as producer Emily Dobbs as Laura. The performances, as well as the production in full, have received excellent reviews. The script lends itself to to powerhouse performances, which Wright has enjoyed guiding.

“Strindberg’s tireless and childlike study of the world and existence fascinates me. He is heroic in his search for structure and meaning” Wright described in detail some of Strindberg’s experiments, dreamlike scientific investigation which echoes through the character of The Captain,  “He has a similarly searching and exacting imagination. His study of meteorites seems like a cry of wonder into the void.”

Another production Wright remembers working on fondly is sinister story; The Eisteddfod by Lally Katz at The Bussey Building.

“It is about a brother and sister in their thirties who have regressed to childhood and become agoraphobic since the death of their parents. They retreat into their separate and shared fantasy worlds; the sister teaches German and Geography in her ‘classroom’ and takes an abusive lover, while the two together train to play Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in the upcoming Eisteddfod. It is such a liberating, hilarious, dark, fantastical, tender play. And we had a wonderful time staging it; it was a magical, collaborative experience.” 

Wright has enjoyed a fantastic career to date, assisting some of the most respected directors in contemporary theatre as well as embarking on her own productions. When asked what she has learned from her experiences, Wright can identify valuable lessons from each production.

“I think all productions teach you something different,” she sums up. “Assisting Danny Boyle on Frankenstein taught me about stamina. He would come in every day early and always be reading his script, and coming up with new ways in. Assisting Alan Rickman taught me it was good to push actors and that they like to be pushed. Assisting Michael Grandage taught me about how to make electric stage pictures. Assisting Peter Gill taught me about the rhythm of text and assisting Sean Holmes taught me about theatre ethics and the importance of creating strong company dynamics.”

The overarching impression from talking with Wright, is that she is always developing, constantly growing in proximity to her mentors and continuously staying open to opportunities for improvement. She has a palpable enthusiasm for the work she creates.

What advice can Wright offer by way of advice to those looking to kick start a career in directing?

Passion and perseverance.

“Find a play that you really want to do and find a way of putting it on at the fringe. Write to directors whose work you like and see if you can meet them for a coffee and perhaps start assisting them. Keep going.”

The Father runs until Saturday 11 April at Trafalgar Studios. Tickets available online.