Filmmaker Gary Sinyor broke into the movie business with award-winning early 90s comedy Leon The Pig Farmer. Since then he’s written, directed and produced, but always for the screen.
How is it, then, that later this month his tale of a baby dumped back in the Nile when the better looking Moses floats along is opening at the Arts Theatre? The story, which follows the unlucky NotMoses from slavery through plagues to fleeing into the Sinai desert, is ideal for film, isn’t it?
Writing exclusively for Official London Theatre, Sinyor explains all:
Until now I have been a filmmaker. I rarely go to the theatre. I’m forever wondering what actors who aren’t speaking are thinking. Until recently I thought “up stage” was the bit nearest the audience. I had no idea what a CSM was. And yet on 10 March, my first ever play NotMoses opens at the Arts Theatre for a 10-week run. And only 18 months ago the idea didn’t even exist – as a play.
I had written it as a film. Everyone who read it said it could be the new Life Of Brian. But film being film, securing distribution and finance was a nightmare. A nine year nightmare in the case of NotMoses.
“We love the script, but can you cast this humourless actor who has only ever played gangsters in the lead?” “We love the film and if you ever make it PLEASE show it to us first.” Such is the world of film finance. I even went to Morocco to scout locations. You want Ancient Egypt? They have it. Chariots? Over here sir. Pharoah’s palace? What dynasty sir? Ouzarate is quite an extraordinary place. But the budget was always well over a million pounds. And without stars, it was a never ending circle of disillusionment.
Then two years ago I had a sudden spate of seeing theatre. It started with friends in plays and then widened out to going to see mainstream comedies, in the West End, at the National, off West End. The more I saw the more I started to think. Could I make my own script for a film into a play? I spoke to three people. One good friend who works in theatre, one actor and one financier. All three were hugely supportive. So I jumped…
Adapting the script was a joy. No need for CGI slaves. The audience will be the slaves. Trying to work out how to bring the 10 plagues to the stage had me waking up in the middle of the night laughing. Lola, a company who produce CGI for Biblical epics, came on board as I realised that projection would be a huge part of design.
Of course the scary thing about theatre is finding the location to put the play on. After a few explorations we settled on the Arts Theatre and they settled on us. By that time Julian Stoneman was on board as GM (hark at me with my knowledge of what initials stand for!) and I was starting to have read-throughs of the new play. It’s not a standard play. It has 50 odd scenes. That brings huge challenges. But the team we were starting to assemble, in design, in lighting and in production, saw them as challenges. One thing was clear; it was a crowd pleaser.
Casting is just as crucial in theatre as it is in film. Get a star and we’d be sold out before we even launched. But that was the same argument that had stopped me making the film. It’s not that we didn’t go for A-list actors, it’s more that it’s an ensemble piece and I never really thought we’d land a big name who would commit for four months and maybe more.
Instead over two casting sessions we secured nine hugely talented comedy actors. Actors who weren’t heading off to LA for pilot season! Actors who thankfully know stage right and left better than me and SHOULD be stars. I’ve been lucky that these guys had gaps in their schedules and that they and their agents have seen the potential of the play.
As we have progressed through rehearsals I’m enjoying the creative process so much more than with a film. I get the chance to talk to actors at length, to play scenes over and over, to improvise without a cameraman looking over my shoulder. Am I looking forward to the tech run? It’ll be a challenge too. But I wouldn’t swap what I’m doing right here right now with NotMoses for anything in the world.
NotMoses runs at the Arts Theatre from 10 March to 14 May. You can book tickets through the show’s website.