Roy Alexander Weise is a director based in London. He won the JMK Award in 2016, resulting in a production of Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop at the Young Vic. As the production embarks on a national tour, coming to The North Wall from 16 – 20 October, Roy reflects on his journey with the show so far:
How did directing this production come about?
I’d applied for the JMK Award for the first time in 2014 and came 1st runner up with a proposed production of The Ugly One by Marius bov Mayenburg. The JMK Trust has been instrumental in talent-spotting and launching the career of some thrilling young directors so 1st runner up wasn’t enough for me. Winning the award would mean directing the play of your choosing at one of the most prestigious venues in London, the Young Vic Theatre.
As part of the application process (which was intense) I had to get my design team together, design the set and demonstrate how I would approach directing it. It’s really hard to pull together a team for a play that is not actually happening. Somehow I managed to make people believe in my ideas enough, or perhaps made them believe in the potential of our relationship as collaborators.
I was encouraged to apply for the award again in 2015 and didn’t even get through the first round. In 2016, I was so close to not applying as I had had enough of not winning. But then I read The Mountaintop. I read the play on the way to my job at the time at the Royal Court Theatre. I got off to change buses and read Dr King’s last speech amongst road raging horns, being bounced by the rush hour commuters for standing stock still (with book in hand) stopping the tide of the capital-driven individuals of London city. Where was community? Where was care? Where was solidarity? I wept. In public. I had to do this play. So I applied and I think my passion and enthusiasm and perseverance won the judges over. And then it happened.
What made you want to direct The Mountaintop in particular? Which are themes in the play that you feel will most resonate with audiences across the country in 2018?
This play is timeless. The Mountaintop chips away at the myth of the great man to expose his fears about his family, his country and the ever-looming threat of a violent death. Set during the height of America’s Civil Rights Movement, the play confronts the legend and his legacy.
“The baton may have been dropped. But anyone can pick it back up. I don’t know where in the race we are, but pick up the baton and pass pass pass it along. This baton is no longer the burden my image can bear.”
This excerpt is one of the last lines in the play and it couldn’t be a more poignant call out to action to us at this time. A time of Brexit and Donald Trump. This play, although written many years ago, resonates to a reality of which we face today; racism, fascism, sexism, inequality, segregation amongst the few.
Martin started a journey fighting for the rights of the people, all people from all walks of life, today, we are facing the same fights he was, over 50 years ago (Civil Rights, Black Lives Matter Campaign, Equality, Social Responsibility)
This play gives us hope and inspires us to do something as a society at a time where our political and social climate is frankly, quite scary. The production drew many people’s attention including mayor Sadiq Khan and hope that it can inspire people all over the UK to take-action and pick up the baton and carry on the fight to civil rights.
Martin Luther King is one of the most well-known historical figures in the world – how did you approach directing this intimate portrayal?
One thing was very clear in Katori’s writing, and that was that, he, was indeed, just a man, like any one of us. He too had smelly feet, smoked and drank. It’s hard to be objective and just to serve the play when you spend all your time researching him. It’s so easy to fall in love with a man who has inspired huge change in our world. So I treated him like any other character in any play for a while and dipped into research when necessary. It was all about finding a man, a man just like any other man or woman, whose achievements aren’t out of the realms of possibility for those of us still alive today.
Why is touring theatre important to you?
I think in the time that we are in, it is important that work that is made all over the country has the opportunity to speak to different audiences. The events of the last few years in Britain have shown us that there is nothing United about this Kingdom. We are divided by fear. I feel like art can teach and provoke. A theatre is a community. When the lights go down (or the play starts), a community is created in that room for the night. We experience the same narrative from different points of view. We hear a voice other than our own, live an experience that we might learn something from.
What do you want audiences to take away from the production?
Come and see and you’ll find out.