Interview with Nina Hijyianni, director of Happily Ever After
PUBLISHED: 10:27 25 August 2015 | UPDATED: 13:01 01 September 2015
Nina Hijyianni is the Artistic Director with Action Transport Theatre who is directing a controversial new play aimed at children.
It was during a trip to Mexico that Nina first became aware of the story. A Mexican artist put on a performance based on a Dutch novel called “King & King” and she instantly fell in love with the idea.
The play tells a story in a fairy-tale theme of a Prince who falls in love with a Prince and not, traditionally, with a Princess. Nina tells us what attracted her to the idea. “I was interested in putting on the play as I felt it was a lovely way to offer an audience something that is surprising, but at the same time in a recognisable theme, in this case a fairy-tale. Fairy-tales are very much in a child’s domain and I was interested in turning those roles on their head by making the love story between Princes rather than a Prince and Princess. It’s challenging in terms of what our perceptions are and what is conventional in a fairy-tale and what we might look at slightly differently.”
Action Transport Theatre are working alongside a partner organisation called LGBT Youth North West to put on the show. As Nina continues: “I wanted a partner organisation as I felt the project needed some wraparound work to make it a valuable package to schools and venues and LGBT said that it is important to get the message of same sex relationships across earlier in education as student’s views of the subject are normally formulated by the time they reach secondary school. Homophobic ideas are assimilated and the use of the word ‘gay’ is seen as a negative thing, so it is definitely important to have those conversations at a younger age.”
As the topic of the play is very sensitive, it is not surprising that some schools were nervous of having the show performed for them at their school. “I think this may have been due to the school being nervous of what the parents of the students may think, but it is a requirement by Ofsted for children to be taught it. Legal public bodies are working towards the same goals, so schools are obliged to teach it. Negativity is not a worry for us though as it is a positive message that we are conveying. Children may have members of their family that are in a same sex relationship and it shouldn’t be frowned upon.”
Action Transport Theatre are also working with another company called ‘Homotopia’ who are an organisation based in Liverpool that run a festival that profiles LGBT’s work. “They are adult focussed, but they are keen to expand on education work and will help the company get the play into schools in Liverpool.” With support from Cheshire Western in Chester and Great Manchester Authority (AGMA), Nina is hoping that schools will receive the opportunity to see the play all over the North West. “We’re selling the work as a beautiful piece of theatre, not heavy handed or preachy. It is a playful, dance piece without dialogue which allows the characters to interact with each other. There is also a session with the students after the performance where we discuss the themes and languages.”
Directing a play without dialogue is a different experience to what Nina is used to. “To direct a visual piece of theatre simplifies the process. The script is communicated through body language as opposed to spoken word. With words you have to engage with what is being said, whereas the focal point with this piece is the body language of the characters. “
With rehearsals underway, Nina is really looking forward to the shows and to really see what the schools make of them. Plus, there is a special guest coming to watch the show. “Linda De Hahn is one of the authors of ‘King & King’ in which the play is based on and she is coming over from Denmark to see it with her daughter. We hope she enjoys it.”
With a strong message being conveyed, and not just to children, Action Transport hope to take this play and the message on a National Tour to widen the scope and ensure that it has reach. It is a great message to teach and a truly wonderful way of teaching it to the younger generation.
Happily Ever After is on at Unity Theatre 17-19 Sept (www.unitytheatreliverpool.co.uk) , 25-26 Sep at Z-Arts Manchester http://www.z-arts.org