Tag Archives: Kirstie Davis

Making language visual

Turning written text into visual, physical language – transforming words on the page into signs and gestures that take flight….  I love working with Jean St Clair. In her London apartment this week, I worked with her and Sophie Stone, transforming written text from my new play Woman of Flowers into flowing, beautiful visual language.

Jean St Clair's encouraging feedback

Jean St Clair’s encouraging feedback

Although I’ve been working with Jean now for a dozen years on translation and recreating English text into theatricalised sign, I always feel very privileged to be part of the process. We last worked together on Forest Forge’s production of my play peeling, also directed by Kirstie Davis. It’s wonderful to have Jean as our creative sign director.


I send her the speeches from my play which we want physicalised in advance and then Jean asks me questions about my meaning, intention, and preferred aesthetic via email or text. When we gather, she will have already explored possibilities, but will always be led by the performer – in this case Sophie Stone, who will be performing the part in the Forest Forge production when Woman of Flowers tours the UK in the Autumn.


Woman of Flowers is a new play, inspired by elements of the ancient Welsh treasure, The Mabinogion. I’ve been obsessed by the story of Bloudewydd for many years, since I moved to Wales to live.


The story tells of a female ostensibly made from the flowers of the oak and trees in the forest to be companion to a young man cursed by his mother never to have ‘a woman of our race.’ Quite what this ‘ideal’ woman might be has enthralled and perplexed me for years. I explored the notion of  computer generated avatars in Perfect, a piece I made with John McGrath and Paul Clay ten years ago at Contact Theatre, and which won the Manchester Evening News best play of 2004.

Jean St Clair and Sophie Stone working on 'Woman of Flowers'

Jean St Clair and Sophie Stone working on ‘Woman of Flowers’

Woman of Flowers, commissioned by Forest Forge and directed by Kirstie Davis, will be very different. A mixture of prosaic everyday dialogue in spoken English, and the poetic inner thoughts of Rose (played by Sophie) using theatricalised sign, will hopefully be visually stunning and emotionally effecting.


Our rehearsed reading at Salisbury Playhouse earlier in the month left some of the invited audience in tears. Many spoke afterwards of the lyrical nature of Sophie’s spoken and signed language, mentored and polished by Jean’s experienced eye.

I have asked Jean and Sophie if they will guest blog about their process, working between spoken and signed language, between Deaf and hearing cultures. They have agreed, and I can’t wait to share more of this part of the creative process, which is often invisible, hidden from view.

Tour details: http://www.forestforge.co.uk/shows/woman-of-flowers 

Spoken language, Visual language – Woman of Flowers with Forest Forge

Sophie Stone signing, not singing.

Sophie Stone signing, not singing.

I’m in a small sound studio in Camden, watching Sophie Stone transform my written text into three dimensions. She has been working with my long term collaborator Jean St Clair on translating sections of Woman of Flowers, my commission from Forest Forge Theatre, into theatricalised British Sign Language (BSL) or visual language. I was unable to make these earlier sessions as I was at the Cork Midsummer festival, so Sophie and I are refining the work, preparing for a rehearsed reading of the script at Salisbury Playhouse in front of an invited audience.

This project is something of a dream one. Kirstie Davis, the artistic director of Forest Forge, came to see the National Theatre Wales production of my performance text In Water I’m Weightless in 2012, and fell under the spell of Sophie Stone, one of the performers. Kirstie and I sat together in the cafe after the show, scheming, plotting, dreaming up a way of working together again, and including Sophie. ‘If you were do something original for Forest Forge, what would it be?’ she asked, and I told her of a contemporary retelling of an ancient myth, filled with transformations and magic, desire and murder – a world where nothing is quite as it seems. ‘Oooh, yes, we’ll do it!’ Kirstie said as our imaginations entwined, and we clapped our hands and jumped up and down in our seats, laughing.

