Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Rebecca Atkinson-Lord: MilkMilkLemonade at Ovalhouse

By | Published on Thursday 9 October 2014

Cult American theatrical hit ‘MilkMilkLemonade’ makes its UK debut at Ovalhouse this month. This particular production has been directed by one of the venue’s two artistic directors, Rebecca Atkinson-Lord.

I sent some questions over to Rebecca, to find out more about the play, the playwright Joshua Conkel, and what else is coming up at Ovalhouse.

CM: Can you begin by telling us what ‘MilkMilkLemonade’ is all about? What’s the basic premise?
RA-L: It’s all about a boy called Emory who’s growing up a bit of an outsider. His best friend is a chicken and he likes to spend his time choreographing ribbon dances. As you can imagine that means the boys at school are pretty mean to him and he gets beaten up for being a ‘faggot’. But he’s the coolest kid you can imagine – he knows who he is and he’s happy with that. The play is the story of his adventures with his best friend Linda the Chicken!

CM: The play seems to cover a lot of different themes – do any dominate?
RA-L: It’s a pretty clear central theme actually – it’s all about how messed up the way we think about gender and sexuality is. The play is basically saying that we should all get over our simplistic assumptions about each other and start letting everyone just be themselves. That’s told in a pretty madcap pantomime way that means that the audience are so busy laughing that they don’t necessarily feel the weight of the meaning until they are on the tube home!

CM: This play has previously had many successful productions in the US, hasn’t it? Would you say it has cult status there?
RA-L: Yes. Josh (the playwright) would say this is still his most popular play. It had more than 50 productions worldwide in the two years after it was first performed – which is pretty impressive. It’s had real cult status – but this is the UK premiere, so it’s still pretty special for us!

CM: Can you tell us something about the playwright? Has he been involved with this production at all?
RA-L Josh and I are friends – we worked closely together when I directed the world premiere of his play ‘The Sluts of Sutton Drive’ in 2012, and I’ve just commissioned another new play from him for us to work on next year once MML is done. The play is pretty complex to wrangle, so although Josh hasn’t made it over to the UK for rehearsals this time, we’ve been in contact on the phone and Skype when things got a bit baffling!

CM: How did you discover the play, and what made you want to direct it?
RA-L: A few years ago, Josh invited me to a showcase of his work as part of the Old Vic New Voices US/UK exchange. I loved the play he wrote for that and asked him to send me some more of his work. So far, I’ve directed two of the three plays he sent me after that first email exchange – so it was clearly meant to be! I wanted to direct it because its completely bonkers and very very funny but it has this stealthily meaningful heart; it’s a pantomime with substance. Plus, how often do you get the chance to direct dancing chickens?

CM: The set has been designed by award-winner James Turner – it sounds interesting (haybales!) – so can you tell us about that…?
RA-L: It’s so pretty! James is brilliant. I love working with him (this is our fourth collaboration). He has transformed the theatre into a mash up between the set for Oklahoma and a Foghorn Leghorn cartoon. There’s a miniature barn and a flock of chickens – and yes, about 50 hay bales!

CM: You’re director of theatre at Ovalhouse, but how many productions there do you actually direct yourself?
RA-L: This is my third. I wish there was time to direct more, but it’s a big part of my job to nurture the work of emerging artists – it’d be impossible to do that properly if I was always caught up in directing the next show!

CM: Last time we spoke to you, you were busy with Counterculture50 (Ovalhouse’s celebration of their fiftieth anniversary) – did that all go well?
RA-L: It was great – I loved that season. I felt like it captured the spirit and impact of the work Ovalhouse has done over the years. So much of modern discourse comes from a position of cynical materialism. It was wonderful to tune back in to the points in our history when ideology and optimism prevailed – it reminded me that sometimes, it really is possible to change the world.

CM: What’s next for you, and for Ovalhouse?
RA-L: Well, at Ovalhouse we’re just at the beginning of our Autumn season, which runs right through to mid-November – there are some great shows lined up. And after that, I’ll be revisiting ‘Cuddles’, the play I directed at Ovalhouse in 2013, which is set to transfer to New York next year. And of course, while I’m over there I’ll be working with Josh on the new commission… so watch this space I guess! Exciting times!

‘MilkMilkLemonade’ is on at Ovalhouse until 25 Oct. See the venue website here for details and tickets.

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