Jonathan Woodhouse is the artistic director and founding member of Encompass Productions, a London-based production company celebrating 5 years next year! This year he is directing and co-producing ‘This is Not a Christmas Play’ at the Top Secret Comedy Club in Drury Lane this festive season. Ahead of the production, Theatrefullstop were able to speak to him about avoiding clichés, catering to the recession generation and his cinematic influences!
Hello Jonathan, how has the rehearsal process been for you for ‘This is Not a Christmas Play’?
This has been without doubt the most fun I’ve ever had working on a production. Robert Wallis and Liam Fleming have written a cracking script that is a real gift to directors and actors. We wanted to develop a great story with great characters, and yet have the flexibility of evolving these in rehearsal as per Encompass tradition. We develop our shows collaboratively and Rachael (the show’s associate director) and I work very hard to facilitate the ideas of everyone involved, aiming for a creative synergy when it comes to the final product. There are sequences which have come from the casts’ ideas in rehearsal. The set and costume design have informed the music. The writers will come to certain rehearsals and make script adjustments as they see fit. It’s been a real pleasure to see it all come together and certainly the actual rehearsals themselves are always the most fun part.
You say it is “without all the clichés of the Christmas season”, what else do you think ‘This is Not a Christmas Play’ offers audiences this Christmas they can’t find in other winter shows?
We at Encompass love the festive season and all the shows that come out this time of year – a couple of us are even in pantomime season! That being said our aim with ‘This is Not a Christmas Play’ was to offer an alternative to all the big shows out there. Something fun of course, but that is a bit more elemental than the norm. Our challenge was to make a Christmas show not about Christmas – there are many stories to be told at this time of year and this is ours – a tribute to all the things people love and hate about Christmas!
Why should audiences come and see your show, instead of a more traditional Christmas Pantomime?
Well first of all we’re a lot cheaper than all the big shows – if your pocket is feeling a little empty after Christmas shopping then we are the show to see. It’s a Christmas show for the recession generation! Perhaps the best reason to see our show is that it does all the things that a great Christmas story would do but with a modern and humorous twist. And even though the play is very funny and audiences will have a great time, we have some very human characters and a very relatable story. It’s farcical but can also be very moving. And the ambition of a great Christmas show is still there but told in a unique way. I don’t want to reveal too much but suffice to say we have a few tricks up our sleeve!
You founded Encompass Productions in 2010, how has the company changed and progressed in the last four years?
Our company is constantly evolving and growing. Our focus was initially on large-scale surrealist drama alongside a few film projects. However more recently we’ve adapted to the artistic climate and made a concious decision to scale back and get down to the real essence of what theatre can be. We want to tell new, original stories that are raw and powerful. We’ve expanded into exploring other genres – This is Not a Christmas Play is our second comedy show. We’ve realised that ambition and innovation doesn’t need a big budget – that we can retain our cinematic style and continue to challenge ourselves and our audiences.
As a director, what companies, genres and people inspire your work?
Liam Jarvis, the founder of multi-disciplinary company Analogue Theatre was the person that encouraged me to start a company. He introduced me to the cinematic style of theatremaker Robert Lepage, whilst Max Stafford-Clark was an early directorial influence. Simon Stephens‘ focus on character and conversation astounds me. I’m very influenced by cinema – the complex narrative structures of Christopher Nolan, the visual stylings of David Fincher, the uncompromising storytelling of Paul Thomas Anderson and the heart of Steven Spielberg is a good summary. I’m a big fan of comedy – TV shows like The Office (UK and US) and Community are great because they manage to retain the drama amongst the humour. But I owe it all to the late, great Arthur Miller – A View from the Bridge is the play that set me off on the course I’m on now.
What else does Encompass have coming up in 2015?
Our popular new writing event Bare Essentials returns in February and showcases new work from emerging and established writers and directors. It offers a polish and commitment to new work that can fall by the wayside in other new writing nights. We’re also developing a brand new production in the Spring which will see us return to drama – the setting is very unique for that one so watch out for it! Also next year is our 5 year anniversary and we have a number of very special things planned to celebrate. We’re only just getting started really!
What other Christmas shows are you planning to catch this festive season?
My girlfriend Marcella is in The Wizard of Oz pantomime tour with Gary Starr Productions, Encompass’ associate artistic director Rachael is in the Sleeping Beauty panto at the The Granville Theatre and our creative producer Liam is in Christmas at the White Bear Theatre. Noël Coward’s Christmas Spirits also looks really good. I’m hoping to see them all!
Interview by Lucy Bishop.
This is Not a Christmas Play will be showing at the Top Secret Comedy Club from Tuesday 9th December until Sunday 4th January. For more information on the production, visit here…