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In Conversation with Barney Norris

Barney Norris, named ‘one of our most exciting writers’ by The Times, discusses the upcoming revival of Visitors at The Watermill Theatre.

Why is The Watermill such a special venue for this revival?  

This theatre is a kind of home for the play. It’s the closest you could put the play on to where it’s actually set. So, I loved the idea of sharing the play with the specific community it purports to be situated amongst, the specific people it claims to speak for.  

Why have you chosen to direct it this time? 

I’m directing the play this time because I was twenty-one years old when I wrote the first draft of it and so much of my life has happened to me since I first started creating this script. And over the years I’ve shared a lot of my life with the script in various productions going on around the UK, in Europe and the US but I’ve never directed it before. And so when The Watermill Theatre asked me to bring the show here, which is the closest you can get to putting the play on in its home community, and so I really wanted to take the opportunity there to really get inside the story, to reinterrogate the story, and think about how I have changed in the telling of it. 

What’s the show about? 

Visitors is a family story about a community on the margins of Salisbury Plain, trying to hold their way of life together. It’s a love story about a long-married couple who are facing the end of their time in the farm that they’ve lived in throughout their lives but also that’s been lived in for many generations by the same family. It’s just about when people have to face these things which we all have to face, they face them with the greatest heroism and the biggest hearts that they can muster. I just tried to make it as joyous and grateful for life as it could possibly be.  

Tell us about the design concept for this staging  

In terms of the production’s design, the play is about light. It’s a single room in a farmhouse on the edge of Salisbury Plain with this big picture window letting the light in. And so we’re trying to build a play out of light. Because it’s about the end of love, the play is kind of about lights going out, fuses burning out, it’s like the moment when a fire stops being flames and turns into wood flickering. That ebb is what we’re trying to make the play of. 

Why are you revisiting the show now? How have things changed since you last staged it?  

I was twenty-one when I wrote the first draft and I’m not twenty-one now. One of the great uses of literature, I think, in my life, is being able to chart my own progress through life. Getting to re-immerse myself in a story by a young man claiming to be me now that I’m this man and now that I can’t share the play with everybody that the play is about, is a big part of why I want to put the play on.