Q&A with ‘September in the Rain’ director Alan Long

With September in the Rain opening in early July, we had a (socially distanced) sit down with director Alan Long to find out more about his approach to directing the first show back at WT in over a year!

What is it about John Godber’s script for September in the Rain that drew you to the play?

Being married to a Yorkshire girl, Rachel, with a large extended Yorkshire family, I recognised the authenticity of John Godber’s writing. The straight talking, blunt humour, and the ability to disagree about everything is very familiar! The pictures on the website for September In The Rain are all from Rachel’s family holidaying on the Yorkshire coast and Blackpool.

The other attraction is nostalgia. My family from Oxford never went to Blackpool, but every year they went to Weymouth for their holidays and their experiences of drab boarding houses and walking on the promenade, mirror those of Jack and Liz.

When staging a two-hander, how important is chemistry between the actors? How do you look for this in auditions?

Chemistry is vital in a two hander as we have to believe that the relationship of the characters is real. Trust is also important, as there’s no one else who can bale you out if things take an unexpected course in a live performance! I am very lucky to have Emma and Steve, both professionally trained, great actors, really nice people and good singers!

When it comes to auditions, swapping different actors in and out of scenes is a great way to see how people interact together. While the lines might still be the same, the scene can play out in a hundred different ways depending on the people you have reading together. It can also take you by surprise though, especially if you go in expecting to see one thing and you get (and like) something totally different.

How do you approach creating such a vivid world with a basic ‘black box’ set?

With a black box set the fun is from the outset, combining music, soundscapes, lighting, projection images, props and costumes to create a world onstage. The music we are using is a reflection of the tastes of John Godber’s grandparents, including The Inkspots, Mario Lanza, Jo Stafford and the unique Ken Dodd!

Are there any lines from the play that really stick out for you or make you laugh every time?

John Godber doesn’t really write a string of funny one liners. The comedy comes out of the characters and our recognition of the ups and downs of the relationship of Jack and Liz. That ‘observational’ style works really nicely, and Steve and Emma’s performances are so great, I’m laughing throughout rehearsals.

You’ve directed a lot of shows for WT, what have been some of your favourites?

I have loved directing all the shows because everyone has had it’s unique challenges. Intense dramatic shows like Death Of A Salesman or Betrayal require in depth work on acting skills. Broad comedies such as as The Farndale Avenue Christmas Carol or the Flint Street Nativity give you and the cast a chance to discover your inner child.

Shakespeare allows inventive reinterpretation as The Comedy Of Errors set in the wild west. Dramatic comedies such as Jumpy or The Things We Do For Love have the challenge of finding the pathos as well as the laughs. The musical, The Hired Man demanded the control of a large cast, a live band, and a revolving stage. I also managed to find a very small part for myself so I could do a Hitchcock and appear in my own show.

September in the Rain runs from 7 – 17 July 2021 at Wokingham Theatre and tickets are on sale now.