Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Lisa Spirling: Milk And Gall

By | Published on Friday 29 October 2021

Opening this week at Theatre503 is ‘Milk And Gall’, an intriguing new play which tackles some interesting themes spanning motherhood, politics, and the effects of political change on the psyche.

It’s the debut work by NYC-based playwright Mathilde Dratwa, a finalist in the venue’s international playwriting award, and it is directed by Theatre503’s Artistic Director Lisa Spirling.

I arranged a quick chat with Lisa to find out more.

CM: Can you start by telling us what to expect from ‘Milk And Gall’ in terms of its narrative? What story does it tell?
LS: ‘Milk And Gall’ tells the story of Vera in her first year of motherhood, which coincides with Trump becoming president. It’s funny, surreal, painful and poignant.

CM: What themes does the play explore?
LS: The play explores how Vera’s identity is shattered by both the arrival of her baby and the horror for her of Trump winning the 2016 US election.

CM: What attracted you to the play? Why do you like it and why did you want to direct it?
LS: It’s just brilliant. The writing is stunning. It surprised me, made me laugh out loud, whilst also making me hone in on things I’d never thought about before. All of which I can’t wait to share with an audience.

CM: Would you say it’s a political play?
LS: Yes, it’s a play that explores how big political changes on a global scale can have an impact on an individual’s identity, well being and ability to function in the world. It’s a play that taps into all that we have experienced in the US and the UK in the last five years, and feels more vital than ever as we emerge from 2020 and 2021.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the playwright Mathilde Dratwa? Has she been involved in the production? Are you able to tell us about what inspired the play?
LS: Mathilde is a Belgian playwright who lives in NYC. The play was submitted to 503 as part of our International Playwrighting Award and was a finalist. This is her debut play and was inspired by the birth of her son in 2016 when Trump became president. Mathilde has been involved throughout the process thanks to the magic of Zoom, and joins us as we head into previews and opening.

CM: Can you tell us about your cast?
LS: Casting is everything for a play like this. To have MyAnna Buring back on stage at 503 feels really special. She first performed there fifteen years ago, and has gone on to have extensive stage and screen success. She plays Vera, it’s an epic role, Shakespearean in scale and I’m so excited for the audience to go on this journey with her. Surrounding her is our phenomenal shape shifting cast that includes Olivier Award winning Jenny Galloway, Matt Whitchurch, Sherine Chalhie and Tracy-Anne Green.

CM: Can we talk about you, now? How did you come to be working in the arts? Did you always have ambitions in that direction?
LS: I always loved theatre but didn’t have any idea how to get into it. I was lucky enough to have a mum that said “if somebody does theatre as a job, why shouldn’t that person be you?” I’ve spent the last twenty years working out how to do it for a living and now get to spend my time directing and through our work at Theatre503 – where I’m the Artistic Director – I get to help other people do it for a living too.

CM: What have been the highlights of your career thus far?
LS: This moment, working on this show feels like a highlight already. The precariousness of theatre right now makes it all the more precious and me all the more appreciative of being in a room, rehearsing Mathilde’s incredible words with brilliant actors. Other recent highlights include the last time I was in a rehearsal room directing ‘Wolfie’ by Ross Willlis, working with Michael Frayn on his plays, seeing shows such as ‘Br’er Cotton’ and ‘J’Ouvert’ take flight at 503. Too many to mention!

CM: What personal aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
LS: To help get theatre back on track, to direct more incredible plays that give an audience a great night out, and to ensure anyone who wants to can access this very special but often very tough industry.

CM: The last year and more has been difficult for everyone in the industry – how has it been for you, in your capacity as artistic director of Theatre503? How did you get through it?
LS: Thanks for asking this, it’s been at times very hard and overwhelming, but having a theatrical home to focus on, to invite others into and to keep working on plays means I’ve also felt very lucky.

CM: What aims do you have for the venue going forward?
LS: We are about to embark on a major transformation. We won a new building which will be the home of the 503Studio at Nine Elms, to help us nurture talent from our local community and around the world, as well as making our Latchmere home physically accessible.

CM: What’s coming up next for you and Theatre503 in the immediate future?
LS: We run straight from ‘Milk And Gall’ into our Christmas Panto – ‘Snow White’ – and then an exciting Spring Season including the winner of the 2020 Theatre503 International Playwriting Award, ‘Moreno’ by Pravin Wilkins, directed by the wonderful Nancy Medina. We will also open submissions for the 2022 International Playwriting Award, and find even more incredible, diverse new voices to give a stage to.

‘Milk And Gall’ is on at Theatre503 from 2-27 Nov. See the venue website here for more information and to book tickets.

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Photo: Jane Hobson