No rape, pillage or murder here: Just some good old-fashioned human drama. And some nudity. [by Rosabel Tan]
It’s a stifling afternoon and the palms in St Kevin’s Arcade hang limply in the thick air, but Benjamin Henson appears unaffected by the heat. Hunched over a table scattered with notebooks and scripts and an empty cup of coffee, he doesn’t notice me approaching until I call his name. It strikes me as a fitting way to find this 26-year old director: Everything She Ever Said To Me will be the fifth show he’s been involved with this year.
Written by Keziah Warner, Everything revolves around a call centre worker named Jo. “She has an overbearing mother who’s ringing her all the time and we’re not sure why. She’s got a love interest at work but she’s not very confident at making it happen, and she bonds with a 79-year old man she meets over the phone. You watch this girl and you know she’s trying to work something out, and you know something’s gone on, and it’s gone wrong, but you’re not sure what.”
He describes the play as “quirky and melancholic – there’s a lot of sadness behind it, but there’s a lot of humour as well. And that’s what I really like about it – Keziah has made a piece that is just about people, how they interact with each other, and what it is that they say. There’s no theatrical gimmick. There’s no rape, pillage and murder. It’s a little window into the lives of these characters.”
It’s different to the other shows he’s worked on recently, precisely because of the absence of extreme moral breakdown – most recently he directed Punk Rock, which followed the lead-up to a high school shooting in a British school – and because of the unique creative relationship he has with both the writer and the play. “It’s a project we’ve both been invested in for quite a long time,” he explains. “Keziah and I bounce ideas off each other for hours and hours and hours – a process that has gone on amongst all the other projects I’ve been doing – and the most rewarding thing is that we will have seen this play from a nugget of an idea through to full production.”
Originally written as a monologue, Warner developed it into a scene for Scratch, a new writing initiative the two have started up. “We get short pieces and pair the writers up with directors and actors and it’s about putting that new writing to the test.” Members of the audience are given feedback forms which are collated at the end of the night, and it was through this process that the scene developed into a two-act play.
The challenge of working with a script he’s so closely tied to is, of course, making sure that he and the actors do it justice. “Keziah’s present at all the rehearsals which is really lucky, because there are times when she might have an insight into her characters that we don’t.” There’s also the challenge of working with new original scripts: “There’s that danger with new plays,” Ben says, “where sometimes the actors want to change what the line is, and it’s actually about figuring out why the words are in the order that they are, and why this happens here, and making sure everyone is making these discoveries and not shortcutting the process.” He flashes a cheeky grin. “But it’s all about balance – about knowing when to bite your tongue and letting them make that discovery themselves.”
But it’s a balance worth striking. “It’s an exciting moment when there are seven people around the table and we’re all on the same wavelength,” he enthuses, “and we’ve all reached that discovery at the same time and you know that as soon as you get it on its feet, it’ll work.” He pauses, a smile playing on his lips. “The challenge is getting there. And finding the right words to say to unlock it all. But that’s what keeps it exciting.”
Everything She Ever Said to Me is presented by Scratch New Writing and plays at The Basement Theatre April 17-21. More information at The Basement.