Skip to main content

Shilpa T-Hyland – Directing Miss Julie

Shilpa T-Hyland wants to tell stories differently. This is something that should be apparent when the Glasgow-based director opens her new production of Miss Julie in Perth Theatre’s Joan Knight Studio this weekend prior to a short tour. Zinnie Harris’ version of Strindberg’s simmering piece of cross-class passion was the play chosen by T-Hyland to bring to full production after becoming the first recipient of The Cross Trust Young Director Award. The latter is a new scheme initiated by The Cross Trust, set up by philanthropist Sir Alexander Cross in 1943 to provide opportunities to young men and women to ‘extend the boundaries of their knowledge of human life’.

There are certainly plenty of opportunities for the latter in Miss Julie, a play of extremes which T-Hyland initially kept her distance from.

“I was kind of frightened about it at first,” she says. “I had to choose from four plays, and I’d read the original version, and even Strindberg said it leaves a bad taste.”

Harris’ version, re-imagined in 1920s Scotland during the General Strike, captured T-Hyland’s imagination.

“It really spoke to me,” she says. “It’s set at a time between the wars when socialist ideas were coming to Britain, and with women in particular, with what went on with the suffragettes, it’s a period where it feels that things can really change. Except for the characters in the play, who in their heads have been stuck in the same situation for years.

“That made me think about now, and about how difficult things are in the world just now. A lot of that is to do with a lack of empathy, and in the play there are a lot of difficult connections between the characters, but they can’t move forward without empathy. There are things about each other they kind of envy, but they fail to understand who they are.

“In Miss Julie and her maid Christine, you’ve got two women who aren’t each other’s allies. Then you’ve got John, who’s not an evil man, but he’s caught up in a negative form of masculinity that he’s been taught.

“One of the things I was keen to do when casting the play was to cast relatively young, so the characters are roughly the same age. I think that maybe sharpens the distance they have to travel to understand each other, which, for me, is maybe about speaking to a younger audience who are living through all the things that are going on today.”

Born in London to an Indian mother and English father, T-Hyland moved to Glasgow with her family when she was less than a year old, and considers herself very much “Glasgow born and bred.”

With an artist mother and violin maker dad, T-Hyland’s move into theatre perhaps should come as no surprise. Given that her brother is studying astro-physics, however, familial influences are maybe not as clear cut as they appear. Then again, given that T-Hyland’s grandfather was acclaimed Indian playwright, director and actor Lalit Mohan Thapalyal, whose plays for children written in both Garhwali and Hindi won awards, and are still performed since his passing in 2004, something has clearly rubbed off on her.

“I’ve always had an interest in storytelling in some form or another,” she says, having attended both Scottish Youth Theatre and what was then the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama as a child. “I think making stories collaboratively appealed to me, and at the time becoming an actor seemed the most obvious way to do that.”

A short course in directing changed things.

“As soon as I started directing it made sense,” she says.

T-Hyland did a Master’s degree in Classical and Contemporary Text at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Over an intense year, the course put directors and actors together to effectively form a company, developing new work by three writers presented at venues including the Globe Theatre. T-Hyland ended up directing Bubble, a short piece by Kieran Hurley

It was while at the RCS as well that T-Hyland co-founded the Modest Predicament company with producer Jenny Gilvear. So far, T-Hyland has directed two children’s shows for the company, The Dragon and the Whales and Erin, Errol and the Earth Creatures. The company also presented Atlas as part of the Hidden Door festival in Leith. All three shows have put puppetry at their centre. Playing with form in this way goes some way to illustrate the different ways T-Hyland wants to tell stories.

“I’m interested in adaptations,” she says, “re-telling them and re-contextualising them. That’s partly what appealed to me about Miss Julie. In terms of story-telling, I think I’m interested in alternative views of narrative, and what that can bring to a story.”

This attitude stems in part from T-Hyland’s Indian heritage.

“It’s something I think about a lot,’ she says. “There’s lots of work I haven’t made yet, but which I want to make, that will look at what it means to be half-Indian, half-white, or even just a non-white woman living in Scotland at this time. It’s really hard to find information about the history of that, and my big frustration is that we don’t teach anything about Empire in schools.”  

Beyond Miss Julie, there are plans to take Modest Predicament’s production of The Dragon and The Whale to the Puppet Animation Festival. T-Hyland also has ambitions to develop a version of Roxana, Daniel Defoe’s story about a young woman and her maid climbing the social ladder. An early version was seen in a rehearsed reading at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow. There is also the small matter of potentially doing a PhD looking at how history is put onstage. In a parallel vein, “There’s an alternative history play I’d like to make.”

