Interview with Tabby McTat Director - Emma York

Emma York was one of the founding leaders of Faust back in 1999 and has directed and contributed so much to the company in the past 2 decades. She is now coming back to Hong Kong with a production of Julia Donaldson’s Tabby McTat (staged at the HK Academy for Performing Arts from June 1st) and shares with us below about her latest directing experience.

Emma York, right, directing as the team prepares for their upcoming production of Tabby McTat.

How did the project come about and how did you get involved?

I have been itching to direct a children’s show for some time! Whilst I’ve had a lot of experience directing children and spent a good amount of time working alongside shows created for children, the opportunity to actually get into a room with a group of adults to create something fun and exciting myself never really surfaced until last year. 

I spent a year doing an MA at a Drama School in London and it was here that I came across some enormously talented and wonderful actors. When Matthew (Matthew Gregory, the Producer) came to me and asked if I would create the next new show I jumped up in the air and knew EXACTLY who I wanted to have join me on board for this project. It was a matter of days before I had people in the room talking through ideas and moments later I had cast the 3 actors and we began the process of devising a brand new show.

How did you prepare to direct this show?

I read the story of Tabby McTat with my children time and time again. Nothing new there. I started paying close attention to which parts of the story captured their attention the most. But at the same time I was drawn to the parts of the story that didn’t grab their attention and began working out how I could add to this storyline in order to bring it to life even more. I feel very fortunate as an actor to be wearing the hat of director as it means I can incorporate a lot of my training into how I approach the text. It’s a perfect opportunity to incorporate both skills. 

There are aspects of my actor training that I take a great deal of pride in practicing and there are also skills I’ve picked up over the years directing various productions that I chose to hold on to. Finding the time to fuse these two together is super important and I believe it is what’s made directing this show such a dream! It really has been an incredibly rewarding and pleasurable experience.

What can audiences expect from the show? It seems there’s a lot of music involved.

What can’t they expect? I’m not sure really. I don’t want to give too much away. That would be a real shame! There’s lots of beautiful music that has been very carefully composed by the amazingly talented Conor Mainwairing. He is amazing. He plays Fred alongside the role of Storyteller and of course one of our little kittens. But he has also written all the songs. And what makes me smile is the fact that he has little idea of just how clever he is! I am convinced he is the next Andrew Lloyd Webber and joke about this with him.  

I really hope that our younger audience members are just enthralled by it all and have buckets of fun. I would like to take everyone no matter how young or old, on a journey. That they leave the theatre thinking, smiling, questioning, laughing…that the story has some impact on them, no matter how big or small. And for the mums and dads watching (and the teachers)…hopefully there will be the odd moment that captures their attention too!

What is it like directing this show compared to directing past Faust Productions?

I’m not working with children! Hang on a sec……really? It’s a little joke we have going on between the cast of Tabby. Deep down we are very much still kids and absolutely behave like it for much of the time. In fact when we have a serious moment it doesn’t last for long. I think it scares us a little and forces us to return back to the best place we can possibly be in for creating theatre – a place where we are comfortable to make mistakes, get things wrong, laugh when something is funny, cry when something moves us. We spent two weeks devising this show from scratch. We stepped in to a room with a blank slate and just played and played until our sides hurt so much from laughter or we stumbled across the most amazing idea to add in to the telling of this story. So when I look back on the process, it was very similar to directing a Faust show. Because let’s face it, any kid who has done Faust will know that this is precisely how we put on a good show!  It’s felt a little odd working alongside 3 actors when I am use to working alongside 30 plus! It has also made me realise just how much I miss working alongside Faust children. Watch this space!


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