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London Theatre 2021 
Interview

Henry Empson 
The Stonewater Rapture 

By Doug Wright
15-17th Dec, 2021
Etcetera Theatre

Set on the front porch and in the living room of a conservative Texas home, the play tells the story of two teenagers whose sexual awakening has been severely hampered by the fundamentalist fervour that runs like power lines through the Bible Belt. 

 

The New Current spoke with producer Henry Empson about his revival of The Stonewater Rapture directed by recent Cambridge graduate Ben Galvin which stars Harry Cornell in his stage debut and Mabel Hoskins.

 

Hi Henry thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?

 

I’m great. It really feels as if live theatre is starting to somewhat get back to normal again. Even when shows started opening up in summer, they felt smaller, more low key and safer – Rufus Norris described it as the forthcoming ‘austerity years’ of live performance. Now, with some really great new plays opening up in ways which feel truer to pre-pandemic theatre, it feels like a really exciting time to be putting something on. 

 

Has this time provided you with any new creative inspiration or opportunities?

 

It was definitely from a sense of mid-pandemic boredom that we decided to put this show on in the first place. Sitting inside for copious amounts of time with a lack of in-person interactions and a morbid longing to be back in a theatre has given me constant ideas and springing inspirations for things I want to work on. I really feel like the current surge in cultural content we are getting (in not only theatre, but also screen and music) is as a result of the lockdowns and the extensive time for artistic enterprise that has been given.

 

Congratulations on your London revival of Doug Wright’s The Stonewater Rapture, how does it feel to be bringing your production to The Etcetera Theatre?

 

It certainly feels very exciting. The play is short but such a punchy and poignant piece of writing with so much to unpack and discuss. The Etcetera is such a supportive venue in overseeing emerging theatre companies and helping groups like us start off. But the Etcetera has also seen some very established talents grace its stage, Alan Bennett rewrote Kafka’s Dick for the space and comedians like Russell Brand and Al Murray have also performed here. It is such an intimate and wonderful space and I think it is just perfect for our show.

What was it about The Stonewater Rapture that interested you so much and did you have any apprehensions about bringing this play to the London stage that deals with such salient social issues?

 

Harry first brought the piece to my attention and when I read it I immediately understood why he revers the play so much. Our director, Ben, has been really sensitive with the big issues that are tackled in the play, conducting thorough research into the difficult themes and also working with an intimacy coordinator for certain moments in the play. Transparency and respect are crucial when tackling a play like this, and I feel Ben and the actors have carried out these morals in an exemplary fashion.  

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"I really like finding plays that provoke the audience and raise awareness and discussions about taboo issues."

Are there any other plays you’d consider reviving in the future?

 

I watch a lot of modern new-writing in London, but would equally love to revive a Shakespeare in the future but put a focus on reworking it to centre around issues related to young people. Otherwise, I really like reviving plays that are lesser known and slipped under the radar when they were first put on. I’m putting on ‘Belleville’ by Amy Herzog early next year and am really excited for it. I saw it at the Donmar a few years ago and feel it wasn’t met with the attention and acclaim that it deserved for how sensational a piece of writing it is. 

 

Where did your passion for theatre come from?

 

Like most people, I can’t really remember! There were this effervescent bond between myself and theatre from such an early age. I have always been so enthralled by the experience of seeing action unfolding live before you on stage and it has always been my calling. I fondly remember seeing Rowan Atikonson in the London revival of ‘Oliver’ when I was quite young, I can recall how much hype there was about the show and the absolute buzz of who would be casted for what role. Nowadays, I really like finding plays that provoke the audience and raise awareness and discussions about taboo issues. Live theatre really has the ability to cause such responses. You just cannot beat it. 

 

And finally will there be any nerves ahead of your run? 

 

I’m very sure there will be! Live theatre is an inherently daunting prospect and there’s no hiding from the audience, especially with The Etcetera being such a small space with little between the audience and the stage. Harry Cornell and Mabel Hoskins, are both brilliant actors and I know they will give wonderful performances.