OffWestEnd talks to Alex Howarth, who has written and is directing Jack and the Beanstalk at Applecart Arts from 16 Dec 2022

Alex Howarth is an award winning theatre director and writer.  He was the assistant director on Richard Eyre’s La Traviata at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.  ​He conceived, directed and co-wrote We Live By the Sea which opened the Brits Off Broadway season at 59E59 Theatres in New York, where it was Critic’s Pick and Top Theatre of the Year in the New York Times and directed the European Premieres of Broadway musicals [title of show] and The Memory Show.  ​He strives to create ensemble-led theatre that is playful, fresh and moving.

What first attracted you to the theatre?

As a child with dyspraxia, my mum sent me to ballet class to improve my coordination. When it quickly became I was not a dancer (!) but loved performing, we found a local youth theatre, and I’ve literally not stopped since! I discovered directing at uni where, rocking up and finding the theatre scene to be super cliquey, I knew if I wanted to get involved it would have to be by making my own work. I instantly fell in love with the creativity of directing and the excitement and fulfilment that comes from making a piece of theatre from the ground up.


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

I’m lucky enough to be working with the brilliant producer Sam Ranger on Jack and the Beanstalk. We met when I directed a production of Medea years ago, and Sam was in the chorus, during which time he was applying to Mountview where I had just graduated from. We’ve stayed in touch ever since, and have been working on the panto for almost a year now. Our visions for a diverse, inclusive panto for 2022 are completely aligned, and I feel very lucky to have found someone to make something that has been a dream of mine for a long time a reality.


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

Off West End is the life-blood of London theatre, and has been somewhere that I’ve been able to see extraordinary, inspiring theatre as well as a place to bring my own work. However, with high rent prices forcing theatres to drive up their fees to companies, it risks becoming an opportunity only available to wealthy artists, or those lucky enough to have big producers behind them. Something must be done to bring down costs to artists, and to ensure the next generation of storytellers are able to get their work on London stages regardless of their economic background.

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

Little Bulb’s Fringe First winning Crocosmia, a play with music about three siblings in the aftermath of their parents’ death, remains the best piece of theatre I’ve ever seen, and was a turning point for me in terms of realising that theatre can be literally anything you want it to be. Little Bulb’s warmth, humour and extraordinary use of music is a constant inspiration to me, and I aspire to make audiences feel with my work the way I do with theirs.


What piece of work are you the most proud of?

That’s a super hard question! I’m really proud of the recent success of my play Cassie and the Lights, which was nominated for the BBC Writer’s Room Popcorn Award and the Situp Award for social change during its Edinburgh run earlier this year. I wrote it based on a true story and interviews I did with children and young people in the care system, and we had a lot of wonderfully positive feedback from the care community about its authenticity. We’re hoping to bring it back to London next year.


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

Before training at Mountview I was a drama therapist and support worker for the charity Sense, who work with disabled people. It instilled in me that theatre must be for everyone, something which has been the driving force behind my practise; leading me to make work such as Cassie and the Lights, the play We Live By the Sea which was about a girl with autism, and now a diverse and accessible community panto.


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

One of of my biggest focuses as a director is supporting the new generation of actors, and I love that the role often gives me the opportunity to offer first jobs to actors I’ve worked with on drama school productions (three of the actors in Jack and the Beanstalk are incredible performers I directed in Fiddler on the Roof at Chichester Conservatoire last year). Whilst it’s brilliant getting the opportunity to work with names (shoutout to Mr Tumble; nicest guy ever), it’s this I find the most rewarding.


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

Sounds like a cop out, but I have a huge respect for anyone who has the passion, determination and drive it takes to be a director and get your work out there in 2022. It’s never been harder, particularly for working class artists, and I have endless admiration for everyone doing it.


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

I’m currently directing Sweeney Todd-The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at Italia Conti, which will open at the end of December, just before we begin panto rehearsals. We’re super proud of what we’re creating with Jack and the Beanstalk- a diverse, inclusive show that respects the traditions of panto whilst bringing them into 2022- doing away with gender expectations and allowing everyone to be funny, and showing young children that anyone can be a hero.


Jack and the Beanstalk is at Applecart Arts from 16 Dec 2022 – click HERE for details.