From Angels in America to World’s End: Harry Mackrill in YASS Magazine

A strong advocate for LGBT voices, World’s End marks Mackrill’s return to the King’s Head Theatre, following 2016’s revival of Paul Boakye’s critically acclaimed play, Boy with Beer, which dug into historical issues around sexuality and identity.

World’s End is the debut play from upcoming writer James Corley; an LGBT love story opening at The King’s Head Theatre which will be the closer of the venue’s ever popular Queer Season. Director Harry Mackrill (who was recently announced as one of the Kings Heads new artistic associates) talks about working with James Corley, returning to The King’s Head (following 2016’s revival of Paul Boakye’s critically acclaimed play, Boy with Beer) and what he hopes audiences will take away from the play.

World’s End stars a talented cast including Patricia Potter (best known for her iconic long running character Diane Lloyd in Holby City) and Tom Milligan (best known for his portrayal of James Potter Jr, James Potter Sr and Cedric Diggory in theoriginal West End production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child).

Harry was Associate Director at Kiln Theatre (2018-19), was the Associate Director on the National’s production of ‘Angels in America’ (2017) and is currently Associate Director on David Hare’s adaptation of Peter Gynt at the National Theatre.

What does it mean to be an associate director on the National’s production of ‘Angels in America’ and on David Hare’s adaptation of Peter Gynt at the National Theatre?

An associate director is someone who works closely with the director to help facilitate and recognise their vision for a production. Unlike an assistant, which is where I started out, there is more responsibility – often for plays as big as Angels or Peter Gynt, it’s running a second rehearsal space to keep the work bubbling whilst the rest of the play is worked on. There’s also a very practical element – I was doing a lot of work on the revolves for Angels and scheduling for Peter Gynt!

Ultimately it’s a role where you can offer ideas and solutions and create a very tight, collaborative relationship with the director and company.

credit: Bettina Adela

Did you expect that Angels in America would become such a big reference in the theatre scene in London?

Even when Angels was announced, it was going to be something special. That all really begins with what an iconic play it is and how it’s influence is felt today (look at plays like The Inheritance, and even all LGBT work, including World’s End) – then add a director as visionary and exciting as Marianne – it was obvious she would do something epic with the play – and a company as prestigious as we had and it all added up to the hit it was.

How is it to work with such big productions?

There is something incredibly exciting working on big productions, especially at the National. I can’t walk into that stage door without pinching myself. And for a director at my level, working on both Angels and Peter Gynt have been extraordinary experiences; I’ve learnt so much about working with large ensembles on sprawling plays, and the energy needed from everyone (sometimes the audiences!) to make the productions work.  

What was it that drew you towards emerging writer James Corley’s script?

James and I first worked together when he was still acting. It was his idea that I began directing. I then returned the favour and told him he should write a play. This one has been a long time in development – it was a very different play a couple of years ago, then at the beginning of the year James told me he was revisiting it. I had no idea what to expect, and when he sent me the latest version, I was astonished. It is a profoundly moving, viseral piece of story telling. I am drawn to work that embraces stillness, and James understands the power of simplicity. It’s a gift to be able to work on the play – both in the writer-director relationship, but also with the actors and seeing the characters come to life.

How’ve you found returning to the King’s Head Theatre, after 2016’s Boy With Bear?

I am ever grateful to Adam and the King’s Head. They really do put their money where their mouth is when it comes to cheerleading emerging artists. Not only is he giving me another shot at directing – in a venue which is a joy to work it – but with a first-time playwright.

The King’s Head is a great space because I feel there is so much ambition available to you – audiences come without expectation, and you can really deliver them something special. There is no where for actors to hide, and you can get some very special performances. I found two great collaborators in Chin (Nyenwe) and Enyi (Okoronkwo) with Boy with Beer, and this new cast feel the same.

It’s also great to be working with Rachel Stone, designer, again after Boy with Beer. I feel we both have a similar understanding of the world but challenge each other in our work. It’s exciting!

I am amazed by the acting – the whole company are extraordinary. It will be fantastic to see them share these incredible characters with a new audience night after night.
And the creative team have made something to support all that – I’m excited to see the Kings’s Head transform into the World’s End estate (in Chelsea, where the play is set)… expect brick and concrete!

