Five minutes with Harry Baker, writer and director of A Clear Road.
“This is living. That heartbeat – this is your saga, boys, this is blood in your veins and frost in your eyes. These are the deeds that make us men. That make us brothers. Keep it tight, keep it controlled, don’t stop; let them draw breath and they’ll rob you of yours. “
Harry Baker’s A Clear Road certainly sounds like the production team mean serious business. Amidst the madness of last-minute rehearsals, TCS got a chance to have a few words with the man himself…
Directing one’s own work is a contentious issue – how have you found working with your own text and have there been any challenges?
I’ve actually been very surprised at how quickly I’ve stopped thinking about it as ‘my text’, which is a relief – obviously, it’s still going to be quite a personal vision, but one of the great things about the process has been seeing how the text changes under performance. Every actor has their own interpretation of the roles, there are practical and logistical concerns to iron out, the design and technical team bring their own creativity to those elements – in a way, everyone is editing the text and their stamp will be on the final product too, as well as mine. I think acknowledging the collaborative element is hugely important if you’re going to avoid becoming obsessive. Or at least, more obsessive than the average director!
What do you think are the main attributes of Cambridge new writing? Are there things about the new works you’ve seen that you like or dislike?
I think there’s more new writing, and more variation within it, than we tend to realise – last term we had plays spanning from ‘Moments’ and ‘Unconditional’ to ‘The Music Box’ and ‘Zombie Haiku’, which is a hard spectrum to generalise about. I always like to see a bit of ambition, whether in unusual works or just in the exploration of themes and characters – too many new plays are spoilt by a sense that the writer was too afraid of seeming pretentious to try and do anything interesting.
Do you only write drama, and if so why? If not how do you find writing drama different from other forms?
Well, I do write in other forms, and there are different challenges and advantages to any of them. However, with drama, I find that the key thing is the way it forces you to concentrate on dialogue, on the dynamics of character interaction, regardless of whatever else is going on. Whilst the visual, action elements are hugely important – and ‘A Clear Road’ isn’t short of them – it’s the characters that make you care about the spectacle, and let it become a story. The challenge is to make that story interesting without losing your grip on the fine details. The joy of the writing process comes at the point when a scene starts writing itself and the words and the actions simply feel natural – not necessarily naturalistic, but appropriate to the characters and appropriate to the story you’re trying to tell.
What inspired ‘A Clear Road’ and what would you hope an audience to take away from it?
I hope first and foremost that an audience will enjoy it! I don’t think the play shies away from trying to treat its themes with intelligence, but I’m a firm believer in the importance of the story and my aim is to make it a good one. Pembroke Player’s claim to be the only Cambridge drama society with their own coffin was a fun starting point, but having it wheeled around onstage was my own idea, if a slightly mad one. As I far as inspiration goes, I tend to poach things from all over the place, from Brecht’s ‘Mother Courage’ to The Clash’s ‘London Calling’. Actually, I stole a couple of lines from The Clash…
This week A Clear Road is the lateshow after Richard II, an incredibly traditional piece. How do you think the various genres of the Cambridge theatre scene interrelate? Would you have preferred to be scheduled alongside something more modern, or even another piece of student writing?
It was certainly a little scary getting the post-CUADC Shakespeare slot, which is a hell of an act to follow as writer or director, let alone both. But on the other hand, it’s very heartening that people are willing to treat a piece of new writing as a ‘proper’ play which can take a place in a normal schedule, that doesn’t need to be cordoned off in some kind of special interest section. So on balance I’m pleased to be on after Richard II: it has created a really varied and exciting evening of theatre, and in a strange way the combination really works. Plus, I admit I’d probably get competitive about another piece of new writing, whereas with Shakespeare I think I know my place…
Why should the readers of TCS come and see A Clear Road?
We have a coffin on wheels. Why wouldn’t you come and see that?
A Clear Road is the ADC Lateshow, 11pm, Thurs 3rd –Sat 5th May.