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15 August 2017 •

The Unknown Island Rehearsals: Week 1

Tyrell Williams, our Assistant Director of The Unknown Island, shares his experience of being in the first week of rehearsals.

When I was asked to write a weekly blog regarding what we had done during rehearsals, without hesitation I said of course. A chance to exercise my writing muscles whilst also flexing my assistant directing muscles – easy! And now confronted with the task I'm thinking, mmm not so easy – only because so much has been covered, so much discussed and already so much passion and emotion has emerged as a response to the brilliant José Saramago's 'The Tale of The Unknown Island'. Where do I begin?

Perhaps, by bringing fragments of the attitude encouraged in our rehearsal room by our phenomenal director and leader Ellen McDougall (Artistic Director of the Gate Theatre) – by jumping straight in and seeing what happens.

On day one, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect but I was pumped! After having met with Ellen a few days before, my anxiety was still present. (This is my second time assistant directing in theatre). However, all was quickly put to ease when I found myself the observer and partial participant to profound discussions prompted by the Saramago story and accompanying research.

The week continued in a similar vein. Incredibly, our dramaturg Clare Slater met with Margaret Jull Costa who translated Saramago's story from his native language (Portuguese) into English and shared some nuggets from that discussion with the group. This week has also included the conventions of the read through, production meeting and model box viewing. 

Ellen has always welcomed a collaborative approach for this process leading to a relaxed and conversational environment. It is especially useful for the workshop format we are working in, trying things out and discussing afterwards.

Dialogues in the room have ranged from humanity and all its beauty, complexity and sadness to much more lighter and humorous topics including the character Flashheart in Black Adder (and everything in between!).

I could not end this blog without mentioning the very fulfilling “method-style” lunch we had this week!

A lot has been done. This is my second time assistant directing ever and I’m loving it! It is my first time assistant directing at the Gate Theatre and working with Ellen. Going into the room, I couldn’t tell you what I was anticipating but I can say, I’m really enjoying watching ideas being tried and tested and smaller ideas growing into bigger ideas as well as continuously finding new things in the heavily packed Saramago story. I’m desperate to see how this play comes to life.

Lastly, in the spirit of Saramago, I’ll share a final observation – I realise this blog is more than just a flexing of my creative muscles. This weekly reflection forces me to mark moments in history, that all, one way or another, will soon be immersed in our final production… 

Bring on next week! 


The Unknown Island runs from 11 September – 7 October. There are limited £10 preview tickets available, book yours here.

Image taken by Cameron Slater Photography.
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When I was asked to write a weekly blog regarding what we had done during rehearsals, without hesitation I said of course. A chance to exercise my writing muscles whilst also flexing my assistant directing muscles – easy! And now confronted with the task I'm thinking, mmm not so easy – only because so much has been covered, so much discussed and already so much passion and emotion has emerged as a response to the brilliant José Saramago's 'The Tale of The Unknown Island'. Where do I begin?

Perhaps, by bringing fragments of the attitude encouraged in our rehearsal room by our phenomenal director and leader Ellen McDougall (Artistic Director of the Gate Theatre) – by jumping straight in and seeing what happens.

On day one, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect but I was pumped! After having met with Ellen a few days before, my anxiety was still present. (This is my second time assistant directing in theatre). However, all was quickly put to ease when I found myself the observer and partial participant to profound discussions prompted by the Saramago story and accompanying research.

The week continued in a similar vein. Incredibly, our dramaturg Clare Slater met with Margaret Jull Costa who translated Saramago's story from his native language (Portuguese) into English and shared some nuggets from that discussion with the group. This week has also included the conventions of the read through, production meeting and model box viewing. 

Ellen has always welcomed a collaborative approach for this process leading to a relaxed and conversational environment. It is especially useful for the workshop format we are working in, trying things out and discussing afterwards.

Dialogues in the room have ranged from humanity and all its beauty, complexity and sadness to much more lighter and humorous topics including the character Flashheart in Black Adder (and everything in between!).

I could not end this blog without mentioning the very fulfilling “method-style” lunch we had this week!

A lot has been done. This is my second time assistant directing ever and I’m loving it! It is my first time assistant directing at the Gate Theatre and working with Ellen. Going into the room, I couldn’t tell you what I was anticipating but I can say, I’m really enjoying watching ideas being tried and tested and smaller ideas growing into bigger ideas as well as continuously finding new things in the heavily packed Saramago story. I’m desperate to see how this play comes to life.

Lastly, in the spirit of Saramago, I’ll share a final observation – I realise this blog is more than just a flexing of my creative muscles. This weekly reflection forces me to mark moments in history, that all, one way or another, will soon be immersed in our final production… 

Bring on next week! 


The Unknown Island runs from 11 September – 7 October. There are limited £10 preview tickets available, book yours here.

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