We caught up with HOPELESSLY DEVOTED director Stef O’Driscoll who gave us the scoop on the upcoming third national tour of Kate Tempest’s lyrically explosive tale of love and redemption.
So, it’s the third time round for HOPELESSLY DEVOTED. What is it about this play that connects with you, and why have you wanted to tell this story again and again?
It’s a beautiful, humane, important story about real people – women – who’ve made mistakes in their lives. This play is tragic and raw and it’s beautiful because there’s no sense of anyone playing the victim. These women are aware of their crimes and are in the process of dealing with them and what we actually explore is how you can love another and yourself again – how you can survive with the choices you made in life.
Just to give it some context, can you tell us a little about the play?
So, we follow the story of Chess and her inmate Serena. You get to see what they bring out of each other and how they’re there for one another. When Serena leaves, Chess has to go on her own journey, and music plays a key part in that when she starts a 12 week music rehabilitation course. Another reason why I love this play is the style of music. It’s a ‘musical’ but it’s cool, it’s contemporary, it’s raw – the lyrics are just insane. You really get to the very heart of Chess’ character, her story, her pain, her hopes and dreams and what she’s lived through – everything – through the music in this play. And that’s exciting. It’s exciting that it’s three female characters – yet another thing that drew me to this. Three very strong female parts for three strong female performers. Have I said the word female enough?
But that’s important, though, isn’t it? It’s been a huge topic of conversation in the industry, of how we need more strong female parts to be written and performed.
Absolutely, and this has it in spades. And another thing that struck me – doing this the third time round – was the idea of children, and a woman’s role within motherhood. The play explores the tragedy that unfolds when kids are taken away from their mothers – for whatever reason – how all these women who can no longer be with their children have to cope. I think there’s a statistic about how it’s estimated that more than 17,240 children were separated from their mothers in 2010 by imprisonment. And I know I keep saying the word ‘humane’ – but what Kate Tempest does is write human beings at their absolute core. She makes any story universal, no matter the scenario – it’s love, betrayal, redemption – it’s all these things that we all feel and we all recognise and that’s why her stories connect with people. That’s why it hits you.
What’s different about the show this time round?
Firstly, we’ve got a completely new cast. I think when you do something again with a completely new cast, the best thing you can do is scrap anything that you’ve done before and try an entirely fresh approach. And each actress we’re working with has approached this from a completely different place. What they’re bringing to it this time round… I feel like it’s tonally different. It goes to a darker place. We’ve got a new team working on it and we’ve been trying to keep ourselves open to new discoveries. I’ve banned saying “when we did it last time” from the rehearsal room. I think it can be really disruptive, actually – and it’s difficult for me because I’ve done it before and I know, in my head, what worked. But to allow it to be fresh and exciting again, for a new journey to be found within this, I need to let go of that.
Any changes to the script?
Kate, like myself, is an absolute perfectionist. So every time we’ve looked at it – and this is the third time now – we’ve asked ourselves “What worked? What didn’t?” You learn so much by getting work out in front of an audience. And that’s the beauty of new writing – the writer is alive, so they can come into a rehearsal, they can make edits. And Kate’s gone and done that. The script is very, very tight – and we’re all very excited about the way the story unravels this time around, from what we’ve learned previously.
What has working on and developing this piece with Kate Tempest been like?
When you get someone with a phenomenal mind, who is equally down to earth, has a good soul and is just so honest with themselves – it’s a dream. It’s a dream come true. I feel like a brilliant creative relationship has been formed because she only strives for perfection and only wants the work to be the best it can be. To reach out to as many people as she can by telling these stories. No matter what form she touches, whether it’s a play, whether it’s a novel, poetry, music – she has a way with words and I honestly feel like I’m working with today’s Shakespeare. It’s just a gift to be able to work with someone who just simply wants us to be able to connect with each other and understand one another a bit better; to have empathy for our fellow human. And I feel like that’s at the heart of this play. These women are human. They’ve made some mistakes and we should try to understand why it’s happened and what has failed them. Why are these women where they are in the first place? Is there anything we can do to prevent that in future? I think the simple idea of looking after one another a bit better is at the heart of her work .
Any final words?
There’s something really poignant that Kate said after she received letters from some inmates of a men’s prison. One of them wrote – prison isn’t so terrible when you’ve only known badness and lived a life doing bad things. It’s when you’ve experienced the good in the world that prison becomes a nightmare. Because it’s the good things that you miss, and how you deal with filling that void.
HOPELESSLY DEVOTED opens at Lincoln Performing Arts Centre at 7.30pm tonight, before winging its way to venues nationwide. Catch it.
View the full tour schedule.
View rehearsal snaps.
View the trailer.
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