Interview with Esther Richardson- The Theatre Director On The Upcoming World Stage Premiere of The Bone Sparrow at York Theatre Royal
‘There’s nothing quite like the theatre of the mind… I want to use the space of the theatre to let people expand this process.’ Director Esther Richardson discusses storytelling, the power of the imagination and the importance of character in her new play The Bone Sparrow.
Esther is walking through York town centre as I speak to her, crossing Lendal bridge on the way to rehearsals for her latest play. The Bone Sparrow is the stage adaption of the children’s book by Zana Fraillon, and follows Subhi, a refugee born within the confines of an Australian detention camp, who learns to rely on his imagination as a way to survive and regain hope.
Imagination is an integral part of this story. Subhi has no concept of the world beyond the camp walls and relies on his own mind to construct its image. For a storyteller like Richardson, this is an appealing idea to play with and expand in physical form – I wondered if she’d been worried about losing any aspect of the book when adapting it to the stage. ‘There’s nothing quite like the theatre of the mind which is what happens when we read a book. I want to use the space of the theatre to let people expand this process.’ Esther describes a successful stage adaption as one that manages to stay true to the spirit of the book and the actions of the characters.
For Richardson, everything in a story relates to character. Plot and narrative are defined by the individuals that lead them because ultimately the plot is a byproduct of a character’s psychological journey. I agree with Richardson on this, and the ease with which she answers such a question is testimony to the extent of the time and thought that she gives to each story she works on.
It’s perhaps this fixation on characters and their development that draws Esther to right of passage stories, particularly those about the transition from childhood into adulthood. ‘We don’t really have big discussions about coming-of-age in our society, it’s just something that happens. It’s fascinating that we don’t discuss and explore that right of passage outside of legal terms because there’s so much there to explore creatively.’
This interest is partly why the story of The Bone Sparrow was so attractive to Richardson – the book sees Subhi grow from a boy into a young man – but she also related to me how the themes of humanity made this story one that she wanted to see onstage. ‘I’m drawn to big-hearted stories that remind us that we’re human beings… stories are magnificent for growing our empathy and our compassion.’
At heart, Richardson is clearly a storyteller; she encourages us to consider and understand each other through her work, creating pieces that we can relate to but that also capture our imaginations. She sees a story as a way to strengthen human understanding of ourselves and more importantly those around us.
The Bone Sparrow is at York Theatre Royal between the 25th of February and the 5th of March. You can book your tickets here.