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  • INTERVIEW |”I want Brum to shout now” Daniel Bailey on Directing Blue Orange and Building the Theatre Ecology In Birmingham

INTERVIEW |”I want Brum to shout now” Daniel Bailey on Directing Blue Orange and Building the Theatre Ecology In Birmingham

Daniel Bailey is a previous winner of the Regional Theatre Young Director’s Scheme before progressing to become a full-time Associate Director at the Birmingham Rep. Daniel is directing his first play in the Birmingham Rep’s main house – Joe Penhall’s Blue Orange.

Blue Orange is a play about a young black man named Christopher who is sectioned and admitted to psychiatric hospital. The play explores the racism he encounters within the hospital whilst his two specialists are divided in their diagnosis. Their power struggle between them soon escalates into exchange over racism, ideology, prejudice and egotism. 

“The play looks at all those things but it is all pinned on this one character Christopher,” Daniel explains. “In the view of an audience member, you are constantly swinging your vote left or right whilst trying to sympathise with this young man who is going to be affected by these two great ideas from the specialists.”

Daniel grew up in the areas in London where the play is set, and he sees the people he grew up with reflected in the main character Christopher. “It’s just a brilliant play. It’s a play about language and I am so fascinated by language and the way we use it in our everyday life,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to direct it and having this young black character central to the story was really important to me as a young black director.”

Director Daniel Bailey and Ivan Oyik (Christopher) Photo credit: Ergo Films
Director Daniel Bailey and Ivan Oyik (Christopher) Photo credit: Ergo Films

It’s a show about mental health and with 1 in 4 people struggling with mental health issues in the UK, it’s such an important theme to tackle in theatre, especially with the current issues with the NHS. “I don’t want to use the ‘B’ word,” Daniel laughs. “But I’m going to use it anyway. We talk about the word Brexit and what the impact of that will be and I’m sure there will be huge implications to the NHS. That is why this play suddenly becomes more relevant.

As a young black director, I am very cautious of who I am in spaces, in particular white spaces – spaces where the higher influence are white people. So I think it is important for us to understand where Christopher comes from, because understanding is everything.”

Despite originally coming from London, Daniel is so grateful for the incredible experience he’s had in Birmingham at The Rep. “A lot of the work I’ve done has been with the brilliant artists that we have here in Birmingham. All brilliant artists that are coming from this region and stay true to this region and who they are,” Daniel says. “That has meant a lot to me actually, to be able to give them platforms and learn from them.”

“Buildings should be representing the communities that they live in, that they breathe in and that are supporting them. I want to continue to give people opportunities and feel like this theatre is their home.”

Daniel emphasises how important it is that we as a city are giving our artists a platform. “I’d love to know why more organisations and buildings aren’t doing that work, especially here in Birmingham as the second city,” he says. “I think we need competition as well, as competition breeds better artists, it nurtures friendly competition. That only pushes our talent further.

“I can only really talk on the behalf of Birmingham and what has worked for us, but I still feel like we need to do more of it. If we are thinking in that way, I am surprised that others aren’t. There are some buildings that help artists in different ways, but the more infrastructure that we have here and the more theatres that are getting funded properly so better work comes out, means more artists that are able to live here. A lot of the time I speak to artists in Birmingham and we have frank conversations, and a lot of my conversation is that they can’t just live in Birmingham and make work because there aren’t enough spaces for them to do that. If we program one person in a year, what would they do for the rest of the year, how do you live being programmed once in your city?

“It’s not enough, you need at least four or five opportunities that allow you to be paid, I don’t think we have that infrastructure here and that’s part of our problem, not having the infrastructure or the funding that allows artists to live. Especially if people are coming from working class backgrounds. It is a hard working city, a lovely city, and people are so humble here, but we need to start shouting about the brilliance of this city, what we can do and how much we should be a part of the theatre ecology. We are doing it, but we are doing it bit by bit and we are still doing it very humbly.

“Because I’m from London I am able to shout, I shout a lot, maybe too much sometimes, but I want Brum to shout now.”

Blue Orange is on at the Birmingham Rep until Sat 16 Feb, tickets can be found on their website.

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