Interview: Suba Das

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Director Suba Das at Northern Stage
We chat to director Suba Das ahead of East is East, arriving at Northern Stage in April, about his vision for the play, his favourite place to drink in Newcastle and running on Berocca

Award-winning theatre director Suba Das will be returning to the North East next month as rehearsals for East is East at Northern Stage begin. After finishing at the Royal Grammar School, he and his twin headed south for university and Suba now holds the position of Associate Director at the Curve Theatre, Leicester.

So you were born and educated in the North East before securing a place at Cambridge.
We had a pretty modest upbringing: Deleval is mainly council houses and is a very working-class community to grow up in. We both went to Cambridge to read law originally and I foolishly got sucked into theatre, so I switched from law to English, did the whole Cambridge drama thing and managed to totally blag my way through quite a massive training programme after I graduated, and found I was Resident Director at National Theatre at the end of it.

You sound like a pair of super twins.
Well, to be honest, my North Eastern socialism comes out quite regularly. My twin and I, our earliest memories are when our dad would take us to Seaton Delaval Library twice a week. My dad had come over from North East India in the 1970s and me and my twin were born over here, and his whole thing was: How do you make a better life for yourself? His passion which he instilled in us was to read, to watch the news, to take an interest, to have dreams and ambitions. With the help of Richard Middle School, Seaton Delaval Library and a few other interventions, we both got scholarships to the Royal Grammar School and were there from the age of 11. We’ve been really blessed, I guess you’d say. We’re both doing alright in our chosen fields, although sometimes I feel like it’s harder to know if you’re doing alright when you’re in theatre than it might be when you’re working in a law firm – it can be an unstructured lifestyle.

What’s daily life like for a director?
My day-to-day life here [at Curve] takes up a number of things: meeting with artists and spending a lot of time looking at budget spreadsheets and resources. One of the things about being a director is having to keep a lot of plates spinning; you never get to work on one thing and move on to the next. So I’m making three shows at the moment – East is East being one of them. I’m also directing a world premiere for the Royal Opera House, which is my first opera – kind of terrifying. Then I’m also flying to India to continue working on another project which has been in development for two years called Pink Sari Revolution.

It’s all go-go-go. When do you get a break?
Between the hours of 2am and 8am! Those two projects have been in development for quite some time and then the offer came along to do East is East. If I was sane, if I valued sleeping, I should have said: ‘Maybe we could look at doing it at a different time’. But you just can’t say no for telling that story back up in Newcastle and bringing it home. It’s alright, I’m just keeping on the Berocca. East is East is weirdly the scariest one because it’s such an extraordinary comedy and you definitely know when you’ve got a comedy wrong because nobody laughs.

What’s the vision for East is East?
For me it’s about it being a great night out – I feel that responsibility to an audience. A lot of them will have seen the film and have this image of the glorious BAFTA-winning comedy that was probably a massive part of their own childhoods, so we want to give them that experience. I like to think about what can you do theatrically that’s a bit magical. Our stage design has a lot of transformation, so as we move through new locations, new places will appear – as if by magic. One of the big things for me – people may remember this from the film – is that a lot of this world is being seen through the eyes of the youngest kid, Sajit, the kid in the parka, and he very much represents the playwright. I’m really excited by this idea of how you might make it seem like you’re seeing things through a kid’s eyes. When the audience look at the stage, they themselves might feel like they’re slightly hiding inside Sajit’s parka. We’re going to have this enormous, infinity orange backdrop that’s going to envelop the entire stage. We’re actually quite a young team taking on this iconic title on its 20th anniversary, and it’s totally going to be set in the 1970s, but we’re going to hopefully give it something that feels energetic and youthful as well. 

Where’s your favourite place to go for a pint when you’re home?
Well I’m definitely more a cocktail person than a pint person. But there’s The Hastings Arms in Seaton Delaval – they’re an amazing local boozer with an amazing quiz night. And I love spending time at The Sage in Gateshead, where I’ve just been appointed a trustee, which was again a real honour. It’s been an unexpected sequence of things this year which mean I get to come back to Newcastle much more regularly for work. One of the amazing things is seeing how Newcastle continues to thrive and develop as a city. I have lots of meetings at Northern Stage, I love going to Quilliam’s – which is such a generic choice, I’m sure everyone mentions Quilliam’s now. I’m always surprised by new places I find when I go back [and how] there’s always places to discover.

East is East will run at Northern Stage from 18 April – 13 May. For more information or to book tickets visit www.northernstage.co.uk 

Published in: February 2017

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