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Jake Richards


finborough theatre

TILL APRIL 13, 2024

MARCH 26, 2024 
By Harry McDonald

Spanning twenty years and inspired by a true story, Foam examines the nature of identity and the consequences of right-wing extremist ideology against the backdrop of London’s skinhead and gay scenes of the 1970s and 1980s.

On Wednesday 27 March, cultural critic Barry Pierce will be chairing a post-show discussion with Foam playwright Harry McDonald and director Matthew Iliffe. Additional guests to be announced. All events are free to ticket holders for that evening’s performance.

Hi Matthew, thank you for taking the time to talk with us, have you had a good day off?

I’m a freelance theatre director, there’s no such thing!


How does it feel to be back at the Finborough Theatre with the World Premiere of Foam?

I love the Finborough, it’s such an important part of London’s theatre ecology, especially for new playwrights and emerging directors.


The reaction to Foam has already been incredible, did you imagine it would connect so well with audiences?

I'd always hoped that the play would resonate with audiences, but I honestly didn't know. It’s a complex, challenging play that consciously provokes questions but offers very few answers. My sense is that those plays are not particularly fashionable anymore, which I think says more about the culture than the work.


It's a compelling drama that's also intellectually rigorous and avoids prescribing a response for the audience. I'm much more interested in the ambiguous than in the easy explanation, which can be challenging for audiences.


You previously directed Sophie Swinthinbank’s Bacon, which also premiered at the Finborough, and went on to win three Offies. What did it mean to you to be named Best Director for this production?

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't pleased to have been recognised, but the real value of awards is to attract audiences. They're a great way for organisations, like the Offies, who support theatre to connect audiences to a piece of work they'd like to advocate for and to boost the profile of the artists involved.


With all the cuts to arts programmes, and the closure of VAULTS Festival, how vital are stages like Finborough in being a space that continues to platform and champion new writing?

It really is impossible to overstate their importance to emerging artists. The closure of the Vault Festival is devastating. The festival represented a significant piece of the platform and infrastructure for early-career theatre makers in this country. We recently took Bacon to New York, Off-Broadway at SoHo Playhouse, and I realised that there's no equivalent of our fringe over there, which makes it far, far harder for artists over there to get work on, have it seen and progress their careers.

"It's a challenging piece of work but with challenge comes the potential for great reward."

What was it about Harry McDonald’s text that interested you so much?

Harry is a brilliant playwright, who I knew primarily for his well-written and hugely insightful blog of theatre criticism. When I read the first draft of Foam I was appalled, challenged and stimulated. He's taken the real-life story of Nicky Crane, a closeted gay, neo-Nazi skinhead and used it to interrogate complex ideas around identity, politics and the performativity of both. You rarely read new plays that balance rigorous intellectual enquiry with compelling drama.


Foam has in its viewpoint the plays of Edward Bond, Peter Gill and Annie Baker, whilst being something entirely its own. It resists easy explanation and much like Alan Clarke and David Leland's seminal portrait of skinhead violence Made In Britain (1983) starring Tim Roth, it resolutely refuses to offer an internal psychological analysis of its protagonist or justification for his actions. Instead, it challenges the audiences to draw their own conclusions and to bear witness to the horror.


How best would you describe Foam?



What've been the biggest challenges you faced staging Foam?

Getting it programmed. It's a challenging piece of work but with challenge comes the potential for great reward. Some organisations feel the need to play it safe right now, which is unfortunate. If we play it safe we risk limiting artists and infantilising audiences.


What was your experience attending the National Theatre Directors Course, how much did this help guide you on your theatre journey?

Directing can be a lonely profession and that course gives you a peer-group and support network. We're still on Whatsapp cheering on each other's successes, which is lovely and important.


Do you have a favourite theatre quote?

I don't have one, but this quote is, I think, useful in reference to this play: 'Our task is to make theatre a necessity. This can be achieved only when what it provides ceases to be entertainment on the one hand, or moral or political instruction on the other.' It's a quote from Howard Barker's collected writing Arguments For A Theatre, which I've often turned to whilst directing Foam.


What do you have coming up after Foam, anything you can share with us?

I'm doing some work with drama schools, including a new play by Louis Emmitt-Stern for Oxford School of Drama at Southwark Playhouse. Louis is another fantastic playwright of this generation and it's great to be able to make ensemble work for a large cast, an opportunity early-career artists are rarely afforded.


And finally, what would you like your audiences to take away from Foam?

I won't tell the audience what they should think, how boring would that be?!

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