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Director and dramaturg Tamar Saphra: ‘People say, ‘Wow, I couldn’t work with my mother’, but I have the opposite feeling’

Tamar Saphra

Tamar Saphra is to direct her first full-length run of a production, which has been written by her mother, Jacqueline Saphra, this April. She tells Giverny Masso what it’s like to work with a parent and about the work she does outside directing as a script reader and dramaturg…

How did you get into theatre?
My parents both have theatre backgrounds, so theatre was a huge part of my childhood. My dad is a lawyer now, but he started his career as a theatre director in Cape Town, South Africa, where he’s from. I went to uni in Sheffield and did a BA in literature and theatre, then I did an MA in directing at Mountview. I saw it as a bit of a playground where I had the space to try things out. I’m so interested in working with writers. I’ve done script-reading for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting, the National Theatre and London’s Almeida Theatre.

Tell me about the play, The Noises?
It’s a fairly unusual play, told totally from the perspective of a female dog called Luna. She listens and deciphers the noises she hears from inside a room she has been locked in at home. Ellie, the daughter in the human family and Luna’s best friend, leaves the house in a flurry of teenage angst. As an unfamiliar chaos begins to descend on the world outside, Luna tells her story and tries to build up the courage to go out into the night in search of Ellie.

What does this project mean to you?
This is my first full-length run of a production. It’s really exciting. What’s been interesting, which maybe comes from being a script reader, is that I’m very picky about the work I want to make. While my peers are making lots of fringe shows, part of me has been waiting to do my first big run. So it had to mean a lot to me.

What has it been like working with your mother?
People often say: “Wow, I couldn’t work with my mother”, but I have the opposite feeling. There is no pretence or anxiety about upsetting each other. She said that I understand her work the best of all. Our only challenge so far has been that we try to look after each other so much. We’ve been developing The Noises together since 2015, but I started out with it as dramaturg, not director. We’ve collaborated a fair bit in the past, on poetry shows and events, but this is our biggest project to date. In 2017, The Noises was longlisted for the Bruntwood Prize. I think I was a little scared of it at first, it’s a huge challenge of a play, but by 2018 I knew for sure that this was the play I’d been waiting for.

Will the play be accessible?
The show is accessible to visually impaired and blind audiences. I have an interest in making fringe theatre spaces more accessible in a creative way. People presume it’s incredibly expensive and difficult, but it should be part of your process, just as sound or lighting is. It’s something that is definitely overlooked.

What is next for you?
I have just joined a cohort of resident directors at the Almeida, and will be on attachment for a year. We get to assist on the main-house productions as well as working within the building on things like rehearsed readings, workshops and with the participation department.

CV Tamar Saphra

Training: BA in English and Theatre at Sheffield University (2011-14); MA in directing (2015-16)
First professional role: Usher at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in London (2014)
Agent: None

The Noises runs at Old Red Lion Theatre, London from April 2-20. More information is available at tamarsaphra.com/thenoises

The Green Room: What do you wish you had known when starting out?

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