Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Interview - Natalie Abrahami, director of Ah Wilderness! at the Young Vic

IT has been quite a year for Natalie Abrahami. Not only has she directed award-winning actress Juliet Stevenson in the critically acclaimed and sell-out production Happy Days at the Young Vic, she has also been awarded the Waterloo-based theatre's Genesis Fellowship.
The two year grant is part of the Young Vic’s commitment to nurture and support new talent by giving them opportunities to learn their trade on the job.
Set up in 2010 it enables the recipient to work closely with artistic director David Lan and contribute to the company's directors programme as well as direct their own show at the theatre.
Natalie is the third recipient of the award, following in the footsteps of Jo Hill-Gibbins and Carrie Cracknell.
We chat as she is putting the finishing touches to her production of Ah, Wilderness! by American playwright, Eugene O’Neill which opens tonight for a six week run.
A rarely performed piece, it was given its debut in 1933 and is seen as a prelude to O'Neill's A Long Day’s Journey into Night.
It is a warm-hearted account of family life in Connecticut in 1906 and is set over an Independence Day weekend where teenager Richard Miller navigates his way through love and life.
Throughout, it touches on family, memory, trust, love and the painful process of growing up, themes that Natalie says will resonate with those who come and see it.
It’s a real coming of age story where Richard tries to gain independence from his family,” she enthuses.
What makes it such a great play is that the themes within it such as love and growing up are as relevant now as they were when O’Neill wrote it - it still feels very contemporary.
It’s an extraordinary play, funny, poignant and beautifully written and one that David Lan had wanted to do for a while so I’m thrilled to be directing it.”
It takes its title from Quatrain XII of Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam one of Richard's favourite poems.
In many ways the poem is the backbone of the piece,” says Natalie. “I think it is encouraging us to enjoy life and live for the moment, something Richard is trying to do.
He tries to find his own voice as a poet and playwright and is absorbing writing, books and authors that were contraband at the time.
It is the influence of these new works that concern his family particularly his mother who thinks they will corrupt him.
We spent a lot of time talking about this in rehearsals, how we have to bring up children and educate them to find their moral values but give them an opportunity to stand on their own two feet,” she adds.
So much of our growing up is based on impression and mimicry and about copying other people’s behaviour. We can’t keep our children inside and totally away from all the influences but we can give them barometers.
Given the times we are living in with the explosion of the internet and the things today’s young people are exposed to, it has been very interesting to explore how parents try to do their best for their children – and that is as much the same now as it was when the play was written.
Basically, all of us, like Richard, are trying to find our way in society and in the world and trying to do our best.”
And Natalie says she is very excited to be bringing the play to the theatre which has been so supportive of her work.
I feel really blessed and lucky to have had this opportunity and to be awarded the Genesis Fellowship,” she says.
It’s an incredible privilege and I have to pinch myself sometimes – especially working with people like Juliet Stevenson – it’s something I never imagined I would ever have the chance to do,” she says.
Growing up I had never done any acting or directing but had a real interest in photography and live imagery. I did some work experience and realised I wanted to work with live theatre and film.”
University followed where she read English and began to do some directing before she got a graduate traineeship at the Royal Court.
She continued her training at the National Theatre Studio before working at organisations including the Royal Court, Royal Opera House, Battersea Arts Centre and now the Young Vic.
And after her stint in Waterloo she is off to direct Helen Edmundson’s Queen Anne at the RSC in the autumn but says she hopes to be back soon at the theatre which has given her so much support.
I’ve learned so much from David and the team here – I love the Young Vic and would happily stay here forever!” she says.
I never thought I’d ever have these kinds of opportunities so I feel very lucky and much like Richard – we try and find our way, live for the moment and keep on learning as best we can.”

Ah, Wilderness! is on at the Young Vic until May 23. Tickets from £10. Visit or call the box office on 020 7922 2922.

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