Interview with ‘Gary’ Director Danielle McIlven

As opening night nears, director Danielle McIlven and writer James Harker look forward to seeing their creation in front of an audience.



So, James. Today is the dress rehearsal and then you open on Tonight. Could you talk about how you as the writer feel at this stage?



Excited, scared …

I sat in on a full run-through of the play this afternoon and the performances and direction were fantastic. So I feel like it’s very much all on me now to keep up my end of the bargain and hope the script does its job tonight. This is my first time rehearsing for a full-length piece, so perhaps Danielle you’re better-qualified to talk about this one.


It’s interesting you use the phrase “your end of the bargain.”  In a way I think that ended with your production of the beautiful script … and I feel it was my end of the bargain to deliver on it! There is a point — in fact the ideal point — at the end of rehearsals where you feel the missing component is an audience, and I think that’s where we have reached.  For me the it’s now very much about transporting the effective and coherent decisions made in an intimate rehearsal room to the theatre space.

On that note James do you think you will you be watching/responding to the audience or the performers when we open? What audience response would be ideal for you?


Oh definitely the audience! I’m a total secret show-off and narcissist so I suppose actually managing  to amuse and entertain any group of people for 50 minutes or so is the response I’m most hoping for. That’s my fear actually …  my recurring nightmare: no one finding any of the jokes funny. Which is a bit weird considering this is ostensibly a play about the criminal justice system … and a play with such political intentions.

Richard Wright — a fantastic American writer from the 1940s — had a really good line about how he wanted his audience to react. He said he’d had enough of making people cry through sentimentality. Instead he wanted to present stories so unflinchingly honest that anger would be the only possible response. I think that’s great. I’d love to write a play which makes an audience really, really angry. Maybe ‘Gary’ could do a little of that too.

But I’m not as good as Richard Wright. So I’ll happily settle for laughter.

What do you want from an audience Danielle? And does it change play-to-play?


The degree to which is changes between plays is in part due to what the text demands as a genre. So yes to laugh in a comedy or be moved by a drama, and maybe angered by politically.  And funnily enough this piece has the potential for all three — so I want the production to serve these elements.  And it’s quite a profound question really isn’t it- is this achieved if you sense that in an audience regardless of what we think we have discovered in rehearsal?  Actually that isn’t profound  at all, it’s very obvious, it is entirely about whether an audience respond to these intentions and the potential within the text.

I imagine (and hope) there could be a little laugh or fuelled silence at times we hadn’t anticipated. That’s the risk of an audience, but also the power of finding out whether the production works. And for this piece given the very conscious relationship between our protagonist and audience a lot relies on how they connect with Andrew, played by the very talented Reuben Johnson.

And James in terms of the actors — how have their interpretation of the characters shifted your understanding of them?


Ha! Well the character of Andrew was pretty much modelled on the worst aspects of myself for: a slightly whimpy bloke who makes terrible jokes and seeks validation from anyone who’ll give it to him.

Reuben Johnson, by contrast, is a lot cooler than that! So his version of Andrew is naturally a little wiser and a lot more authoritative. Funnily enough, and in a very good way, I think this will actually make Reuben’s Andrew a lot more vulnerable in the eyes of the audience by the play’s end. To see such a self-assured and likable person completely broken and destroyed by his decisions and his circumstances is quite powerful I think.

Craig “Moz” Morris, who plays the title role of Gary, probably has a lot more freedom with the role because Gary is a much more enigmatic character. But I really can’t see anyone other than Reuben and Moz in the roles now!