'Working ... with the Traverse company is really exciting and really beneficial.' - 10 Questions with Robert Softley Gale

News 18 Mar 2024

We caught up with director Robert Softley-Gale ahead of upcoming performances of Don't. Make. Tea. with us later this week. Check out his 10 Question interview below!

Robert Softley-Gale in the rehearsal room for Sean and Daro Flake It 'Til They Make It Credit: Josie Morrison Young
1. Don’t. Make. Tea. originally premiered with us during our Autumn 2022 season; what’s it like to be bringing it back to the Traverse now?

We’re delighted to be bringing the show back to the Traverse. It’s a space that I’ve been working in since 2003 – the first time I appeared on the Traverse stage was as an actor in a show called The Irish Giant by Garry Robson. It’s a space that’s dear to my heart because in some ways it’s a brutal space. It’s a big old theatre and a big old auditorium, but the audiences at the Traverse are very kind and lovely to work with.

2. When audiences come to see Don’t. Make. Tea. what do you want to impart to them or for the takeaway to be?

I think the main takeaway from Don’t. Make Tea. – and I’m sure Rob Drummond, the writer, would agree with me – is the question of how we support disabled people, which is quite a complex one. At first, the issue of disability benefits and the welfare state feel quite simple; of course disabled people who can't work need support to stay alive and to keep being part of society, but actually I think there are deeper questions that we never quite have the answer to. Why do we provide support for disabled people? Is it just about being kind and good or is this a part of society that we think is very important? I think the show asks a lot of those questions but does it in a very funny and dark way – I hope that people will take that away.

I also hope the ways in which we’ve made Don’t. Make. Tea. as accessible as possible adds a new layer to the work. As the play is set around a decade in the future, Rob found inventive ways of incorporating the audio description and sign language in to the show. The captioning also fits cleverly within ‘the world’. It all hopefully combines to suggest that although we’ve sizable problems to deal with in the years to come, a new, more accessible society is possible – if we want it.

3. Don’t. Make. Tea. carefully balances great humour alongside important themes, what references or touchstones do you draw on to achieve this?

Humour and comedy are important to a lot of the work that we make at Birds of Paradise. I think when you’re dealing with difficult subjects that can make people uncomfortable, humour is a great way of breaking down barriers and making people open up so that they can hear the difficult questions and deal with the difficult issues in a more accessible way.

The references that I draw on for that; I mean I grew up in a family where I went to the theatre a lot, specifically to see pantomimes. So, I guess in a way a lot of my influence around comedy comes from that sort of panto/Scottish west-coast tradition. Some might call it a little bit cheap, but I think they’re wrong. I think it’s very sophisticated humour!

Don't. Make. Tea. production image featuring actors Gillian Dean and Aidan Scott. Credit: Andy Catlin
Don't. Make. Tea. production image featuring actors Neil John Gibson, Gillian Dean, Nicola Chegwin, Aidan Scott and Emery Hunter. Credit: Andy Catlin
4. What compels you as a director?

I think it’s about telling stories that are new, that are fresh, that people haven’t heard before. Telling stories in new ways and being able to make people think and make people laugh. I think if you can do that then you’re doing great things.

5. You worked with us on Sean and Daro Flake It ‘Til They Make It last year, how did working with the Traverse inform and/or benefit your craft?

Like I said before, I’ve worked at the Traverse for many years – over 20 years now, in fact. So, I think that working in the building and with the Traverse company is really exciting and really beneficial. With Sean and Daro it was a new challenge because it was two young actors who were quite well known. They were both on TV and both were exciting to work with. And it was a piece that was, again, suited to that west coast Scottish sensibility. So, I brought the knowledge that I had and then took it on to the next step.

6. What theatre or cultural experience do you think has most influenced your artistry?

I think so many things combine to influence my work. Even the word artistry makes me laugh a little bit because sometimes directing feels very little like artistry and much more just trying to make something work in whatever way you can. I borrow a lot of things from musical theatre and comedy and things that are very popular in nature because I do think theatre is about engaging with people. It’s about telling people a story in a way that they can relate to; in a way that’s accessible to them – I think that’s why a lot of my influences are more accessible forms of theatre.

Robert Softley-Gale in the rehearsal room for Sean and Daro Flake It 'Til They Make It with actors Sean Connor and Cameron Fulton Credit: Josie Morrison Young
Robert Softley-Gale in the rehearsal room for Sean and Daro Flake It 'Til They Make It with Company Stage Manager, Yvonne Buskie, and Deputy Stage Manager, Anna Reid. Credit: Josie Morrison Young
7. When considering the Scottish experience and culture, what stands out to you as under-celebrated?

That’s a hard one. I think there’s a lot of work by young people that doesn’t get a very high profile in Scottish theatre. Companies like Wonderfools and what used to be Junction 25, I think are really exciting. Great work that young people create feels under celebrated in a number of ways.

8. What progress would you like to see in terms of access and representation within the cultural landscape?

I think a key marker of progress for me is when the people who are on Scottish stages are more diverse. Obviously, the work we do at BOP is trying to put disabled people on stage, but we are one quite small company, and we can only do so much. I think we’ll see progress if we can get other companies and other venues to ask what they can do to put disabled actors and actors from black and multi-ethnic groups on stage. I think having a more diverse Scottish stage would be an incredible move forward. I think we’re getting better but we’re not there yet. We’ve still got a long way to go.

9. Where would you like to see the cultural sector go/achieve in the coming years?

There’s some incredible talent in Scotland and some incredible individual artists and people working at a smaller scale that make great work. And we’ve got to see those people get more of a chance to be centre stage and for their work to be seen by a wider audience. So, for me, it’s about making room for new people to show us what they can do.

10. What are you excited about when sharing Don’t Make Tea with audiences on tour around the UK, especially when the content resonates with so many people’s lived experiences?

In terms of the tour I think it will be really exciting to see how different audiences around the UK respond to the show. With Don’t. Make. Tea., Rob Drummond has worked very hard to make the show relevant no matter where you are. And I think it will work as well in London and Wales as it will in Scotland. I'm really looking forward to seeing the audience reaction and speaking to audiences and seeing how much it resonates with them.