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Red Brick Theatre’s rising star Jess Gough makes directorial debut

Actor-turned-director Jess Gough is gearing up for her directorial debut, 'A Number' at 53two
Jess Gough

Jess Gough moved here to train at The Manchester School of Theatre. She has a list of varied acting credits and loves being on stage.

But like many creatives, she does more than perform. Jess is about to make her debut directing a full-length play, Caryl Churchill’s A Number for Red Brick Theatre.

This innovative theatre company got rave reviews for their recent production of Simon Stephens’ darkly comic play Pornography.

Interview with Jess Gough

We caught up with her to find out more about directing, and why you should go along to see this 60-minute play at 53two next month.

What attracted you to the role of Director?

This is my full-length directorial debut. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. I was attracted to the role because it’s a challenge and I was offered the invaluable opportunity by Red Brick, I just had to say yes! I am learning every day with the cast, how I hold space and how I lead a rehearsal room.

‘Director’ is just a title the same way ‘Actor’ is.

We all work together to create the final image, I just get to step back and see what that final image looks like and make tweaks as we go. I was attracted to the challenge, and the opportunity to steer the ship that is this outstanding play.

What does a typical day involve during the rehearsal period?

We’re working through the play and creating ‘skeletons’ of each scene. Doing rough blocking (working out where people will stand and move) and a handful of notes. We’re working through the scenes unit by unit and setting clear intentions and aims. I’m quite impulsive in my process, meaning we could be halfway through a scene, and I’ll suddenly have the actors doing an exercise in the space. We revisit Meisner, Wimhof and ‘Mr Truth’ (an exercise taken from David Thacker!) often.

We’ll typically do an improvisation at the top of the scene to get us into it. It gives the actors a presence and allows them to explore more about their characters. We’re continuing to play through the story chronologically. Time is of the essence, but I don’t want to rush, the story is in the playing and the discoveries. I like to think I run a very safe, creative rehearsal room.

What is it about this play that appealed to you?

I knew that I wanted to do a play from a female playwright. I’m a huge fan of writers like Anna Jordan and Debbie Tucker Green. Their work, as well as Caryl Churchill’s, is contemporary, political and provocative, it’s also easy to immerse yourself in the world they create. There tends to be a lack of stage directions in the script which means as a director there is SO much room to play. Being able to work with one actor to create 3 different people is a challenge I wanted to sink my teeth into.

Also having the chance to explore a relationship with a father and son, is something that (as a young woman) I am completely removed from. How do I tell a story about something I haven’t experienced? This concept is scary to me, which is why I wanted to do it.

The play is just as relevant now as it was in 2001. We’re an age intertwined via an online community. Every day, we curate in detail who we are and what we want to show the world. So naturally we begin to question identity, and what intrinsically makes us who we are. A Number explores these themes under radical circumstances. What strikes me is how otherworldly, but also chillingly realistic the plot feels – you can’t help but begin to question its real-world capabilities

Why in your opinion should audiences come and watch this play?

I hope that this play will be an immersive and chilling experience which evokes conversation. I want audiences to walk away with different opinions and perspectives because that sparks discussion and keeps the story alive. This play will take you to another world for an hour and keep you in it. Theatre should be exciting, and I truly think this play is!

Ultimately, I want audiences to leave feeling inspired, wondering where they stand on the ethics of cloning, the nature vs nurture debate, and how far would they be willing to go to start again.

Jess Gough will be directing A Number at 53two from 22nd – 24th May and you can book tickets here

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