Q&A with Wildgoose Theatre: The River

3rd April 2018

We had a chat with Wildgoose Theatre director Andy Love about his latest production and all things fish!

O&O: Tell us a bit about The River.

A.L: The River is a play by Jez Butterworth, writer of - among other things - Jerusalem and The Ferryman. The River comes directly between those two mammoth plays (both ran for over 3 and a half hours) but this comes in at little more than eighty minutes. That’s not to say that it doesn’t offer as much. It is probably best described as a psychological drama and has a cast of three: a man and two women. It is not clear what the exact nature of the relationship between the three is to begin with and as the play continues, it plays with our understanding, constantly whipping the rug from under us. In essence, it tells the tale of a man who takes a new girlfriend to a cabin in the woods, next to the eponymous river, on a very special day: the day the sea trout return back to the river, in their thousands, to spawn. The man wants to share this magical moment with the woman, but she is initially reticent and does not share his enthusiasm. When another woman arrives, the nature of the relationship is questioned. I think you can probably tell from that rather obscure description that it a difficult play to describe without dropping in too many spoilers.

O&O: Why this play?

A.L: I’m a big fan of Jez Butterworth. He’s certainly one of my favourite playwrights. He’s a lover of language, and there is depth of meaning to everything he writes. Although resolutely English, Butterworth shares a sensibility with some of the best Irish writers, Conor McPherson, Brian Friel, Enda Walsh and Frank McGuinness (who has had two of his plays performed by Wildgoose). There is myth and mystic symbolism in The River, from images of black stallions, flying swans, heart shaped rocks, that embeds the play in rural tradition; themes echoed by use of poetry by Ted Hughes and W.B. Yeats in the text. One of the aims of Wildgoose Theatre is to bring to York first rate plays that have either never been seen in York, or not in the thirty years that I’ve been here. The only other production of a Jez Butterworth play in York is his “Parlour Songs” that was produced in the Theatre Royal Studio in 2011and I think that York deserves to see more of his fine work.

O&O: What challenges, if any, have you and the cast faced in rehearsals?

A.L: One of the joys of running your own company is that you can put on plays that you love and work with people you like and who share a passion for that play. Because of that some of the mundane challenges of creating theatre are avoided and we get to channel our thoughts in rising to the challenge the script gives us. A big part of my process is to work with the cast, exploring the meanings behind the words chosen. Too often in the past I’ve worked with directors who are more than pleased if as an actor (to paraphrase Spencer Tracey) "you can say the words and not bump into the furniture." There’s a particular moment in directing when the director, cast and writer find a harmony that makes the heart skip a beat. At the time of writing this, we are close to that magical moment. It’s then that you know that you can tell this story to the audience.

One of the biggest challenges to come is how to cook trout on stage, and do it well enough for two of the actors to eat it, convincingly enjoying it, and survive without any ill effect.

O&O: What inspiration have you drawn upon for the show?

A.L: I’ve so far made it a rule not to direct a play I’ve seen on stage before. I don’t want to be influenced in the decisions I make with the actors, so inspiration is sought elsewhere. As I’ve said, this play calls upon the poetry of Hughes and Yeats and I’ve been immersing myself in their work. In fact, at the start of each rehearsal, we have been taking it in turn to read a Hughes’ poem from his collection ‘River’. One of the characters also reads Virginia Woolf’s ‘To The Lighthouse’ so I re-read that, and was delighted to find a little paragraph in there that perfectly aligns with the play. It again underlines the skill of Butterworth, he’s written a play that is a fantastic piece of theatre in its own right, but rewards closer scrutiny. Like a river, this play does really wind gently downstream before taking some unexpected turns.

O&O: What is your favourite fish and why?

A.L: I’m not really sure I have a favourite fish. In terms of the one you put on your plate, I’m very traditional - cod in batter, preferably at the seaside will do me. As for river fish, probably the gudgeon. I remember being in awe of my dear departed dad when he told me time and time again, that missed out on hauling in a world record gudgeon by only one ounce. Imagine my dismay to learn that the world record at the time stopped at a little over four ounces. Yes, the mighty gudgeon brings back fond memories.

You can catch The River at Friargate Theatre 26-29 April and at 7 Arts, Leeds on 7 May. Tickets available at

The River by Jezz Butterworth

Wildgoose Theatre Present The River

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