On Directing Mouthpiece: Interview with Angus Gavan McHarg

For an insight into directing as a student, I spoke with Angus Gavan McHarg, 4th year Geography student and director of last term’s sell-out production Mouthpiece. Mcharg had Alice Jackson on hand as producer, with assistants Jasmin Antonia and Aude NB, Calum Scouller playing Declan and Nicola Alexander as Libby. The show boasted original score from Duncan Gallagher and projection and tech work from Robbie Phipps and George Manchester, whilst Matthew Marsland managed the stage. It was, in my opinion, a show that went beyond just student theatre, and boasted talent throughout. Angus has shed the light on directing with Paradok, negotiating delicate scenes and the technicalities of getting a show to the stage.

How did you feel the week after mouthpiece wrapped up?

Strange. I’d never directed a show before but had heard about the“post-show blues” which I’d never got as an actor.
I was always still riding the fun wave of the show. I had this two/three day down in the dumps period thinking what am I going to do now? Because you think about it every day for four months you know. But 
after those few days and looking back on it on and how good it was, it was worth it. It’s nice now. I still bump into Calum every week and we get to have a catch-up. 


Why Mouthpiece- What was the process? 
I always knew I wanted to direct something, and when I was fist considering it I 
was wanting to put on something by Martin Mcdonagh. I really like a lot of his plays, but I wasn’t sure which one. Mouthpiece was one of the last shows I saw at the fringe and I thought “that would be interesting”. It blew me away and seemed perfect to put on in Edinburgh, and as a student.
I quite liked the fact it was a two-person show becauseI’d never directed before. As soon
as I saw it I just knew, and they were selling scripts on the door for a fiver, so I just bought one.
 
How did you find the proposal process, what were the biggest hurdles?  
I didn’t know much about getting rights, but I feel like that’s different for every show. I would suggest just calling them up, within office hours. Emails were too slow, especially as we had a deadline.
Conceptually I had quite a clear idea of what I wanted to do, so it was mostly
people not replying about giving us the rights and actually finding people.
If I was 1st or 2nd year I would have struggled, Maybe if I had been directing
all along I would have had more of a network, but I really only knew actors 
 
What is your favourite rehearsal memory?
I think either the one that Addi described in LOAF, I remember that being funny.
We started doing the scene where they have to dad dance on stage and it was just awful.
I got them experimenting with different moves and styles, but it is hard to know how to
dance whilst looking like you don
’t want to be dancing. I just thought what would a young wee bairn do?
Or, weirdly, it was watching the actors negotiate scene 15
(Scene 15 contained an uncomfortable and surprising intimate encounter between the 17y/o
Declan and Libby in her 40s). They were really on it and we
’d get through the script so quickly,
but I’ve never seen two actors stall so much. They would say something weirdly and both start laughing, I was like
“right well you’re going to have to kiss at some point in this rehearsal.” 
 
How did you deal with that, how did you make it less awkward?
I got Rachel Chung, who is doing a PhD in theatre studies and has done a lot of intimacy directing, to come in and help out.
She was very helpful because this was completely out of my depth.We workshopped for a bit and went through where were appropriate areas to touch,
where they felt comfortable and the speed of intimacy. The kiss comes quite
quickly, but it
’s quite a long scene. Top tip, don’t be afraid to ask for help and learn from others around you. Especially with things like intimacy which isdifficult to manage. I would now feel confident directing that on my own. 
 
What would you do differently if you could do the entire process again now
I’d say it’s best to try and not be everyone’s middle man. You don’t need to be involved in all the group chats, and not every decision needs to be made through you. Our rehearsals were quite rigidly structured, so I quickly learned that things were going to take longer than I’d allotted time for, and we had to adjust. I would always start each rehearsal with a discussion rather than doing it midway through because I think it focusses everyone better. That’s something I will definitely do again, especially with such provocative material. 
 
Will you direct again?
I would want to. Probably not again as a student, but maybe smaller projects later on.
It has helped a lot with other things, I
’ve had to learn to be organised and think about
other people, not just myself. I feel much more confident leading groups of people,
and that
’s something that will be so helpful throughout life. I think it mostly came to me
because I had such a clear idea of what I wanted to do. It was quite nice to be in control. 
 
Is there anything else you’d like to say about the show and its process?
Just that Nicola and Calum were so amazing. They were eager and fun at the same time and could flick so quickly between professional and silly. I looked forward to rehearsals every week and it was made so much easier by the people around me. It was also very important to me that, given we were such an international production team, at least some of the cast were Scottish, considering the play asks who has the right to say what? I tried to talk about it as much as possible with Calum and Nicola, especially as I am English and middle class, directing a show about a working-class Scottish kid having his story stolen. I did want them to think about it as much as possible, and ask themselves how acceptable it was that we were putting that on. Mouthpiece, if done properly, really needs to be seen. But you need to cast authentically and thank god for Calum because he really had the spirit of Declan. All the men who auditioned were really good, but Calum just seemed to have ‘it’. The guy who originally played Declan had a posh Edinburgh accent outside of the show- is it possible to cast authentically?
The play leaves more questions than answers, and I think that’s the best type of theatre.
 
Has Mouthpice changed the way you interact with theatre now? 
I have thought about it a bit. With scripts dealing with class it’s so important to consider the medium and how they’re produced because it can be really eye-opening. Mouthpiece is a script that is funny but also looks forensically at things. It can make you laugh and cry within 20 minutes. It made me think about the acceptability of the rehearsal process it’s self, and the often exclusivity of theatre it’s self. We were constantly questioning everything we were doing which I quite liked. 

Mouthpiece is back in the Traverse theatre from the 6th-15th February, with tickets ranging from 
£5-£15, and is also taking part in the £1 ticket scheme.