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A Director's Story Faculty of Architecture, Computing & Humanities

Third year Drama student Ash Baker chose to direct a show for her Drama production course – Philip Ridley's violent, disturbing dystopian drama Mercury Fur. Here she describes her experience and what she's learned from it.

I was torn at the end of my second year: do I take the module 'Drama Production' and volunteer to be a director, a role that intrigued me but in which I had zero experience? And, if so, what would I direct? It was a difficult decision. I took myself to Foyles, a huge book shop in the heart of Soho, its four magnificent gleaming floors filled to the brim with reading material. I soon found myself in the drama and theatre section, skimming the titles and authors.

I knew there were some conditions I needed to adhere to if I were to direct. I would need a play with a large cast that would work with the students on the course. It would need to be suitable for production at our Bathway Theatre.

It was a lot to think about, so I did what every human does – I went for the play with the prettiest front cover. Mercury Fur caught my attention almost immediately. There was a man dressed in a gold suit with a black eye and a blue butterfly held precariously between his grinning teeth. I went home to read it, wondering what it could be about and if there was a chance I could put it on.

Two days later and my mind was filled with possibilities, inspiration and excitement. Reading Mercury Fur had been a rollercoaster ride of horror, excitement and shocked hilarity. It had been years since I had read anything that had made me feel the way this did; my mind was made up.

After consulting a lecturer and then preparing my pitch to the group, my play was selected! Auditions were held, and eventually I found myself sitting down with my cast. Despite having spent two years with these people and calling them my friends, my heart still raced when we sat for the first time in a circle and six pairs of eyes gazed at me expectantly: I was now their director.

We initially worked on trust building exercises, characterisation and improvisation. With a play like this, a bond between the cast was imperative, as was a fair amount of trust. Previously we had moved in different social circles but, magically, Mercury Fur brought us together. Despite the challenging content we were working with, every rehearsal was enjoyable and filled with laughter. We got to know each other and the play like the back of our hands.

As director you are in the presence of a group of very different people, all of them looking to you for the answers. Sometimes you don't have them and that's okay, there is always a tutor to help you or a book to read or an article online to Google. I was also keen to approach the process with no sense of hierarchy. The first thing I told my cast and crew was that this was our play and not mine. I was always willing to hear and try out an idea from anyone, we were all equals. It made for a relaxed atmosphere in which people were not afraid to speak up.

As we rehearsed and rehearsed, and slowly as a company brought the play to life, my love and devotion for this production grew and grew. I never knew I could care about something so much.

Directing gave my life a purpose. It taught me responsibility and creative thinking. I learnt how to work with and support people with different personalities, skills and methods. More practically, I learnt how to block an entire play, design workshops with specific aims and manage people fairly and with respect. We worked hard as a team and formed a bond unlike anything else I've known.

For a while, Mercury Fur became my life and to turn to the audience members on the final night and see tears streaming down their cheeks as they gave us a standing ovation – not to mention the pride and relief on my cast's faces – was one of the best moments of my life so far.

Mercury Fur and my company have changed the person I am and have given me invaluable skills, experiences and memories that I will take with me in life and as I pursue a career in the arts.