Laughter is continuous when working with Kirstie Davis. Her rehearsal rooms are joyful and creative places, filled with possibilities. Even in these austerity times, when funding is increasingly difficult, the arts given less and less value and projects are constantly under threat, Kirstie and her team at Forest Forge still make things happen, and with smiles on their faces. Sadly, it is so easy to be negative about the future of the arts in the current climate, but Kirstie and Forest Forge are resilient, inventive, and optimistic. They have a loyal and supportive following, too, which buoys the company up and is massively appreciated. A fundraising drive earlier in the year saved this production of Woman of Flowers and I’m grateful to all who supported the company, for the opportunity of making this work, which I hope will be inventive, emotionally engaging, and with resonance for our times.

Actors Sophie Stone, Andrew Wheaton, Liam Gerrard and choreographer  Junior Jones

Actors Sophie Stone, Andrew Wheaton, Liam Gerrard and choreographer Junior Jones

Woman of Flowers uses a mixture of spoken and visual languages, and will be surtitled throughout. I will write of the content more in a future blog. It will also incorporate movement, choreography, video, live music and an original score by Rebecca Applin. When we gathered at Salisbury Playhouse to read the script aloud for the first time, designer David Haworth was also there, presenting his model box design for the production.

Designer David Applin presents 'Woman of Flowers' design to the cast of the rehearsed reading, Salisbury Playhouse.

Designer David Applin presents ‘Woman of Flowers’ design to the cast of the rehearsed reading, Salisbury Playhouse.

After just five hours of rehearsal, we presented the work to an invited audience. As a playwright, it is always magical hearing the words you have written outside your own head that first time. The choices the performers make are often surprising, and enriching – their questions stimulating and often challenging. I strive to give a lot of space to my collaborators, especially when working with this kind of material, shape-shifting and poetic, where nothing is quite what it seems. Some of my answers to specific questions are ‘open’ – ‘yes, it could be she is lying; but then again, she might be telling the truth.’ I’m sure such apparent evasiveness can be frustrating to an actor who seeks a strong foundation to build their performance on, but it’s easy to give definite answers and for me, that is a closing down of possibilities rather than an opening up. Once in rehearsals, there will be three weeks of exploration and discovery, and so I always endeavour to leave space for the director and actor to make their work, and, invariably, surprise me with their interpretations and discoveries.

This issue was taken up in the Q&A after the reading, and both Kirstie and I spoke of the necessity of trust. I am fortunate to have worked with her before, on a production of my play peeling in 2011, and a strong, mutually-respectful relationship was built then. I find Kirstie a wonderful collaborator. Apart from her imaginative and inventive productions, she has a wonderful regard for the audience and awareness of that dynamic between the spectacle and the spectator. That focus brings an immediacy to her direction and alongside the excellent performers she casts, it creates a strong connection with the audience.

I was shaken to see members of our invited audience in tears after the reading, and several spoke generously about the emotional impact the work had and how excited they were by the content and the presentation. This was immensely gratifying for us to know – a large part of a rehearsed reading is to test the script and see if it is working – and the emotional response reflects the commitment and skills Kirstie and the actors brought to our short rehearsal process.

Given the response to this early part of the process, I can’t wait to see what happens when we are deep in it.


20 Questions: Kirstie Davis

What if I took 20 questions, and gave them to directors, artists, playwrights, poets, actors, novelists, burlesque performers, short story writers, devisers, stand-up and sit-down comedians and anyone else who seemed interesting in between, and asked them to respond to as many or as few questions as they liked, as briefly or meandering as they chose about art, culture, and the creative process… wouldn’t that be an interesting series?

Or that, at least, is the thinking behind a new series of interviews I’ll be posting each week, 20 Questions. I’m delighted that director Kirstie Davis agreed to be the first subject…


Kirstie Davis

Kirstie Davis

Kirstie has worked at many theatres around the country including the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith and Salisbury Playhouse . For six years she was the Associate Director and then Acting Artistic Director of Watford Palace Theatre. Plays included: The Caucasian Chalk Circle, The Crucible in History, Mother Courage and her Children, Fear and Misery in the Third Reich, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Daughter-in-Law and Top Girls. She has also directed Fable and Brecht’s Lehrstucke for the Nuffield Theatre and most recently she ran the Studio Theatre at Cheltenham Everyman where she directed Man to Man and led on their New Writing, Outreach and Professional Mentoring programmes. Since joining Forest Forge as Artistic Director in January 2009, Kirstie has directed Around The World In 80 Days, Ashputtel, Free Folk, For The Record, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Peeling, The World Outside, Bloom, The Phoenix and The Carpet and Midnight is a Place.

