Interview with Owen Calvert-Lyons

Random Selfies comes to the Ovalhouse later this month. I caught up with Director Owen Calvert-Lyons, Head of Theatre at the Ovalhouse, to find out more about his upcoming production and what’s in store for the theatre going forward.

Can you tell me what Random Selfies is about?
Random Selfies is about a lonely girl in a busy world. Loretta is surrounded by people but feels alone. Child loneliness is something which society is only just beginning to recognise. This is mainly because children’s problems are seen as ‘low-stakes’ and there is often an assumption that children will grow out of them. It’s a fairly common view to think ‘what problems can a 10-year-old have?’ but it doesn’t feel like that when you are 10. Children who feel lonely or unhappy as children often grow up to feel lonely or unhappy as adults. So its important that we confront this as a society.

What do you hope audiences will take away from the play?
The play explores what it means to be ‘seen’. To allow others to see your true self. This is as complex for adults as it is for children. All of us (to some extent) attempt to conform to an image of what we think people want or expect us to be. I hope audiences come out of this play considering whether or not they allow people to see their true self. And if they don’t, I hope that seeing 10-year-old Loretta doing exactly that, might enable them to be brave enough to do it themselves.

Can you explain a bit more about your role at the Ovalhouse?
I’m the Head of Theatre, so my role is to work with a huge range of artists to produce new plays which enable us to question the world around us. I love the way that the playwright/actor Angela Clerkin describes what our artform does when she says, “Theatre is where we sort our shit out”. This is so true. Whether we are presenting plays which explore domestic abuse (Smack That), penile cancer (Dick) or the damaging effect of global internet-based companies (Amazonian Sweat Lodge), Ovalhouse brings audiences and artists together to explore the biggest challenges faced by our society.

How is the spring season going so far?
It’s been a great season so far. Our FiRST BiTE performances (our work-in-development programme) have been packed with audiences. The first mainhouse show of the season, Smack That by Rhiannon Faith, is now underway and audience feedback has been fantastic. It’s quite an emotionally intense production, so audiences come out buzzing with the energy that you only get from such an electric performance.

Ovalhouse is moving to Brixton next year. How do you feel about leaving your current location and what are you most excited about with the move?
We are really excited to be moving to a £15m new theatre in Brixton. It will enable us to do so much more than we can do right now. We will double the size of the two auditoria, and we will have seven rehearsal rooms, which will enable us to become a vitally important creation centre, with new plays in development across the building all year round.

What can audiences expect from the Ovalhouse going forward?
We have a fantastic line-up of plays coming this summer and then we are hugely looking forward to The Demolition Party – the final season of plays in our Oval home this autumn, for which we have teamed-up artists and structural engineers and set them the challenge of demolishing parts of the building through performance. It’s going to be awesome.

Outside of the Ovalhouse, what has been your favourite production to watch over the past year?
The stand-out production for me was Nine Night directed by the brilliant Roy Alexander Weise – that show was electric. I’d also have to give props to Fatty Fat Fat by Katie Greenhall and Ladykiller by The Thelmas.

Random Selfies is playing at the Ovalhouse from Tuesday 27 March – Saturday 7 April 2019

Photo credit: Ludovic Des Cognets

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