Interview with Guy Jones – director of The Climbers
Why did you want to direct this show? And why Keswick?
I loved the ingredients of this play as soon as I read it, and knew I had to send it to Liz Stevenson when she took over Theatre by the Lake. Carmen is a wonderful playwright – so ambitious in her themes and theatricality. I liked how the play was a challenge to the very western idea that a landscape is something to be conquered.
All of my childhood holidays were here in the Lake District, and I was always taken to see whatever was on at the Theatre by the Lake, so the theatre played an important role in my falling in love with this artform. I was over the moon when Liz phoned me and said she also saw something in the play.
You were scheduled to direct The Climbers back in 2020. Given you’ve had the opportunity to come back to the play post-Covid, has anything altered about your approach this time around?
The play being cancelled was devastating, but only the tip of the iceberg when it came to the impact Covid has had on our industry – both on organisations and freelancers. But it gave us a lot of time to reflect on what was important to us. Many of us took a step back to think about how the business of theatre works. One of those conversations was about how seriously we were factoring in the climate impact of our work.
Our designer Max Johns and I decided that we would try to make the set of The Climbers as sustainable as possible. We replaced plastic sheeting with natural fibres and we are all talking about how it might be re-used after the production.
Are there particular challenges to directing a play about the great outdoors on such an epic scale inside a theatre?
My work often has an element of the landscape in it, but I’ve never had to stage scenes set on the world’s highest mountain during a storm before. But luckily with theatre you can ask an audience to use their imagination!
Have there been challenges to ensuring the technical detail depicted about mountaineering/climbing is accurate? How far have you taken that…?
This is not a film or a documentary. What is important to me is to communicate the feeling of exhaustion, the feeling grief, the feeling of altitude sickness. And of course to some extent we are bound by practicality – the technical kit associated with climbing into the ‘death zone’ of Everest is really expensive. And if our actors were to wear it under the lights of Theatre by the Lake, they’d completely overheat!
What for you is The Climbers about?
It’s a kaleidoscope of views about climbing – why do we do it? It’s about who gets to tell the story of the landscape. It’s about how people try to escape difficult truths in their relationships.
What are audiences going to get out of this piece? Why should they see it?
It’s an extraordinary story about human connection at altitude. I can’t imagine anything better after two years of such uncertainty, disconnection and staying inside. Come and see it after you’ve trotted up Catbells, or made it along Striding Edge. Or if you’ve just spent the day in a tearoom looking at the view from the window.
Finally, is there anything that might surprise audiences about the show?
We are trying to use as much of the architecture of the Theatre by the Lake stage as possible to tell a story on this scale. I hope audiences who know the theatre well will be surprised about what the space can do. And that new audiences will fall in love with the theatre like I have.
Find out more about The Climbers here.
Download press image of Guy Jones here.
Read Q&A from the writer of The Climbers, Carmen Nasr, here.