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How Give Me The Sun came to life - interview with Niamh de Valera

Date published
Wednesday 13 July 2022

Our in-house show Give Me The Sun opened yesterday! Theatre Manager and Programmer Guillaume sat down with our Executive and Co-Artistic Director Niamh (currently on maternity leave) to ask her how this play came about, the journey it’s been on, and what first drew her to this story of familial bonds, fatherly love and identity.

How did you meet Give Me The Sun writer Mamet? What is the play’s origin story?

Mamet approached us, originally with a few other plays – including a one-man adaptation of Macbeth. We were very intrigued by him and interested in collaborating somehow. He said to us, “People keep telling me to write about Iran! In Iran, I write about Iran. I’m in London now, can’t I write about London?”

When he sent us the script for Give Me the Sun, we thought, “There’s something there. It’s not quite ready for production, but there’s something in this script.” We had an initial meeting to discuss how we could work together, and so began a long development process. In fact, it’s been three years now since we first met Mamet. It is amazing to see how far the play has come, getting to the final script while making sure it was still the work he envisioned.

Tell us more about the development process of Give Me The Sun.

Mamet was initially going to direct and act in the piece, as well as being the writer. The script was different back then. There were four characters, including Baba’s love interest and Bashir’s girlfriend. But they were very tiny parts, who appeared and disappeared very quickly and ultimately didn’t need to actually be seen on stage. The first stages of the R&D consisted in a lot of back and forth between Mamet and the Blue Elephant team, as we gave him feedback to consider, some of which he pushed back on as it wouldn’t be true to the culture.

We invited Mamet to organise a rehearsed reading in February 2020 to test the script in front of an audience and the response was incredible. It clearly moved a lot of people. We started thinking about potential collaborators and funded two days of R&D in April 2021 with director Sepy Baghaei and two actors. They were all of MENA (Middle Eastern & Northern African) background – we were really taken with this play, as it’s unusual to see an intimate family story like this about people of MENA background in London.

What’s the Intergenerational Festival, that Give Me the Sun is part of?

We’re always looking for work that feels real and relevant to our local communities. A few years ago, we commissioned a piece of work based on criteria our youth board suggested. One of the themes put forward was the expectations that a lot of immigrant parents put on their kids. There’s a whole host of things they experience. There’s often a huge amount of pressure to achieve academically for instance.

During the pandemic, we were allowed to apply for a project grant from the Arts Council because their rules for their regularly funded organisations changed. We jumped on the opportunity and applied to fund a larger Intergenerational Festival, looking at stories about being ‘first gen’, about parents from one country with its specific culture and a child who’s grown up in London - what the clashes may be, and what these generational divides mean in a tangible way.

As well as Give Me the Sun, the ‘festival’ included R&D periods for the two winners of our playwriting competition in 2020 which addressed these themes (The Apple Of His Eye by Vicky Olusanya and Roughly 150 Years by Rebecca Batala). It also included a community play. All these elements were supposed to happen close together but thanks to Omicron and other challenges, they ended up being spread out quite a bit.

Why should audiences come see Give Me The Sun?

In a way, it’s a play where nothing happens and yet so much happens. It’s intimate, it’s well-written, it’s not too in-your-face, it’s got subtlety to it. You don’t often see father-son relationships onstage like that. They’re vulnerable. It’s two brilliant parts for two actors.

When we had the rehearsed reading, people related to it. I was really intrigued. Even when it seemed like there was still a lot to resolve in the script, people related to it in different ways: people of MENA background because it’s very specific to them; anyone who was an immigrant was able to see themselves in it; and white British people were able to relate to the intricacies of the father-son relationship.

It’s a special play people can relate to in so many ways. Everyone watching it will see something for them in it.

Give Me The Sun will be on until 30 July at Blue Elephant – head to our What’s On page for more info, or click the button below to book.

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