Interview: Rory Yeates, director of The Old Lie

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“Overall, it’s been a very different experience from normal”

Last week, a new student radio drama premiered on LSR: The Old Lie. The play is set in the year 2063 in a dystopian future in which the effects of climate change are now irreversible, and the world finds itself amid World War Three in the pursuit of oil. The drama follows the story of two brothers, Dom and Sam, who lost their father to the war. Now Sam wishes to join the army as well, and his older brother Dom tries to stop him.

Just before the premiere I caught up with the writer and director of the play – Rory Yeates – and asked him a few questions about the whole process of bringing his creation into fruition and what the play is about.

In the interview I found out more about how Covid has affected what is possible with a radio drama: “There have been limitations and drawbacks. I had to adapt it because when I first composed it, it was under the idea that it would be in person. So there were some line changes to adapt because obviously it’s all audio and not visual so you can’t use props to show things, and you can’t use movement on the stage or facial expressions.”

Yeates reflected on the fact that because of these visual limitations, it has made the actors focus in more on their own characterisation and the delivery of their lines. He also said that because the rehearsals are all online, it’s made them easier for him to conduct and manage: “Usually you would have an in-person rehearsal and people turn up late, you end up having to stay longer, but with this format it’s just putting a link out to the Zoom call in a group… so I think it’s definitely been easier organisation- and communication-wise.”

“Overall it’s been a very different experience from normal, I’ve assistant directed in the past and acted in a couple of shows and I just think that the whole process being online is a very new experience for everyone, so everyone’s had to adapt. Normally, for example, there would be a lot of costume design, set design and stuff like that to focus on but all of that’s out the window and it’s all just focusing on the dialogue and character-building between the actors. So yeah, it’s a very different experience but still comes along with that same enjoyment of theatre.”

I was interested in how the actors had found the change from stage to behind a mic, and asked Yeates how they had coped with the move online: “I think they’ve adapted really well, obviously it’s been as strange for them as it has been for me, we’ve had a whirlwind of a time – which has been nice because everyone’s got that shared experience. They’ve all been really brilliant overall and week by week you can see the characters being built up more as people get used to the script.”

Yeates also mentioned how the change has resulted in less face-to-face time with the actors and how that has affected all the cast and crew bonding together: “The most fun that comes with making a play is definitely building a rapport with the whole cast and crew, which we’ve very much got, and we’ve all become a tight-knit group. But I think the difference between in-person and online is you really build that bond more in-person from being together for a longer amount of time, the rehearsals online don’t really last as long because there’s less to do so I think that’s one thing I’ve missed. That’s the most fun aspect, that team building – and it’s still there but not as much in the same way, but it’s been a great time.”

I wanted to know more about where Yeates’ creative ideas came from and what made him decide on the storyline. “In terms of characters and relationships I thought: ‘start with what you know best’. And this main relationship between the two brothers I sort of based that upon my own with my brother, not the characters themselves but the relationship and how they interact, and how that plays out.” He said, in addition, that the influence for the piece came from topics that he was interested in exploring more in a creative space, like the general idea of a dystopian future that’s been ravaged by climate change, as well as the effects of nationalism.

Yeates also stated that the main message behind the play is about the dangers of war and nationalism. “I think one of the main messages is the damaging effects that war has on everyone, and most notably the nationalist part of it. How it can indoctrinate people with this idea of serving their country above all else, and that idea goes against family and family values, putting this idea of why you want to go fight in the war against why you want to stay with them. It’s also a warning of a scary future which seems not-too-impossible with the current circumstances in terms of climate change.”

The Old Lie has been put on by the Open Theatre company, who are asking if viewers could make a small donation when watching their show; half the money will be going towards funding the Open Theatres trip to the Edinburgh fringe festival and the other half will be going to Bloomin’ Buds Theatre Company. Rory told me a little more about what Bloomin’ Buds does and why the Open Theatre chose them.

“It’s a local theatre group who are working to give these donation boxes to low-income familes over Christmas just to support them, which I think is a great idea, but obviously the episode is free, so use it on a pay-as-you-feel basis to try and raise some money for a good cause as well as putting out some nice new theatre.”

You can stream the show on the Open Theatre’s website, MixCloud and Youtube.

Where to donate: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/ot-radio-show-crowdfunder?fbclid=IwAR06LFraM9CT11PDEPCVwVGGjOepxnune20s22N5N7y7Qo3K9-P87IJGk0s