Stoke Newington director’s musical debut

The director of a musical which premieres next week in Shoreditch talks about staging the unconventional show and her company’s hopes to build a �7million theatre on the site of Shakespeare’s old theatre

Ruth Sullivan who lives in Gibson Gardens, Stoke Newington, makes her musical directing debut for The Tower Theatre Company next week with The Last Five Years.

An emotionally powerful musical about two New Yorkers who fall in and out of love, it has been dubbed a “landmark of modern musical theatre”.

As well as dealing with practicalities like props and rehearsal schedules, Ruth – whose day job is producing sound effects for TV - is enjoying the challenge of staging the show.

“Usually when you think of a musical you think of dancing girls and a chorus line, but this is very minimal,” said the 38-year old.

“Also it’s unconventional in the sense that the story starts at opposite ends, with the woman singing about the break up and the man singing about the first date.”

“It’s going to he interesting for people who don’t know the show to see whether they will they be confused all the way through or will they get it?

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“It’s a dilemma, in how obvious do you make it on stage - you want to make the different time lines clear to an audience.

“But I have an excellent costume designer who’s come up with an idea of colour changing - the woman starts in dark sombre clothing and ends up in lighter colours and the man goes the opposite way,” added Ruth.

Ruth finds staging the show is an exciting creative time.

“The part I enjoy is taking to the performers about their characters, about when do they think they met and in what situation - delving a little deeper so we know what we are doing when they are on stage,” she said.

“It’s about two ordinary people with hopes and dreams and ambitions like the rest of us - one is an aspiring writer and the other an aspiring actor, and one becomes successful and the other doesn’t.

“So there’s that dichotomy what happens when your partner’s career picks up and the other’s doesn’t.”

The one-act musical written by Jason Robert Brown, was inspired by his failed marriage to Theresa O’Neill, who threatened legal action on the grounds that the story represented her relationship with him too closely.

Ruth auditioned for the amateur Tower Theatre Company three years ago and has since directed, choreographed and acted – playing a Queen and a caterpillar.

“It’s a wonderful company and they give you lots of opportunities to work on lots of different projects, I’ve gone on tour to Cornwall and Paris - I don’t think many other companies give you that opportunity,” said Ruth.

“Everyone is working full time and being professional in other areas, and bringing that professionalism to Tower, a lot of people have been there for a long time and are incredibly experienced,” she explained.

The company presently has no fixed base, but hopes to establish a permanent home in Shoreditch in 2012 in a new �7m theatre on the site of ‘The Theatre’ - where Shakespeare once trod the boards 500 years ago, and produced many of his early plays including Romeo and Juliet.

The exact location of ‘The Theatre’ was uncertain until June 2008, when archaeologists found its foundations in a little side street just off Curtain Road.

The Tower Theatre Company still needs to raise �3m, but in the meantime hopes to make a name for itself in Shoreditch by using the Courtyard Theatre for its next few shows.

“It’s getting incredibly exciting - it will give people a sense of focus and apart from the fact that the theatre itself is going to be stunning, we will have a home to meet up and work on things,” said Ruth.

“Shoreditch is such an exciting area and I believe we can bring something to it.”

The Last Five Years runs at the Courtyard Theatre in Bowling Green Walk, 40 Pitfield Street from Tuesday September 28 to Sunday October 3.

To book tickets visit or call 020 7353 1700.