Interview: Two For The Seesaw director Gary Condes

Evie Freeman interviewed director of Two For The Seesaw, Gary Condes. Two For The Seesaw plays at Trafalgar Studios 2 until 4th August. 

How did Two for the Seesaw come about for you?

I’m originally an actor, I’ve been an actor for 20 years, and that’s why I was drawn to intimate, character driven plays. From acting I went into coaching and teaching. I was looking for scenes to give to my students on my training courses and I found this scene and it was from Two For The Seesaw. It was a great scene and is one of the major pivotal moments in the play. I’d used it for a few years and eventually I thought “you know what, I need to read this play”. I read the play and thought “why don’t we put it on?” because its intimate, it’s a two-hander, it doesn’t require a lot of actors. I suggested it to Charles Dorfman, who runs Buckland Theatre Company and the rest is history!

How did you land Trafalgar studios, it’s such a renowned space and has such a great reputation for stuff, how did you land it?

It’s fantastic. This is Buckland’s’ fifth production, I was involved in the first three. Our opening season was in 2016 at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park. Representatives from Trafalgar studios came to see it having known about our work and invited us to make suggestions to do a play in Studio 2. We submitted Two For The Seesaw and they were like “yeh great!”.

You acted before you directed, you’ve worked with some amazing people on some amazing projects. Do you have a technique when it comes to directing? Do you go into the room knowing what you want? Do you workshop it?

I have ideas about the play and how I respond to it. The plays I’ve been working on with Buckland over the last few years have guided me because being an actor and an acting coach are very much actor-centric. So, the plays I’ve done have been very character driven rather than issue or concept based plays, or turning a Shakespeare into a conceptualised modern take on leadership if its King Lear.

I work a lot with the actors to begin with. We delve into the text, we do a lot of background work and think about how they operate. We really get into the psychology of the characters and how that eventually translates into bringing them alive in their physical behaviour. You can get emotional and you can find truth, but if it doesn’t live in a physical reality then it’s not helping to tell the story.

I wanted the actors to embody the characters; not just truthfully and emotionally, but in physical behaviour: how they carry themselves, how they act with each other, what sort of gestures they use.

Styles came out of the fact that it was a 1958 period piece. We were truthful to that, rather than trying to update it. There are pros and cons for keeping it in period and updating it. It’s got a period language… vernacular, if you like. It’s so smart and witty and that would seem out of place these days. But what isn’t out of place is the relationship and the universal aspects of love, relationships, truth, being truthful to oneself in a relationship, confronting yourself about what it is you want from life and love, and how that affects each other.

In that sense, it’s a timeless piece. It’s never out of time to remind ourselves of fateful human behaviours like love and jealousy and how that fits into life. It is such a huge part of human existence.

Plays from that time are very much of their day when it comes to relationships and who has power within those relationships. Were there were things you wanted to keep the same or thought ‘what that needs to change’ in relation to the original show or movie?

I have seen the movie and that’s very much of its time. I wanted to keep it authentic to the period because there’s a charm to that. It gives us a distance to go ‘how do we look at relationships differently now?’.

One thing that I did feel needed addressing was the female character [Gittle]. It’s less to do with the dialogue, but the attitude of how the interpretation is realised. Gittle is from the Bronx. She’s a bit of a ‘street brawler’ but she’s also referred to as a victim.

One of the charming things about the play is that even though the two don’t end up together, they go through a bruising affair and they change each other for the better. So, in a way, Gittle becomes harder and sticks up for herself more whereas Jerry becomes softer and more vulnerable. That’s what I really wanted to concentrate on.

It’s funny because it’s called Two For The Seesaw and I wanted it to be comic then dramatic then comic then dramatic… to swing between these two concepts. I think that could be missed in the wrong hands but I think we’ve really addressed the balance.

You can imagine in the 50’s it was swayed towards the male character, but this time Jerry is more vulnerable and Gittle is more empowered. In this day and age, you’d be blind not to address that. not out of moral necessity, but out of a reality. I’m going to keep the style, the look and the music (a beautiful jazz score by Max Pappenheim), but the acting will be very modern, gritty and funny in parts.

With the Broadway production, the director was nominated for a Tony Award, does this add pressure to your role?

To be honest, no. That kind of pedigree makes it easier because it means it’s a good play. Its already been tested. Even though we are decades away from the original it makes me feel like I’m in good company. It’s had the thumbs up and the seal of approval. We can honour and follow in the steps of quality writing.

How long was the rehearsal process and what has been your favourite part?

We had 6 weeks which is generous. It enabled us to really go into depth with the characters, to get underneath their skin and then create a real relationship between the actors and the characters.

Having to choose the best bit is like having to choose your favourite child!

I do love getting beneath the words, distilling it down and finding the message of the play. This is about how you measure and quantify love and working out what makes love work and fail. I want to find a defining motif and style and that forms everything we do.

Yes, well the message in this play is so important…

Absolutely. It’s very explicit in this. Jerry struggles to say, “I love you” but at the end he manages it. It’s also about how males are supposed to act and how that’s different now. There’s a few decades separation, so we can look back and see how things have changed and what still needs improving. It’s a shame men had this pressure. Jerry says at the end of the play “After ‘to love’, ‘to help’ is the most beautiful word in the English language”. That’s the message -love, but try and find a connection to learn lessons. Gittle becomes less of a victim and knows how to be her own woman. Jerry becomes more vulnerable and less ‘1950’s male’.

You mentioned that line… do you have another favourite line or exchange from the show?

There are a lot of witty one liners. Gittle says something like “you hate me” and Jerry replies “of course I hate you, isn’t that passionate enough?!”. The fact that he angry at her means he has real feelings for her. I love that.

Why should people come and see Two for the Seesaw?

There’s humour, great drama and great characters to get involved in. The audience will see themselves in and empathise with Jerry and Gittle. If anyone’s ever been in love, thought about love or wished to be in love, they will be reminded of the importance of pure love, connection and honesty. It’s a rollercoaster! We see all aspects of their relationship.

You will laugh at the pitfalls that we inevitably get ourselves into as humans when we haven’t learned the lesson. But you will leave feeling uplifted.

Jean Paul Sartre said, “hell is other people” but I’m not sure I agree. Other people are your saviour if you reach out and connect.

Nowadays we have tinder, but because this is period, it reminds us that perhaps we’ve become too digitalised. We hide behind apps but this is very upfront and honest.

What’s next for you after Two for the Seesaw?

In terms of Buckland, we will see what projects we want to do and hopefully continue with small, intimate venues. I’d love to continue our relationship with Trafalgar.

Personally, I’m coaching in Paris and in the autumn, I do my 12-week acting training course. Hopefully I can squeeze a holiday in-between!

What’s your ultimate career goal? Is there a play you dream of directing? Or an actor you dream of working with?

I’d love to direct Uncle Vanya by Chekhov, that’s a personal favourite of mine. I love Tennessee Williams and Harold Pinter; the language is evocative. It also suits how I like actors to work, slightly above naturalism.

I’m working with a fantastic actor called Ed Speleers who was in Downtown Abbey. I’m coaching him and I’d love to do a play with him. I’m ready for a challenge!

For anyone who wants to be a director or an actor, what’s one piece of advice you would give them?

Wow that’s hard! Seems like the easiest question but is actually the hardest of the lot! Follow you nose, stick to your truth… yes, stick to your truth. That doesn’t mean you should cause trouble and be an arse, but follow your truth.

Evie Freeman
Evie Freeman

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