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Writer and director Tyrrell Jones: ‘A show is a success if everyone is asking questions when they come out’

Tyrrell Jones Tyrrell Jones

The co-artistic director of politically focused theatre company Knaive Theatre tells Giverny Masso about the company’s current project, War With the Newts…

Tell me about War With the Newts.

It’s based on a novel by [Czech writer] Karel Capek written in 1936. It’s about an intelligent species of newt that is getting exploited as cheap labour. It’s very much about exploitation and the ways we can swallow prejudice when we are given scientific reasons to do so. It’s about the human and environmental cost of cheap stuff. It links to the fact that so much of our economy is supported by paying workers slightly less than what is legal. It plays with this idea as well that civilisation isn’t permanent and one day it might come crashing down.

How did you adapt the novel?

I was the primary writer on the play, adapting it after working the scenes with the cast. We’ve been working on it for 18 months, taking it chapter by chapter, playing around. We’ve also created three characters with spatial-mapping technology, who are displayed on three screens and address the audience.

War with the Newts review at Summerhall, Edinburgh – ‘always engaging and performed slickly’

Tell me about Knaive Theatre.

Sam Redway and I are co-artistic directors. We met in a theatre in Plymouth, where we used to do a lot of work with refugee and asylum seekers. The first play we made was called Bin Laden – it is a one-man show that, amazingly, is still touring five years later. The company has only been going properly since 2015. We’ve also done smaller-scale things like interactive games at music festivals. This is our second full project. We’re also starting work on our third major show, which will be about humankind’s relationship with technology.

How would you characterise the company’s work?

We like to give our audiences – even a liberal audience – a feeling of cognitive dissonance. We believe a show is a success if everyone is asking questions when they come out of it. We have always said that the form will follow the content in our work. When we have a question we want to explore, we then find the most productive form to do so.

How did you get into theatre?

I wanted to be an actor when I was a kid. I thought about going to drama school but was persuaded to apply for university and ended up going to Cambridge, where I realised I really liked directing. Academia was a lonely place – there are all these ideas but nowhere to share them. With theatre I could explore the ideas I was studying. I ran a theatre for a year, called the Corpus Playroom. It was an 80-seat studio that was going to be turned into student accommodation, but we raised money to keep it open.

CV: Tyrrell Jones

Training: MFA in Theatre Directing, Birkbeck, University of London (2013-15)
First professional role: The World at Your Feet project – Barbican Theatre, Plymouth and Theatre Royal Plymouth (2011-12)
Agent: None

War With the Newts is running at the Bunker Theatre in London until October 27 and at Cast in Doncaster until November 13

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