Arts and Reviews Sub-Editor Louise Keast enjoyed a coffee with Jill Masters, the Director of the latest National University Theatre Society production, The Real Inspector Hound.
Louise: Would you be able to tell me about your experiences leading up to this point?
Jill: The first time I directed was in 2012. I adapted, abridged, and designed Finding Nemo for the stage. Our cast consisted entirely of adolescent teenage girls. It was ridiculous, lots of hormonal teens wearing cloth-sacks that were meant to make them look like clownfish, but it was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had. Even on that small scale, it made me appreciate how much of themselves directors have to invest in their productions. I loved that process, so that was the impetus that pushed me to do this.
L: How did you become involved with N.U.T.S?
J: Back in 2013, I worked on N.U.T.S.’ The Female of the Species as an assistant-stage-manager. Possibly the lowest rung into which you can enter student theatre. But it was great fun, and between vacuuming the stage I got to design props and work meaningfully with actors. From there I guess I’ve just kept working with N.U.T.S. I’ve been involved behind the scenes on five shows now, and when the opportunity arose to direct I jumped at it. I’ve always wanted to direct a Tom Stoppard play. The theme of this year’s N.U.T.S season, Two, is a great fit for Hound, as the script pivots on the dynamic collapse of illusion and reality.
L: What is it about Tom Stoppard that you found attractive?
J: Stoppard is a landmark playwright. He was a formative figure in the British theatrical tradition. He shaped stage comedy. His plays are extremely wordy, but also very short and very funny, brimful with shitty puns and wordplay. I guess it’s his wit that I’ve always been attracted to. And while it can be taken as esoteric, I wanted our approach to the script to break down that esotericism. I wanted to create a piece of theatre that is completely accessible to students.
L: So you have directed the play with the audience in mind throughout?
J: I was very wary when proposing a N.U.T.S play to have the audience in mind. I chose a short comedy; the play’s run time is about 80 minutes. Shorter than some British miniseries episodes. I want to show our audience that even though the play was written in 1961, its themes – and its comedy – maintain its relevance. All of its witticisms can be transposed into the 21st Century in a really natural and valuable way. While theatre at ANU is already successful, I wanted to show that productions are more than just some event to attend to support a friend or ogle a lead. Theatre is genuine, rewarding, and inimitably energetic. A leisure activity, just like seeing a movie. Just like going to the pub. At Hound, you can spend less than a pint laughing your ass off for eighty minutes straight.
L: How has it been working with the cast? Do they have theatrical backgrounds or were they ANU students who were eager to do something different?
J: It’s a small group; between cast and crew we have 12 people. A mixture of folks who have theatre backgrounds – even professional experience – and others who have never even been in an amateur production before. In auditions, I was most interested in the energy that people brought. This has worked really well, and it’s the most dynamic cast with which I’ve ever worked. Stoppard’s original casting prescribes a 75% male and 25% female cast. In our production, it’s the inverse. One man, Sam Duncan, even plays the role of a wizened old lady. With brilliant physical comedy, I must say. Each cast member – despite experience, despite the physical prescriptions of their role – really shines. It was important to me to use The Real Inspector Hound as an opportunity to showcase the talent we have available to us at ANU. It abounds. I hope that comes across in our production.
The final production in the 2015 N.U.T.S. Season, The Real Inspector Hound runs from Wednesday 14 – Saturday 17 October at the ANU Arts Centre Drama Lab.