Disco Pigs: An interview with director Cathal Cleary

Ahead of Disco Pigsrun at The North Wall next week, writer Catherine Love speaks to director Cathal Cleary about his revival of the show, which he first directed at the Young Vic four years ago.

Director Cathal Cleary describes the plays of Enda Walsh as “about people using their imagination to make better versions of reality”. In Disco Pigs, those people are Pig and Runt: two 17-year-old best friends from Cork whose shared fantasy existence is beginning to crumble. Walsh’s play follows their intense friendship as it comes under increasing pressure from the outside world.


Cathal Cleary in rehearsal

Cleary’s production, which he is now remounting for a tour of the South East, highlights the imagination and performance of Walsh’s two distinctive characters. “They are creating a fictional world for themselves,” says Cleary. “That’s what we tried to unleash within our production, making it these two teenagers stuck in recreating this play for themselves over and over again. Pig and Runt are the characters, but Darren and Sinead are their real names, so it feels as though Darren and Sinead are playing two parts and are endlessly stuck in this cycle of playing these roles and creating this fantasy world for themselves.”


Photo credit: Richard Davenport

Cleary stresses that Disco Pigs is “an exciting, brilliantly written play”, but part of the appeal for him was that it leaves room for a “director’s stamp” to be put on it. “I don’t worry about productions that have gone before,” he says, explaining that “you have to treat any play like a new play”. Unlike previous stripped back productions, Cleary worked closely with designer Chloe Lamford on his version, creating a visual world for the show that fits with his interpretation of the play as being about the vivid imaginations of its two protagonists.


Photo credit: Richard Davenport

Cleary is now looking forward to seeing how the show will go down with audiences on tour. “It will feel quite foreign, quite intrusive upon these more traditional types of venues,” he suggests, adding “I think that’s great that these two quite odd kids from Cork are landing in Didcot and Cambridge and Hertford and being quite exciting, quite threatening and in your face. I think that will take people by surprise and I think they’ll go for it.”

Disco Pigs will be performed at The North Wall on Wednesday 25 November at 8pm. Click here to book tickets.

Ariane Mnouchkine’s Ecole Nomade at The North Wall


Legendary theatre director Ariane Mnouchkine will be working in residence at The North Wall over the next two weeks. From 14th – 25th September, along with five members of her company, Théâtre du Soleil, she will be bringing her unique “travelling school” – the École Nomade – to the theatre.

“Ariane Mnouchkine is one of the giants of theatre – she is the only female director to have ever won the international Ibsen award, and has received honours from many countries for her achievements. Her creative output over the last fifty years has been extraordinary and enormously influential. The fact that she is sharing her working method with students of theatre, including some of the students studying drama at St Edwards, here in Oxford at The North Wall is a marvellous thing.” said Lucy Maycock,  artistic director of the North Wall.

The company have taken the École Nomade all over the world, from Kabul to Chile, then Sweden and now Oxford, where eighty people from across the country will be participating following national auditions. The fortnight will be based on the Théâtre du Soleil’s own working method of workshopping with hundreds of actors before they begin the creation of a new piece of work. In the company’s own words: “The sessions of the École Nomade will not simply be drama classes; they will, rather, constitute moments of practical reflection, in which we seek to set out, explain, and clarify our methods, and to share our collective way of working. And the point of all this? Because this is how we, at the Théâtre du Soleil, explore, try, fail, and begin again. In short, this is how we work.”

Based in France, Théâtre du Soleil rarely performs in the UK, which makes this visit to Oxford extremely special. The company creates popular yet radical, high-quality theatre that invents new ways to combine Asian and Western styles. One of the last great collective companies in Europe, they have for more than 50 years continued to question theatre’s capacity to represent its own times.

Lucy first saw the work of Théâtre du Soleil in 1998 at their artistic home, La Cartoucherie on the outskirts of Paris. “The humanity, vision and intelligence of the work had a huge impact on me, and the fact that Mnouchkine herself was there tearing tickets at the door taught me that great theatre has to be collaborative and democratic. Watching Ariane work over the last few days, we’ve seen that her generosity of spirit informs all her work. More importantly, she reminds us that without discipline, creative vision cannot flourish – which is perhaps one of the greatest lessons from this very special two weeks.”

Autumn 2015 now on sale – and multi-buy offers are back

Autumn 2015 Facebook Banner

We’re delighted to announce that our Autumn 2015 season is now on sale – a wide range of theatre, dance and music events that pick controversial subjects, defy genre, mix things up and keep audiences on their toes. We have dark, satirical puppetry for adults, William Blake remixed by a beat-boxing world champion, and a dance-theatre adaptation of Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Comedy fans will be tempted by something a little bit different – an improvised sketch show from Kepow where the audience takes control of the story; and a panel show chock-full of bizarre, extraordinary and hilarious facts brought to you by the QI elves.

