Pride And Prejudice

25 July 2012 | 7:45 am | Aleksia Barron

Theatre director Gary Abrahams is riding high on a wave of success and is now taking on the Australian premiere of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Pride, presented by Red Stitch. He speaks to Aleksia Barron.

Gary Abrahams isn't one to shy away from a challenge. The theatre director and current dramaturge-in-residence at Red Stitch has built his career by willingly taking on difficult plays. Just last year he received outstanding reviews for directing Red Stitch's production of The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later. Dealing with the effects of homophobia-fuelled violence in an American town, the play is far from easy, but under Abrahams' hand, it flourished.

Now, Abrahams is back in the director's chair at Red Stitch, this time for the Australian premiere of The Pride, a play by British playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell (of Apologia fame). The play straddles two separate time periods, but features characters common to both, so fortunately Abrahams is happy to explain the plot.

The Pride has two distinct parts – one set in 1958, and one set 50 years later, in 2008. “In 1958, it's kind of a forbidden love story. A man, Oliver, meets a young married couple, and he and the husband start to have an affair,” explains Abrahams. “It's 1958 London, so of course, [homosexual intercourse is] illegal, and there's a lot of shame and regret.”

When the play moves forward in time, the dynamic between the characters shifts. Abrahams explains: “Then in 2008, the trio of characters reappear in a different form. They keep the same names, but obviously they're different characters, with much more contemporary relationships.” The two men are now in a relationship; the woman who in 1958 was a wife is now their friend and confidant. “Every actor plays two roles – the same character, but one version of them in 1958, and then another contemporary version of what they would be like in 2008,” says Abrahams.

The characters will be brought to life by some wonderful talent, including guest actors Lyall Brooks (recently seen in MTC's The Heretic alongside Noni Hazelhurst), Ben Guerens, Ben Prendergast and Red Stitch ensemble member Ngaire Dawn Fair. For Abrahams, it's vital to help his cast inhabit the same character across two different decades. “That's been the great challenge of this play, trying to find the right performance styles for the 1958 and 2008 settings, without making it seem like two different plays – but still making them seem just different enough,” he says. Costuming will play an important role – Abrahams admits the actors are excited to “Mad Men it up” for the 1958 segment.

Abrahams also recognises that his previous successes make every subsequent project just that little bit more high-pressure. “I've been very fortunate that the work that I've done at Red Stitch and elsewhere has been well-received,” he says. However, even though he feels some pressure to deliver another well-reviewed play, Abrahams points out, “There's always pressure anyway; there's a responsibility that you have as director.” It's a responsibility that he takes seriously – to the actors, the creatives, and of course, the audience, who cannot be allowed to have a bad night at the theatre. “Bad theatre experiences can be quite hard to recover from,” he says. “As a director, I just try my hardest to make sure that the audience don't have a bad experience, and that they're never bored, and always kind of fascinated by the story that they've been told.”

The Pride runs until Saturday 18 August, Red Stitch.