Artistic Director of Boundless, Rob Drummer, reimagines Judy Upton’s play, Confidence and sets it in 2018, focusing on the legacy of youth culture in the 90s. With the production now showing at the Southwark Playhouse, Rob discusses Boundless Theatre’s aims to encourage more younger people to see and participate in theatre, and shares advice in succeeding in the theatre industry by ‘looking outside’ for ‘creative nourishment’. 

How are rehearsals for Confidence going?

Rehearsals have been a real joy and I feel very lucky to have such a talented cast who have really thrown themselves in to this play. We’ve had a great time working with the writer, Judy Upton and even managed to get a research trip to Worthing in!

Why do you feel it is important to stage Confidence right now in 2018?

I think sometimes the best way to make sense of the present is to take a look back to the recent past. So for audiences and especially teenagers going back to the 90s at a time when the 90s seem to be back in our culture is I hope an interesting way to think about 2018. I also think it’s important we revive great plays that have slipped out of memory and Judy is a great writer who needs more of her 90s plays staged now.

What do you find fascinating about Confidence the most?

I love and was first drawn to the articulate, passionate hard working characters and Judy’s special ability to tell working class stories with real sophistication. I’m working class and grew up on the Isle of Wight so I guess I was seeing some of my childhood memories of piers, ice cream and the British seaside too!

Have you staged Judy Upton’s work before?

No this is my first time directing Judy’s work.

Did you know of Upton’s work before directing Confidence?

I read and enjoyed Confidence when I was 18 and it’s been on my bookshelves ever since. Judy actually sent me a new play early last year and I was reminded of Confidence so grabbed it off the shelf and fell in love with it all over again.

Rhys Yates (Ben) and Will Pattle (Dean). Photo credit Helen Murray

How has Southwark Playhouse’s stage been conducive to the message you want to communicate with Confidence?

We love making work at Southwark Playhouse. For Boundless it’s important that we put the audience first and we learnt how much young audiences who had never been to the theatre before loved the venue when we did Natives there last year. We’re excited to be back with Confidence for the same reason.

Have you come across any challenges whilst directing the piece?

We had to recast one of the actors midway through rehearsals but I was so humbled by the amazing spirit of the company who welcomed Lace (who is playing Edwin) and then bowled over by his talent and passion for the play and how quickly he just got stuck in.

You’ve been artistic director of Boundless since 2016, what has been the most important part of your role so far?

The most important and rewarding part of my job is getting to spend a lot of time listening to teenagers and growing a company that experiments with what theatre can be for 15-25 year olds. The work should always feel different and with that I hope we build meaningful relationships and conversations with the largest audience.

You have impressive experience. You’ve been a mentor, director and dramaturg for many theatres and venues internationally. What is the most interesting and memorable moment in your theatrical career?

My time at the Bush was transformative and working with Madani and the whole team to shake up what that building could mean to its audiences and community in Shepherd’s Bush will stay with me, especially as I got to work with such talented and varied writers as Associate Dramaturg.

How do you want the audience to feel after seeing Confidence?

Entertained and enthusiastic about theatre being a space for them to spend some time.

Speaking personally, I am very pleased with Boundless Theatre’s choice to pick Tanya Burr to play the role of Ella. Please tell me on why you think she would be a great cast member for the production.

Tanya is very talented and helped me understand a lot about the character she is playing, Ella. I’m always looking for instinct and something unique in an actor that I feel could show the character in the most interesting light. Tanya embodies that. I felt exactly the same about Ella Purnell, Fionn Whitehead and Manish Ghandi when I cast them in Natives last year.

What advice would you give to a young, aspiring theatre director?

Be bold in what you care about and put that in your work and then make work that puts the audience first, it’s all a conversation with an audience in my mind. Then be promiscuous in where you learn from and look outside of theatre for your creative nourishment.

Rob Drummer’s production of Judy Upton’s Confidence is showing at the Southwark Playhouse until June 16. For more information click here.

My opinion piece on Tanya Burr and stunt casting is here.