Families are invited to explore every inch of the building on our Takeover Day, as part of the nation-wide Family Arts Festival. With behind-the-scenes theatre tours, some very special shows and a huge range of wondrous workshops, we guarantee there will be something fun and fascinating for everyone.

Visit our website now to have a glimpse of what’s on offer over the coming months – and if you’re on our postal mailing list, a brochure will be winging its way to you shortly.

Multi-Buy Is Back

We’re offering super savings when you book two or more selected shows before Saturday 12th September 2015.

2 shows - save £1 per ticket
3 shows – save £1.50 per ticket
4 or more shows – save £2 per ticket

Tickets must be booked in a single transaction. Valid on full price & concession tickets only for up to two tickets per show.

Shows available in this offer include: We Want You To Watch, The Bogus Woman, Blake Remixed, Fire In The North Sky, Outpost, Martyr, Donald Robertson…, Jackie Oates & Ben Murray, Eventide, QI: No Such Thing as a Fish, Don Quixote, Paradise Lost, and Disco Pigs.

This offer is bookable by phone only – call 01865 319450 to get your multi-buy tickets.

Song of Riots begins Scandinavian tour

Song of Riots is back on the road! Our co-production with Awake Projects was a huge success here in Oxford, so we’re delighted to be touring the show to Sweden and Norway over the next couple of weeks.


From 28 – 30 May, Awake Projects will be back in their hometown of Västerås in Sweden, performing at Vaxhuset. The production has been generously supported by Västmanland Council, so we’re very much looking forward to staging the show on home turf. Book tickets by emailing info@vaxhuset.nu or calling +46 21 39 1037

After that, Song of Riots will be moving on to Norway. From 3 – 4 June, Tou Scene in Stavanger will be home to the seven-strong cast plus the creative team. We wish them all the best of luck for the tour and hope to see them in the UK soon!


Ruskin Theatre Platforms Summer Series begin next week

Book your tickets now for the
Summer 2015 series of
Ruskin Theatre Platforms
in association with Oxford Playhouse
Curated by Writing for Performance at Ruskin College

All events are FREE. Reserve your tickets by email:

Wednesday 13 May at 6.30pm
SKYLIGHT (1995) by David Hare
Directed by Lucy Maycock, Artistic Director of The North Wall

“Hare’s play hits you straight between the eyes with its mixture of private pain and public rage at our profoundly polarized society.” Guardian
Wednesday 20 May at 6.30pm
MANCUB (2005) by Douglas Maxwell
Directed by Jonathan Lloyd, Artistic Director of Pegasus Theatre

A brilliantly surreal and funny play for young people and adults. “Maxwell’s pacy, salty, densely incisive text is a delight from start to finish.” Metro Wednesday 3 June at 6.30pm
GLASS EELS (2007) by Nell Leyshon
Directed by Lizzy McBain, Artistic Director of Under Construction Theatre Company

During a hot and stifling summer in the Somerset Levels, teenager Lily grapples to break free from the oppressive shadows of her childhood. “No one else in British Theatre today is writing like Nell Leyshon.” Telegraph
Wednesday 10 June at 6.30pm
THE CHAIRS (1952) by Eugene Ionesco
Directed by Polly Tisdall, Oxford Playhouse Resident Director, 2014/15

Martin Crimp’s celebrated translation of Ionesco’s absurdist classic. “The Chairs still has iconoclastic vitality and thrilling power.” Guardian Wednesday 17 June at 6.30pm
PLAYHOUSE CREATURES (1997) by April De Angelis
Directed by John Terry, Artistic Director of The Theatre, Chipping Norton

1669 – a bawdy, troublesome year. Theatres have just reopened after years of Puritan suppression, and for the first time, English actresses appear onstage . . .
Also performed at OXFORD PLAYHOUSE on Friday 19 June at 5pm. Book your free ticket via Oxford Playhouse Ticket Office: 01865 305305

Wednesday 24 June at 6.30pm
THE LOVER (1962) & LANDSCAPE (1968) by Harold Pinter
Directed by Katie Read, Artistic Director of Sat Mat Company

Beautifully written . . . The Lover is the sexiest play I remember seeing on the television.” Sunday Times “Landscape is spellbinding.” Daily Telegraph

Friday 12 June at 5.00pm

Join internationally renowned theatre director and artistic director of Bristol Old Vic, Tom Morris, in conversation with John Retallack at Oxford Playhouse. Tickets £5 (discounts available). Book via Oxford Playhouse Ticket Office: 01865 305305 or online at www.oxfordplayhouse.com

Easter Opening Hours

Easter Opening Hours

Please note: our opening times vary for the Easter Bank Holiday.

