Photo credit Helen Murray
Alex Brown began directing plays whilst studying at the University of Sussex and since graduating his career has flourished. Currently he is Associate Director on Great Britain at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and directing his own production, The Chronicles of Kalki, at The Gate. He believes “there is no one real route in [to directing], everyone has a different path. The main thing is just to put yourself out there and get the experience you want to get”.
After graduating Brown put on plays above pubs in Brighton, he then returned to his home city of London where he took part in the Old Vic New Voices 24 hour plays and did some assisting work. A decision to start making his own work again led to running an event called SoundBites, short plays inspired by live music acts that he describes as “lots of work bringing lots of fantastic people together for very little money.” After attending a workshop run by director Ian Rickson, Brown managed to get a place assisting Rickson at the Royal Court and at that point thought “I’m just going to keep going and see what I can learn along the way”.
Brown has found good opportunities to learn and practise his craft in London; does he think this is where all budding directors should head? No, he believes: “There’s no one place you can definitely make your work and learn from other people, it’s just about following your nose. You just have to be proactive. The one thing that’s definitely not going to happen is people come to you and offer you opportunities, you have to go and find them”.
Brown’s production of The Chronicles of Kalki will be the European premiere of Adita Brennan Kapil’s play written in America, and produced in Minneapolis last year. Brown discovered the play in Kapil’s Displaced Hindu Gods Trilogy whilst searching for international texts to direct; as he tells me how this is “a strange, unusual and fantastic play” I can tell it’s a project he is thrilled to be working on.
Kapil is, Brown observes, a playwright who is “all about interrogating modern mythology and kick ass girl characters”. The Chronicles of Kalki tells the story of a 15 year-old girl who is possibly the 10th avatar of the Hindu God Vishnu: “she rocks up in the middle of her school where these two other girls are having a really hard time, they’ve only got each other as friends and they’ve recently fallen out and they kind of need saving”. When Kalki goes missing these girls are subject to questioning by a missing person’s officer trying to find out who Kalki is and what happened.
Stylistically the play is “part graphic novel, part film noir so there’s a whole palette of interesting visual options for us” Brown comments. The noir component comes from being set in a police interrogation room, it’s “a kind of thriller, it’s atmospheric and it’s raining outside”. Design-wise it’s “quoting graphic novels” and Brown references films such as Scott Pilgrim, Sin City and Marvel films that use the graphic novel style to “create rich visuals”.
His production at The Gate sounds set to be a success, so does Brown have plans of moving to creating work on larger stages in the future? He feels “very lucky” to have both The Chronicles of Kalki and Great Britain going on at once and relishes the opportunity to learn about “telling stories on a big scale […] of course I’d love to go and work on those stories [for larger stages], but there are some plays where an intimate setting is so exciting”. He imagines The Chronicles of Kalki wouldn’t work at all on the Olivier stage and likewise Great Britain would be a very different show at The Gate. He talks excitedly of how with The Chronicles of Kalki he and his team are “plunging people into this world at The Gate, because they’re so close, and there’s a kind of magic to that”.
Brown particularly appreciates The Gate’s approach of working closely with designers, and speaks high praise of 2013 Linbury award-winning designer Madeline Girling who he is working with on this production. I ask to be enlightened further on how the design is referencing graphic novels and Brown tells me how they are using “the idea of comic book squares to put a splash of colour in or heighten the moment for a second and frame things the way graphic novels frame them”. The style of The Chronicles of Kalki is, he asserts, “not the kind of bright, poppy, Marvel comic book world it’s much more the dark Frank Miller”.
It is, he suggests, “much easier to watch than it is to explain”.
To find out more information visit The Gate’s website