David Grindley is directing a new production, Daytona, at the Park Theatre. Phosile Mashinkila speaks to him.

Daytona 8, Harry Shearer and David Grindley, photocredit Charlie Ward

Tell me about the play.
Daytona is set in Brooklyn 1986 and revolves around an older couple, Elli and Joe: at the beginning of the play, they are practising for a seniors’ ballroom dance competition. When Elli leaves for her dress-fitting, a stranger arrives at the door. The rest of the show is about the return of the prodigal son and the consequences of that. The whole play explores the notion that even when everything seems settled and you are enjoying the autumn of your life, secrets can come out and lives can be turned upside down. Even when you think that all the drama in life has passed and what remains is just sailing off into the sunset, the course can still change at the very last moment. It is a great show about passion, age, the scarring events in life, the comedy that exists between people within a marital situation, as well as the comedic rituals that bind people together through thick and thin. Essentially, Daytona is a family story about the revelation of secrets and the need to deal with them before life has come to a close.

The Park Theatre is a newly-built theatre that only opened its doors in May. It must be exciting and yet daunting to be not only one of the first productions in the new venue, but also only the second in-house production?
No question! There are real pros, but you cannot deny there are cons as well. The front-of-house is extraordinary: it is a bar and a building that you would want to visit regardless of whether you were coming to see a show or not. We also have this extraordinary rehearsal room that has daylight streaming in from both sides, as the building is part-glass, which looks out onto the street. Additionally, the theatre space itself is perfect for this play which is comprised of the one set – the Brooklyn apartment of Elli and Joe. As the audience will literally be sitting on the walls and will be right in the space with the actors, the actors can play the action for real and they do not need to project too much and be overly theatrical. But as the building is newly-built, we are still trying to work out how the air conditioning works and you can hear drilling from next door because the whole area is being regenerated: I was down here as a student in the mid-80s and I cannot recognise the place now. All the same it is great to be at the start of something and to be able to assist the venue in finding its feet in terms of its artistic policy.

Has the playwright Oliver Cotton made an appearance at all?
As an actor himself (currently doing The Passion Play in the West End), he absolutely comprehends what it takes for the actors to get the show under their belts, and to feel liberated and assured as possible in order to truly inhabit the world: it is a real undertaking for the actors and Oliver understands that it is an enormous learn.

The actors cast in the play – Maureen Lipman, Harry Shearer and John Bowe – have gone down very different paths career-wise. Has this influenced the rehearsal process?
Not really… what you try and do as the director is find what is going to be most helpful to each person you work with. Whilst John and Maureen are very experienced stage actors, Harry is well-known both as a comic performer and a musician but has only done a couple of straight plays. In my mind, the mark of a good director is to never question any of the actors in a performance: the key thing is to interact with the actors in such a way that gives them the assistance which they are seeking from you.

The productions that you are most recognised for have been older, more familiar works. What is it like working with new material?
A better way of describing my career is that my metier is the single location, extended dialogue plays that are very much actor-driven and character-led. What has always been my guiding light is the quality of the acting and the quality of writing. If I, as the director, can lift the writing off the page as best as possible and transform it onstage to make it come to life, then I can ensure that the audience will be caught up in the action from beginning to end. The interesting thing about new work is that you are constantly assessing and shaping something without a previous life that has been tried and tested. Therefore you have to interrogate everything that is going on with it and be quite ruthless about keeping things in and cutting things out. The one thing that must dominate everyone’s minds is what tells the story most effectively: it is a tremendous activity being rigorous about the presentation of the show, the acting of the story and indeed the writing itself.

What will attract people to come and see Daytona?
The funny banter at the start is characteristic of many old married couples which the audience will recognise. When the secrets of the triangular relationship between the three characters come out in the second half, the incredible journey on which the characters embark will be surprising and unnerving for the audience. The explosive emotional moments will constantly keep the audience guessing.

Daytona is on at the Park Theatre from 10 July to 18 August. For more information and tickets, visit Park Theatre’s website.

Photo: David Grindley in rehearsals. Photo (c) Charlie Ward.