Friday 3 April – Closed
Saturday 4 April – 12pm – 4pm
Sunday 5 April – Closed
Monday 6 April – Closed

We hope you have a lovely Easter break!

Designing Song Of Riots

Alex Berry recently graduated from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre Design MA course. She is an alumnus of the North Wall Summer Outreach (2011) and has since designed several shows for us, including 2012′s Dead on her Feet and 2014′s Fast Track . We asked her a few questions about her design for Song Of Riots:

Q1) Where did your initial inspiration for the original design come from?

“For Song of Riots we began by thinking how to create an urban environment that could offset a fairy tale. We looked at pictures of cities during and then post-riots, and noticed that scaffolding was an important image in the restoration of cities after riots. Many types of dust were also a constant, the general debris inspired our own additions of dust, from the gold glitter of the fairy tale to the drugs used by a character. Projections were a main theme, and we spent a lot of time looking at wrestling, so the current floor and set up for the staging has a distinctly sports-arena vibe.”

mood boards 2

Mood Boards for Water and Wrestling.

Q2)How does the director’s vision of how the performance should look affect decisions, do you alter your design to work with their ideas?

“For this performance our approach was very similar. Lucy wanted a clean open space for the actors to move around as the performance is very physical, and we have conversations to work out changes. The performance is a very physical piece so the scaffolding we have as part of the set can be used to climb and or swing on, everything has a practical use. The script constantly evolves during rehearsal so you have to be very flexible and responsive to this, adapting ideas as you go along according to the director’s changes. We experimented with how to portray fairy tale with far more subtle elements so it blends with the more modern elements.”

Q3) How long have you been working on this project?

“The project has been an idea for around two years, and I have been collecting images and formulating ideas for a long time. In physical terms, only the past couple of months as the script was only recently finished and now we’re all together and can begin to properly create the set.”

Q4) How has the set design changed over time since the rehearsal process started?

Initially, it was a three sided cube with floor projections. When rehearsal started, we realized the performance couldn’t work in that configuration. There are many layers to the play that are all entwined, so the set needs to give us the ability to layer action and to have action happen simultaneously on stage and offset both fairy tale and reality. So the staging has undergone lots of adaptions to make it more practical.”


Progression of Set design.

Q5) Do you encounter situations where your ideas and the practicality of making those ideas a reality clash?

“Yes there many times when I have ideas I want to indulge in and have to rein in instead. In the beginning of Song of Riots I wanted to completely cover the staging in dust. It would be very visually engaging, but the idea was impractical and unnecessary. When designing it’s how best the set can serve the storyline when creating it that takes priority, and I design around that.”

Q6) How do you begin the process of going from an idea into formulating it into actual staging?

“Initial ideas come from the storyline and then using Pinterest for images, and creating mood boards. Then I tend to do a lot of sketches to see if my ideas work and then take the elements that I like from them. From that I then create a rough model, which becomes very helpful when talking about designs to the Director as it allows them to visually experience the sizing. It then helps when deciding if there is enough space for the actors and if we need more or less space. After creating the frame work I can begin looking at materials and working out what looks best.”

mood boards 1

Mood Boards for City Blur and Dust.

Q7) Do the cast affect how you design a set?

“It’s more of a sense of the production as a whole as to how the set is designed. These actors are capable and physical which meant the staging reflected that and can be used actively, like swinging or jumping around it. The cast definitely affects costume, their actions and how they act during the process or even in rehearsal gives me ideas as to how I can portray their character more effectively.”

Q8)Have there been any ideas you’ve had to let go of, despite how much you want to make them work?

“I was very interested in using different types of urban fencing to help layer the stories. I also looked at things like tarmac and road markings, but again practicality was important because this was a traveling performance and the set had to be streamlined down. As I progressed with the design, everything became more and more minimized so that we could perform this at as many different venues as possible and the staging wouldn’t interfere with the proportions of new stages.”

Song of Riots takes place at the North Wall from 14-18 April – Book tickets here.

Dance Into Theatre with Mark Bruce Company

This February half-term, nine young people from Oxfordshire aged 13 – 18 took part in our very first outreach project for teenagers. The group spent three days working with dancers from the acclaimed Mark Bruce Company – last seen at the North Wall with two sell-out performances of their stunning, award-winning version of Dracula.


