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Sharon Burrell: artistic director

Sharon Burrell. Photo: Jemima Yong

Lincolnshire-born Sharon Burrell is artistic director of new-writing theatre company To the Moon. Launched in 2012 with Silent Shakespeare and followed last year by Episodic, the company’s latest production is Claustrophobia, written by playwright and novelist Jason Hewitt

Do you have a theatre background?

Not at all. I got involved with amateur dramatics when I was a kid. When I was at university in Nottingham, doing English and American Studies, I spent nine months at State University of New York in Albany, as part of an exchange programme. As well as your degree stuff you could do all sorts of amazing things so I did acting training there. When I came back to the UK I had a break from it and got into a marketing career. About four or five years ago I decided to give it a go again and enrolled at City Lit in London on some acting courses. It was there I realised my strengths were in directing and not acting. I owe a lot to the tutor who told me to try directing.

What’s Claustrophobia about?

On the face of it it’s about a man and woman trapped in a lift. But at the heart of it it’s about the female character, Rachel, and what happens to her when she literally can’t run away from her problems any more and has to face memories and ideas that she’s been avoiding confronting. It’s about isolation and how we create prisons for ourselves. Because they’re in the lift with very little food or water and are trapped for days she gets into this spiral of not being able to discern reality from fantasy. It’s psychologically very challenging and will be so for the actress, Jessica Macdonald.

So it’s not a comedy, then?

Well, you know, we didn’t think it was but at the rehearsed reading the audience found the first 15-20 minutes hilarious; it was just something about the social awkwardness about two people being trapped in a lift and the etiquette of working one another out. It’s a very serious situation but we approach it, as we do all our scripts, with a definite lean towards black comedy.

All I can think is, where do the characters go for a wee?

Ha ha, well, you’ll find out if you come and see the play. Jason and I felt we needed to answer that very early on, otherwise the audience would be wondering that all the way through. I can guarantee that unlike something like 24, for example, where nobody ever goes for a wee, we do deal with that head on. I’ve never been trapped in a lift but the play has certainly affected me; I don’t take the lift as often as I used to; I tend to take the stairs now.

Claustrophobia runs at the Zoo, Edinburgh from August 1-25


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