Hyenas inspired me to be director

Lotte Wakeham
Lotte Wakeham

Bizzare as it sounds – theatre director Lotte Wakeham was put on her career path by a pack of laughing hyenas.

Not real ones, of course, but the humans playing Shenzi, Banzai and Ed – the trio of hunters in The Lion King.

Jess and Joe Forever is on at the Stephen Joseph Theatre now

Jess and Joe Forever is on at the Stephen Joseph Theatre now

Aged 15, Lotte talked her way into work experience at the stage musical version of Disney’s adventure in the West End.

“I watched a rehearsal the director was taking with the understudy hyenas. It was the first time I was more interested in what the director was doing than the actors,” said Lotte.

“Also seeing someone do it made me think it was a real job,” she said.

Until then she had determined to be an actress. “I fell in love with theatre at seven when I was taken to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.

“I was blown away by it and I loved being part of a group of people all experiencing something at once,” she said.

Lotte studied English literature at Oxford University where she did both acting and directing.

“By the time I left I had decided to be a director,” she said.

She went in to study at the National Theatre Studio and has been a freelance director for 10 years.

She is associate director of Matilda for the RSC and was also the associate director on Broadway .

It was while she was directing The World Goes Round for the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough in 2016 that she first thought she would like to experience being a building-based director.

She returned to the town last year to direct Di and Viv and Rose and the germ of the idea became a reality.

Lotte applied for Arts Council funding and created a programme for a role as associate director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre being mentored by its resident artistic director Paul Robinson.

She and her partner, a sound designer, left their flat in London and rented one in Scarborough.

“The idea was to learn what it means to be an artistic director outside of the rehearsal room.

“I have worked with the OutReach and marketing teams and liaised with the finance department and learned about leading a team,” said Lotte. “Paul and the chief executive Stephen Freeman were keen that I got a no-holes barred experience, so I have been attending board meetings and looking at paper work.

“I have found everything fascinating because it is all for the service of the art,” she said. This includes setting up a creche for a performance of Chris York’s Build A Rocket – a play about teenage motherhood.

“If you had told me a year ago I would be organising a creche ... It wasn’t something I thought I would ever do but seeing how that had a big impact on the people who used it and how grateful they were for the opportunity is one of the things I’m most proud of.”

That and a project called Adventure Playground in which Lotte worked with schoolchildren to devise plays which were then staged at the theatre.

As part of her year-long attachment, which ends in January, Lotte is also directing in the McCarthy studio for the first time.

She is staging the regional premiere of Jess and Joe Forever by Newcastle-based Zoe Cooper.

“Jess and Joe Forever is a funny, surprising and poignant play about teenage friendship, growing up and the frictions that still exist between urban and rural communities,” she said.

“Jess is a girl from a big city who is holidaying in Joe’s seaside town. They are both outsiders who gradually, over several summers, form a friendship that changes both of them forever.

“It’s a coming-of-age tale full of soil, secrets and scotch eggs.”

Meeting the writer and working with the casting director Sarah Hughes and designer Frankie Bradshaw have been part of Lotte’s preparations.

Jess and Joe Forever is a really incredible piece of writing. This is the regional premiere, and we thought Scarborough audiences would really connect with it, and have a great time,” she said.

“It’s set in a seaside town that could be a bit like Scarborough, and we just think audiences will love it - I think it’s one of the great new plays of the past five years.

“It’s about quite young characters but is absolutely for audiences of all ages – however old you are I think you’ll really enjoy spending the evening with these two really fascinating people and hearing all about their lives.

“It’s a very funny and really heart-warming story, touching on lots of interesting topics. It’s unusual and I think audiences will have a great time.”

Misha Butler, who plays Joe, grew up in London. His TV credits include Casualty and Doctors and a leading role in the Netlix/Channel 4 series Kiss Me First.

He played the title role in a recent national tour of The Winslow Boy.

Kate Hargreaves plays Jess. She trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama. Her theatre credits include News Revue (Canal Café), Hamlet the Musical (international tour) and workshops of Featherboy (National Theatre) and The Wall (Complicite).

Lotte’s year at the Stephen Joseph is nearly up and she is now contemplating the next move in her career.

“Being here has given me a lot of confidence around what it takes to be an artistic director of a building.

“It would have to be a building I was excited by – and there are plenty of great theatre spaces across the country,” said Lotte.

“Whatever happens I hope I will always have some connection with the Stephen Joseph,” she said.

Jess and Joe Forever can be seen in the McCarthy at the Stephen Joseph Theatre from Thursday October 25 to Saturday November 10.

Tickets, priced from £10, are available from the box office on 01723 370541 and online at www.sjt.uk.com website.