Using Bram Stoker’s classic text as a springboard, the dancers explored new ways of fusing dance and theatre to tell a story. The project culminated in a work-in progress sharing on Friday 20th February.


“I enjoyed the workshop because it was not easy, it was challenging (that’s good!) Also I liked that everyday was a different experience on what it was like to be part of the company.  I learnt how to act out a story from dancing and how your facial expression and the shape of your hands is really important. The most enjoyable aspect was the showing at the end because I love performing!” – Lily, aged 13


All Photos by Ashley R. Good

Spring 2015 on sale now – multi-buy offers available!


We are proud to announce our spring & summer season 2015 is now open for booking. As usual, our programme combines the best of new writing & shows direct from the Edinburgh Fringe, alongside a vibrant array of music, dance, comedy and children’s events.

Highlights include the return of North Wall favourites OperaUpClose with a new English version of The Marriage of Figaro, which has recently finished a sell-out run in London. We’re also looking forward to our latest collaboration with European ensemble Awake Projects: our co-production, Song Of Riots, is set in a world of woods and wildmen, and uses the fairytale Iron Hans and the words of William Blake to explore how boys cross the bridge from childhood to maturity. It premieres here in April before setting off on a world tour so don’t miss your chance to see this dynamic new work.

Families will be delighted to hear that Long Nose Puppets and Little Angel Theatre are coming back to the North Wall to present shows based on beloved children’s books, Flyaway Katie and The Journey Home. We’re also very excited to welcome cult optimist Josie Long for the first time with Cara Josephine, which was the overall best-reviewed comedy show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014.

Multi-Buy Offer

This season, we’re raising our glasses to the North Wall regulars who keep this place buzzing. As a special thank you to our most loyal customers, we’re offering super savings when you book two or more selected shows before Saturday 31st January 2015.

2 shows - save £1 per ticket
3 shows – save £1.50 per ticket
4 or more shows – save £2 per ticket

Tickets must be booked in a single transaction. Valid on full price & concession tickets only for up to two tickets per show.

Shows in this offer include: Like Rabbits, The Forbidden Door, Fat Man, The Eradication of Schizophrenia, Long Live the Little Knife, Confirmation, Song of Riots, So It Goes, Every Brilliant Thing, Mess & Julia Biel.

Multi-buy tickets are only available to buy over the phone – call the box office on 01865 319450 to book.

Fast Track: Meet the Designer, Alex Berry

The fourth in a series of interviews with the cast and creative team of Fast Track.

Alex Berry recently graduated from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre Design MA course. She is an alumnus of the North Wall Summer Outreach (2011) and has since designed several shows for us, including 2012′s Dead on her Feet. Future projects include Song of Riots (Awake Projects / North Wall), and Ilana Turner’s O Réjane at The Bootleg Theatre, Los Angeles in November 2014. We asked her about the inspiration behind her design for Fast Track:

“Parks are funny places. They are everyone’s and no-one’s: a space without rules, almost. A park on a weekday afternoon, when most of the polite working world is off working, is a place where anything can happen.


Alex’s original model box for the Fast Track set

There is a disarming ordinariness to the characters when we first meet them and we wanted to create a space which complemented this feel of the humdrum and the everyday, whilst also allowing for the possibility of the absurd and extreme. I was inspired initially by the lost quality of the characters and by our relationship to strangers in a park as faceless beings, bodies that take up space. We were drawn to the work of Melinda Gibson who creates surreal collage pieces in which a human silhouette appears to be a window into another place and time, and also collected a lot of images of people dissolving into their environment.


We wanted to recreate the park landscape and make a physical space which was exciting to move around in and gave the actors the opportunity to run, cycle and play. We knew that at the heart of this park was the playground, it is a safe place – where children come to be fearless and where teenagers gravitate back to when experimenting with all the things that growing up offers them. What we arrived at is a park which has basically been boiled down to its essential parts and then split up. It has a staged quality to it which allowed us to introduce the mechanics of the theatre without apology: wires hang loose, the steel deck is seen. The band were a big deciding factor in this too, we wanted them to feel as if they had set up for a gig, cables everywhere, festoons at the ready.


The bare bones of the set

Cat’s work is very image based and she dreams up the most surprising and bizarre images which are a dream for a designer. Some of these images presented a big challenge for us and one, which we’ve been talking about since the first research and development phase in 2013, is the ‘Invisible Man’. We looked at the work of Liu Bolin, an incredible artist who is famed for painting elaborate suits which allow him to dissolve into the background. ‘A painted suit’ we thought, ‘can we really?’ It turns out we can, and we’re very excited about the invisible man and can’t wait for people to meet him!”