In the meantime, with her production of Miss Julie being her biggest work to date, T-Hyland aims to cut through to the play’s personal heart as much as its political one.

“On a purely human kind of basis,” she says, “I think it’s about the difficulty of communicating with another person. It’s also about the power of finding a connection with another person, but how fragile that can be.”

Miss Julie, Perth Theatre, February 14-23; Tron Theatre, Glasgow, February 27-March 2; The Studio, Edinburgh, March 6-9.

The Herald, February 12th 2019



Popular posts from this blog

Big Gold Dreams – A Story of Scottish Independent Music 1977-1989

Disc 1 1. THE REZILLOS (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures (12/77)  2. THE EXILE Hooked On You (8/77) 3. DRIVE Jerkin’ (8/77) 4. VALVES Robot Love (9/77) 5. P.V.C. 2 Put You In The Picture (10/77) 6. JOHNNY & THE SELF ABUSERS Dead Vandals (11/77) 7. BEE BEE CEE You Gotta Know Girl (11/77) 8. SUBS Gimme Your Heart (2/78) 9. SKIDS Reasons (No Bad NB 1, 4/78) 10. FINGERPRINTZ Dancing With Myself (1/79)  11. THE ZIPS Take Me Down (4/79) 12. ANOTHER PRETTY FACE All The Boys Love Carrie (5/79)  13. VISITORS Electric Heat (5/79) 14. JOLT See Saw (6/79) 15. SIMPLE MINDS Chelsea Girl (6/79) 16. SHAKE Culture Shock (7/79) 17. HEADBOYS The Shape Of Things To Come (7/79) 18. FIRE EXIT Time Wall (8/79) 19. FREEZE Paranoia (9/79) 20. FAKES Sylvia Clarke (9/79) 21. TPI She’s Too Clever For Me (10/79) 22. FUN 4 Singing In The Showers (11/79) 23. FLOWERS Confessions (12/79) 24. TV21 Playing With Fire (4/80) 25. ALEX FERGUSSON Stay With Me Tonight (1980) 1. THE REZILL

Losing Touch With My Mind - Psychedelia in Britain 1986-1990

DISC 1 1. THE STONE ROSES   -  Don’t Stop 2. SPACEMEN 3   -  Losing Touch With My Mind (Demo) 3. THE MODERN ART   -  Mind Train 4. 14 ICED BEARS   -  Mother Sleep 5. RED CHAIR FADEAWAY  -  Myra 6. BIFF BANG POW!   -  Five Minutes In The Life Of Greenwood Goulding 7. THE STAIRS  -  I Remember A Day 8. THE PRISONERS  -  In From The Cold 9. THE TELESCOPES   -  Everso 10. THE SEERS   -  Psych Out 11. MAGIC MUSHROOM BAND  -  You Can Be My L-S-D 12. THE HONEY SMUGGLERS  - Smokey Ice-Cream 13. THE MOONFLOWERS  -  We Dig Your Earth 14. THE SUGAR BATTLE   -  Colliding Minds 15. GOL GAPPAS   -  Albert Parker 16. PAUL ROLAND  -  In The Opium Den 17. THE THANES  -  Days Go Slowly By 18. THEE HYPNOTICS   -  Justice In Freedom (12" Version) 1. THE STONE ROSES    Don’t Stop ( Silvertone   ORE   1989) The trip didn’t quite start here for what sounds like Waterfall played backwards on The Stone Roses’ era-defining eponymous debut album, but it sounds

Edinburgh Rocks – The Capital's Music Scene in the 1950s and Early 1960s

Edinburgh has always been a vintage city. Yet, for youngsters growing up in the shadow of World War Two as well as a pervading air of tight-lipped Calvinism, they were dreich times indeed. The founding of the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947 and the subsequent Fringe it spawned may have livened up the city for a couple of weeks in August as long as you were fans of theatre, opera and classical music, but the pubs still shut early, and on Sundays weren't open at all. But Edinburgh too has always had a flipside beyond such official channels, and, in a twitch-hipped expression of the sort of cultural duality Robert Louis Stevenson recognised in his novel, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a vibrant dance-hall scene grew up across the city. Audiences flocked to emporiums such as the Cavendish in Tollcross, the Eldorado in Leith, The Plaza in Morningside and, most glamorous of all due to its revolving stage, the Palais in Fountainbridge. Here the likes of Joe Loss and Ted Heath broug