See www.forestforge.co.uk for more details


What first drew you to writing/directing/acting?

I fell in love with film from an early age and wanted to be a film director. But at university I discovered theatre and changed paths. I love working with actors and the immediacy of theatre. The rehearsal room is my favourite place.

What was your big breakthrough?

I am not sure that I have had one! In terms of being allowed to direct- I assisted Jane Howell at BADA and she was inspirational and allowed me to direct the first act of Top Girls. I now always have an assistant director if I can.

 What is the most challenging aspect of your work/process?

Funding applications! I enjoy the challenge of new writing- as it is all to be discovered.

Is there a piece of art, or a book, or a play, which changed you?

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams. I saw the play, then the film , then read the play…. An extraordinary haunting piece of work.

What’s more important: form or content?

Both are equal in my eyes

 How do you know when a project is finished?

I don’t think a project is ever really finished- it is just going through a new transition

 Do you read your reviews?

If they are good

 What advice would you give a young writer/practitioner?

Have faith in your abilities and don’t let others put you off. There are many reasons to not pursue a creative career- but if you have to do it, you will.

What work of art would you most like to own?

Anything by Rodin

What’s the biggest myth about writing/the creative process?

That it is easy. That anyone can do it.

 What are you working on now?

The Boy at the Edge of the Room by Richard Conlon. This is an adaptation of a Victorian novella by Lucy Clifford that is the inverse of the Pinocchio Story. A young boy called Tony wants to be a puppet and there are dramatic consequences because of that wish. It is a gothic fairytale for adults, which we think explored autism for the first time in literary form.  (see below for information of the tour)

What is the piece of art/novel/collection/ you wish you’d created?

Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights

 What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?

To not worry so much. To enjoy the moment and not worry about the future.

What’s your greatest ambition?

To be a Theatre Director for the rest of my life

 How do you tackle lack of confidence, doubt, or insecurity?

Good friends who aren’t in the theatre industry

What is the worst thing anyone said/wrote about your work?

I try not to read bad reviews

 And the best thing?


If you were to create a conceit or metaphor about the creative process, what would it be?

Pure collaboration

What is your philosophy or life motto?

Just breathe in and out and move forward.

What is the single most important thing you’ve learned about the creative life?

There are sacrifices as well as gains

What is the answer to the question I should have – but didn’t – ask?

I think that covers it!

Kirstie’s latest production: THE BOY AT THE EDGE OF THE ROOM

The Boy At The Edge Of The Room.... Forest Forge

The Boy At The Edge Of The Room…. Forest Forge

  • The Boy at the Edge of the Room
  • Written By
    Richard Conlon
  • Directed By
    Kirstie Davis
  • Designed By
    David Haworth
  • Composer/Music By
    Rebecca Applin
  • Choreographed By
    Junior Jones
This show tours from 7th Mar 2013 to 20th Apr 2013.  Venue details: http://www.forestforge.co.uk/shows/boyatedge


‘He was not like other boys….He did not see the world through the same eyes as us.”  A boy called Tony struggles to fit in and find his place.  He has a different way of looking at the world and longs to retreat to place where he can be ‘’nothing more than small and far off’. Those surrounding him have little patience for his dreams, with the exception of his mother who will do anything to ensure his happiness.When a mysterious ‘dealer’ offers Tony the chance to make his dream come true, his mother must face a future without him, and the audience is forced to confront an unsettling and moving ending.

The Boy At The Edge of the Room is a fairytale for adults, inspired by Lucy Clifford’s 1882 story Wooden Tony. It focuses on a character who displays many of the classic traits of those on the autistic spectrum. It is a beautiful and moving examination of difference and acceptance, brought to life through song, movement and puppetry. Recommended age 12+  Created with help and advice from the Hampshire Autistic Society.