Interview with Ola Ince, director of "Dutchman" at the Young Vic

Genesis Future Directors Award Winner Ola Ince has directed Amiri Baraka's provocative play about race relations and freedom. The story of a black man and a white woman who meet on a train on an oppresively hot day, this is a challenging piece written in the 1960's. I spoke to Ola about her background and process in directing her production at the Young Vic.

Interview conducted by Rachel Creeger (RC) in conversation with Ola Ince (OI):

RC: Can you tell us a bit about your background, and how you came to be a theatre director?

OI: I knew from the age of 15 that I liked making work more than featuring in it, it’s magical to create. I went to the Brit School which was really nurturing, full of like-minded people, with freedom to find your own way. When I left school I went straight to Rose Bruford College which was very different, at 18 I was the youngest in a class of mature students! Rehearsals were from 9.00am-9.00pm Monday to Saturday, which was hard when my friends at other colleges had loads of free time. It was helpful though, because life isn’t always the most nurturing environment. It gave me maturity, rigour and discipline, and opened up other opportunities. I read the right books, went to see the right plays, and mostly tried to impress people with my work. I was also lucky enough to work with some really inspiring women, such as Phyllida Lloyd, who really raised the bar. She showed me what you can achieve as a female artist, the importance of making work for yourself and other women, and what drives you forward. For example, if you were researching something and said you were struggling to find some information, she would simply say “Oh, I’m sure you can find it,” and you just would.

RC: What inspired you to stage “Dutchman”?

OI: When I applied for the Young Vic Genesis Future Directors Award we had to pitch one of three plays, including Dutchman, which is apparently one of David Lan’s favourites. I’d seen a production of Dutchman at the Orange Tree and thought it was so angry and brave – I couldn’t believe that the cast were saying these words to such a white, middle class audience. I read the play, it’s short but I found it difficult, so I was excited to learn more. I’m so grateful to the Young Vic, the award came along at just the right time. I’d gained skills but I had never had the money or backing of producers to further my ideas. With this process I could go to them and say “It would be great if we could build this or do that” and they’d reply “Ok, we can make that happen”. They must never let the Genesis Future Directors Award die! It allows you to experiment in a way that other programmes don’t, it’s not about pleasing people or thinking of the reviews, it allows you to take risks.

RC: What was the rehearsal process like?

OI: The play is about America’s relationship with black men. At the time, there were riots going on and it’s still happening now in the US. I wanted to create a process that was thorough but safe, honest, direct, based on documentation and literature. It’s not just about what we think or even what the playwright thinks but also what was going on at the time. During the first week (of four) we looked at James Baldwin essays, Amiri Baraka’s poetry and photos, movie stills, MTV’s documentary “White People”. The design team were in with us at least twice a week, Isobel Waller-Bridge created amazing sound and Anna Watson’s lighting is phenomenal, Alex Lowde created this quirky cool set... but they also contributed to the rehearsal process. During the last week we rehearsed in the space as it’s a really unusual set and it was important to get familiar with performing there.

RC: What have been the highlights and the challenges of working on Dutchman?

OI: The biggest challenge with the play is the text and language, it’s written by a very clever man. In some ways it’s the story of Adam and Eve, in others it mirrors Baraka’s relationship with his wife, and it’s a reflection of the racial context of the 60s. I had to make sure that every layer is honoured without it becoming a complicated mess, let it breathe without the messages getting lost. The real highlight was working with such talented actors (Clare Dunne, Solomon Israel and Renato Paris). Every day one of them would shock us with their talent. Anything I suggested, they’d say “Ok” and give it a try. Throughout the rehearsals and even the previews when I’ve tweaked things here and there, they have given so much back. They are incredibly generous.

RC: The Young Vic website describes Dutchman as “designed to shock”, what do you think that your audiences will take away from the experience of seeing the show?

OI: It doesn’t hold back! Some of my friends who’ve seen it haven’t really spoken to me about it afterwards, others have asked “Is that what you really think?” I hope it will make people think about race, question their own privilege and what they do. If your race is on the colour of your skin, you can’t ever be free of that identity and how people judge you. Even if you are of colour, I would like you to come away thinking about how your life might be more privileged than people of that or other backgrounds depending on where or when they live. I’d also hope that the audience won’t be offended – over the course of his life Amiri Baraka probably offended everyone! He was an interesting but complicated man, he was addressing society’s responsibility, attacking everyone.

RC: What’s next for you?

OI: I’m working on a remount of Bugsy Malone. I would love to work in other exciting venues such as the Royal Court and to work on radio plays and animation. I’m fascinated by storytelling on every level, I love language, the voice and sound. I think animation is brilliant, you can create a character and their whole world in just a few brushstrokes. They use familiar archetypes and give you the freedom of your imagination. You can create anything you want.

(c) Rachel Creeger (@Time2Shineprods) for Female Arts 2016

Dutchman runs at the Young Vic until Saturday 16th April. Tickets are from £10-£15
Find out more about the Genesis Foundation via
Ola Ince

Author's review: