OffWestEnd talks to Tom Brennan, director of THE UNICORN by Sam Potter at the Arcola from 7-24 June.

Tom’s multi-award winning company, The Wardrobe Ensemble is an associate company of Complicite, Bristol Old Vic and Shoreditch Town Hall. His credits include Robin Hood: The Legend of The Forgotten Forest (2021, Bristol Old Vic); The Sugar House (2021, Finborough) The Great Gatsby (2020, Wardrobe Theatre); The Last of The Pelican Daughters (2019, Royal and Derngate); Drac and Jill (2019, Wardrobe Theatre); South Western (2018, Tobacco Factory Theatre); The Rocky Shock (2016, Wardrobe Theatre, UK tour); Eloise and The Curse of The Golden Whisk (2015, UK Tour); 1972: The Future of Sex (2015, UK Tour); RIOT (2011, UK Tour).


What first attracted you to the theatre?

As a kid, I was part of Bristol Old Vic Young Company and did drama at school. In theatre it felt like I could be a lil’ attention-grabbing freak and no one seemed to mind. Theatre was a place where you could be weird and it was celebrated. It’s where I felt comfortable.

If you could pick any one person or theatre company to work with on your next project, who/which would it be?

I bet a Katy Perry jukebox musical about cults would be pretty fantastic?

What is your opinion of Off West End theatre, in general?

Honestly it’s such an amorphous, ever-changing scene I don’t feel like I can answer that question very well. I love the variety. I love the bravery. I hate the economic realities of trying to put a show on.

What was the most inspiring production you have ever seen? Why?

The TEAM’s Mission Drift. It’s a big devised, emotional musical about capitalism. It was heartfelt and complicated and mythic and highly researched. If you have a devising company like me, this was incredibly inspiring to see.

What piece of work are you the most proud of?

I’m incredibly proud of The Wardrobe Ensemble and I’s play The Last of The Pelican Daughters, which we made with Complicité. It was really hard to make. It took ages. Large portions of the process felt like pushing something heavy up a hill. But it was really personal, and spoke to our relationships and some of the things that were going on for us at the time. Heartbreakingly the show’s national tour was cancelled in 2020 due to covid. I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to remount it. But since then, it’s been performed all over the world. Weirdly there’s even Romanian, Hebrew and Mandarin translations! So it’s bittersweet.

What things in your personal life do you draw upon when you direct?

The work you make is always infused by your personal life and your world view. And sometimes this happens in ways that aren’t always conscious.

In relation to Sam Potter’s The Unicorn, I thought a lot about my dad. He’s a clinical psychotherapist, so a language around psychology, desire, emotion, drives and the unconscious maybe feels more familiar to me than other people. Having some of that language really helped me direct the play. It helped me unpack the character that Sam had written, and direct it with clarity.

Are there any actors/actresses you would like to direct?

So many – of actors that I’ve seen live recently, I really rate Ria Zmitrowicz, Sophie Steer, Anjana Vasan, Kate O’Flynn, Doña Croll, Annabel Baldwin, Patsy Ferran, Brendan Cowell, Nancy Crane, Kayla Meikle, Melissa Lowe, Ellice Stevens, Isobel McArthur, to name but a few!

I’m really excited to direct Alice Lamb again when we take The Unicorn to The Arcola. She’s a fantastic actor. There’s stuff she does in that show which is just magic to me. (But don’t tell her that, she might get cocky.)

Which director do you respect most on OffWestEnd at the moment?

I really respect Jaz Woodcock-Stewart. Jaz is an artist who seems to know exactly what they want and each piece of their work I’ve seen has been so idiosyncratic. I also really respect James Yeatman, their work with Kandinsky is very precise and interesting. I like work which feels different. I like stuff that takes me somewhere I haven’t been before.

Can you tell our readers about what youre doing now/next?

I’m directing Sam Potter’s one person play The Unicorn. It’s a show about a woman’s relationship to sex. I think sex is an endlessly fascinating subject, so I loved working on it. It’s warm, intimate, difficult and intense. The journey that Sam has built is so honest and complicated. Alice Lamb performs it so beautifully.



@arcolatheatre / @ninatheatreuk (Insta) / @NinaTheatreUK (Twitter)