Mirlind Bega_ credit Kate Harding

The venue’s championing of challenging new work is not dissimilar to that of Kiln Theatre, where you’ve been Associate Director. Tell us about your work at Kiln and how this connects to your own theatrical interests…

I began as Resident Director at Kiln Theatre (then the Tricycle) back in 2013. It was my first paid directing job after years of treading water. I was amazed to be working with Indhu – her work had inspired me since I worked in the bar at the Royal Court. As with everyone who works in that building, I really do believe in Indhu’s mission of bringing the unheard voice in the mainstream. I had a tough time learning to accept myself and I think that’s partly down to the lack of prominent LGBT representation as I was growing up. The more inclusive theatre programming becomes, the greater our collective empathy becomes – which is vital in these times of devisive politcal rhetoric.

The first play I assisted Indhu on was HANDBAGGED by Moira Buffini. To work so closely with both of them has been such a privilege, and I’ve been lucky enough to revisit the play on tour and in Washington. I also met and worked with numerous artists who inspire me to this day – Colman Domingo, Ayesha Antoine, Marcus Gardley to name a few. And it’s where I met Patricia Potter, who is playing Viv in World’s End. These relationships you create early in your career really stick.

When I returned to Kiln as Associate Director, I was able to get some new writers in the building, and I worked with a wonderufl playwright – Carmen Nasr – on Kiln Theatre’s 18-25 Young Company show. Carmen wrote 12 young people an incredible play, and it was wonderful to working with such a committed, talented company on a piece of new writing.

Viv, Ben, Ylli and Besnik, the play’s four roles are complex yet subtle – how did you work with the actors to find their characters?

I am amazed by actors. The balance between natural gift and hard won technique is amazing, and really all my job as a director is to make sure the company feel as safe and supported as possible to make brave, courageous choices that really get to the heart of what the story is. The challenge with directing is how to find a unified way for an ensemble to tell a story – often with actors who have very different personal processes. I am lucky to have such a warm, committed company. They all believe wholeheartedly in the story we are telling and are ambitious to give it its best shot. I just have to stand back and watch!

Tom Milligan and Mirlind Bega_ credit Kate Harding

The action takes part in two council building apartments but is very much situated within a larger social and political moment – how is this conveyed onstage?

The most important thing for Rachel (designer) and I was to give a sense of the domestic with the World’s End estate, and how both pairs of neighbours live on a day-to-day basis. However, James has written something very clever in exploring how even when we try and hide away from the world by retreating into screens (TV or computer games in this case) the world will inevitable find its way in and give us a shock. The events of the outside world are brought into our domesitc setting by the characters and the events that happen to them through the play.

Tell us more about the love story at the play’s centre?

This is a play about first love. When we meet Ben and Besnik they are both dealing with their own fears and insecurities about the outside world, but together they find security and passion. I think James has written two wonderful LGBT figures in the two characters, but the love they find in each other – without the self-hatred or trauma that can (understandably) underpin a lot of LGBT work – is something that is universal.

There’s also the love story of parent and child – and how there is that moment when we realise that our parents are actually people with their own reality. The love between parent and child develops as the play goes on – with both positive and negative outcomes – and that story rides in parrallel with the story of youthful love.

How is sexuality and identity explored in “WORLD’S END”?

This is a play about first love. When we meet Ben and Besnik they are both dealing with their own fears and insecurities about the outside world, but together they find security and passion. I think James has written two wonderful LGBT figures in the two characters, but the love they find in each other – without the self-hatred or trauma that can (understandably) underpin some LGBT work – is something that is universal.

What do you hope audiences will take from World’s End?

When it’s all boiled down, I think the point of the play is talking about the importance of having courage in who we are. While I really hope the audience have a great time, and recognise themselves in all four characters, but what I’d love is for people watching to leave the theatre feeling surer in who they are themselves.

Tom Milligan_ credit Kate Harding

What is the biggest challenge you have faced?

I’ve been fortunate enough to work flat out working as an Associate (first on Angels in America at the National, then Kiln Theatre and back to the National for Peter Gynt) for the last three years – but this next year is really about me finding out how to balance the demands of paying rent with continuing to make my own work. I’ve not really yet worked out how but I’m hoping World’s End is the first step in finding out!

And finally, what else are you working on at the moment and in the near future?

I’ve been flat out working as an Associate (first on Angels in America at the National, then Kiln Theatre and back to the National for Peter Gynt) for the last three years that this next year is really about me finding out how to balance the demands of paying rent with continuing to make my own work. I’ve not really yet worked out how but I’m hoping World’s End is the first step in finding out!

Tom Milligan and Mirlind Bega_ credit Kate Harding

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World’s End will be on at the King’s Head Theatre from 27th August until 21st September. Tickets and more information from: https://system.spektrix.com/kingsheadtheatre/website/eventdetails.aspx?WebEventId=worldsend

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