Liz Stevenson, a young budding director from Lancashire, is currently gearing up for her directorial debut at none other than The Young Vic, where her production of Barrie Keefe’s Barbarians will take to the stage from the 27 November. This incredible milestone in her theatrical career – at such an early stage too – is all because of the JMK Trust.
The JMK Trust, named in the memory of the theatre director James Menzies-Kitchin, provides young directors with guidance, development opportunities and most importantly, the Young Director Award. The Young Director Award is a prestigious accolade, entrants must be under 30 years old and have staged less than two professional productions. Stevenson was the 2015 winner, and the prize was a £25,000 bursary towards her own production, to be staged at The Young Vic.
“Back in January this year I sat down in front of a list of plays sent by the JMK Trust,” explains Stevenson, “the brief was to choose a play, and write about why and how you would direct the play, the last one I read was Barbarians and I couldn’t believe my luck!” Stevenson went through two rounds of applications before attending the final stage with six other emerging directors. “After winning the award I went straight into the pre-production process. All of a sudden it stopped being a competition and became a reality – initially daunting, but so exciting!”
“Barbarians is a raucously funny trilogy of plays,” Stevenson tells me, “The play is set in Lewisham during the height of the unemployment crisis in the 1970s, and three boys leave school and aren’t given many options – either work in the factory or go on the dole. They have all this energy, and nowhere to channel it. They’re searching for a purpose and a sense of belonging. I am sure that this will resonate with the uncertain generation of which I am part.” Written by Barrie Keeffe forty years ago, it seems that the time gone past hasn’t affected the cultural significance of the play: “the gap between the rich and poor in this country only gets bigger, and this play is about class division. I think we have to ask more questions about why homophobia, racism and sexism still exist today, and we must question what part society has played in creating these prejudices.”
And what does Stevenson want her audiences to take away from the show? “It’s set in a harsh and bleak world but it’s full of hope and warmth,” she explains, “throughout the show the boys will make mates out of the audience, taking them on an anarchic and emotional journey across three years of their lives before ultimately leaving them feeling exhausted and disturbed.”
One thing I had to ask Stevenson was her valuable advice for fellow directors fresh on the theatre scene, guidance from someone who has gained so much experience and such prestige is certainly worth hearing. “Directing can be lonely, get yourself out there and meet with actors, directors, designers. Even if you don’t have a production in the pipeline, you can still be making work, nurturing relationships and testing ideas!”
It is undoubtable the opportunities that an organisation such as the JMK Trust offers to artistic creatives like Stevenson, who aren’t just around London but all over the country. “I grew up in Lancashire, where I was heavily involved in theatre in the local area, mainly as an aspiring actor!” Stevenson tells me, “I went to the University of Nottingham, where I threw myself into the wonderful Nottingham New Theatre. I then trained at Birkbeck College, a rigorous but rewarding couple of years which included my first experience of London theatre and a placement at the Royal Exchange in Manchester.” The JMK Trust’s regional programme, that offers opportunity all over the country to directors of diverse backgrounds is something very important to Stevenson. “There needs to be greater diversity in theatre, and I’m glad more avenues are opening up to directors who live outside of London”.
All budding directors – have you ever wondered how it must feel to have your own work on stage at none other than The Young Vic? “It’s still sinking in!”, Stevenson gushes, “The Young Vic is such an exciting place. There’s a buzzing atmosphere in that building and it has an incredible reputation for high quality work”. It is obvious by chatting to Liz that she’s worked extremely hard to get to this incredible opportunity, and also aims to deliver theatre which captivates her audience – “I want to make theatre for diverse audiences, that gives them a visceral, engaging and entertaining experience. I can’t believe how lucky I am to be directing Barbarians at The Young Vic and with all the support of their staff. I cannot wait to get into technical rehearsals!”
So, make sure you catch Barbarians this month, and (if you’re a dab hand at directing) get ready to apply for next year’s Young Director Award – this could be you!
Barbarians plays at the Young Vic 27 November to 19 December.