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Artistic director Connor Alexander: ‘We’re sending captions to audience members’ phones, to make the show more accessible’

Performer and director Connor Alexander is one of the co-founders of Coventry-based theatre company Noctium. He tells Giverny Masso about its latest show Hymns for Robots…

What is Hymns for Robots about?
It tells the story of composer Delia Derbyshire, the woman behind the Doctor Who theme tune. She was a trailblazer in electronic music, working in the 1960s and 1970s, when it was a male-dominated industry. She came from a working-class background and gained places at both Oxford and Cambridge, then worked in the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop. We are particularly interested in her because she was born in Coventry. Her work on Doctor Who is so recognisable, yet her name isn’t.

How do you use technology in the show?
It’s a very sound-heavy piece. We are using a tool that sends captions to audience members’ phones, to make the show more accessible. We are also visualising sound through oscilloscopes – little bits of machinery – dotted around the stage.

When did you found your theatre company?
I set up Noctium with Jessie Coller and Charles Craggs. We studied together at Coventry University and graduated in 2014. We did a show together and really enjoyed it and thought: “This could be a viable career.” So we took that company on professionally. We are now an associate company of the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry. We’ve just completed a run of Hymns for Robots at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe [1], and will be touring until 2019. Beyond that, we are aiming to develop another show and keep diversifying our skills.

How would you characterise Noctium’s work?
Our early work had an expressionist slant. The name Noctium derives from the night, and there’s something ‘other’ about our work: we are not part of the mainstream. One thing that defines us is that we like to try new things for every production.

How did you get into theatre?
I’ve loved theatre since a very young age. A drama school teacher come into my primary school and I was hooked from then – I’ve not let go since. When I started at Coventry, I was looking to be an actor, but I moved beyond that when I realised that theatre is much broader. After studying together, we all felt we could be actors, directors and so many other things too.

What is your advice for someone starting out in the industry?
Don’t lose faith. It can be a real struggle. The thing we keep looking back at is the people who have helped us along the way – theatre is a very generous industry. Coventry University and the Belgrade Theatre have been instrumental in our development.

CV: Connor Alexander

Training: Theatre and professional practice, Coventry University (2011-14)
First professional role: Carnival of the Animals with Fabularium (2014)
Agent: Rob Wilkinson at Red Talent Management

Hymns for Robots runs at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre from September 19 to 21 [2]