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Airing our dirty laundry

Chuffing nora The Railway Children is coming to the South Hill Park stage from 25 – 28 October. I flagged down director Joe Malyan with my big red pants. Once he got over the shock, this is what he had to say for himself.

South Hill Park theatre director Joe Maylan suited and booted in black and white

Give us the basics?

I’m 31, married and live in Finchampstead. I graduated from Reading Uni in 2008 with a degree in theatre and film studies and got a job straightaway at South Hill Park as a technician. I am now a freelance theatre director and full time Production Manager at SHP – and my next show is iconic children’s classic The Railway Children.

So you’re a bit of a technical wizard?

Most directors come from an acting background, so they tend to struggle with the techy side of theatre. Having that technical knowledge has really helped my direction. My shows are quite cinematic  with lots of sound and music, which I do myself, (the clever sausage plays the piano, oboe and sax) which really appeals to younger audiences.

Tell us about your production of The Railway Children?

Edith Nesbit’s book was first published in 1905. It’s a beautiful portrayal of Edwardian life in which a family is uprooted from middle class London when the father is accused of spying, and forced to move up north. The family live near a railway line, become quite poor and the children have many adventures. There are some magical moments: when they take care of a Russian convict in search of his own family and the kids befriend an old gentleman who caught the train at the same time every day. It’s a rollercoaster with the mum trying to hide what is really happening from her children – only for them to find out from a newspaper.

It’s 112 years old, do you think kids of today will get it?

Yes I do. I think they’ll relate to it. Kids playing games and have fun in the country – that’s what they do here. It’s beautifully written and Perks, the station master, clarifies what is going on. It’s very visual and musical, but we have added an age recommendation of 5+.

Can you give us any insider goss?

The first thing anyone asks me about is the train. I knew it would be the focal point so I had the idea early on to make the whole set a train. We have 3 carriages and an engine on stage. It’s quite life sized. Then it opens up and the middle carriage becomes the house the family live in. First class is the bedroom and the the crates and luggage you would find on the platform become the furniture.

View from the stage at the Wilde Theatre South Hill Park Bracknell – a sea of red velour seating

Do you get opening night nerves?

Yes I do. How bad they are, depends on how the dress and tech rehearsals go. It’s all on the cast after that and, no matter what happens on stage, they’ll always pull through it. The actors and crew are just brilliant at doing that. You have to remember this is a community cast. They don’t get paid, it’s a hobby. The shows are professionally produced, but the actors are amateurs. That’s what makes South Hill Park so special.

Stiff drink sort out the jitters?

No. I like going round to each cast member and give them a hug. I tell them to enjoy it and have fun.

What show would you love to direct?

I’ve been ticking them off, to be honest. I’ve done Peter Pan, The Borrowers, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, The Railway Children. I would LOVE to do Swallows And Amazons and Treasure Island. I adore family classics. But I am also doing Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet post-WW2 aesthetic in the new year. The challenge with that is getting a good acting performance, while making it accessible. Whereas the family shows are more about keeping the audience with the characters.

When you win an Olivier Award what will be in your acceptance speech?

I’d like to thank my husband Ashley who has been incredibly supportive. He’s drama teacher so understands that this is not your normal 9-5 job. I’d also like to thank everyone here at South Hill Park and my actors Laura Hannawin and Max Puplett and, not forgetting, my Stage Manager Lyndon. He’s unique – with a great visual eye, and I use him on every show. And obviously my wonderful family. Would there be tears? Probably.

Pass the tissues, I’m welling up.

What’s your biggest vice?

Probably not saying no. I definitely over-commit. I work at South Hill Park full time and I teach once a week. I’m lucky to get an evening at home. That said, I hate having days off.

Most embarrassing professional moment?

Other than the really bad radio interview I did yesterday. Probably when a dancer fell off the stage in a snowman suit. I was stage managing  a show, the dancer came on to do her bit. She couldn’t see a thing and before I knew it she’d disappeared off the front off the stage. I ran through the auditorium to find she’d lost her head (not literally, the giant head she was wearing). She was a young dancer and if she had sustained a serious injury it could have killed her career.

Most famous person you’ve met?

Loads and loads of top comedians… Michael MacIntyre, Jason Manford, Lenny Henry, Jimmy Carr. They come to  try out their new material here.

Best piece of advice:

Never show how stressed out you are.


Wanna see The Railway Children, South Hill Park Bracknell – Wed 25 – Sat 28 Oct? Book your tickets right here.

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