Writer and researcher Dr Emily Garside spoke to Sherman Theatre's Associate Director ahead of his upcoming directorial debut.
"David Mercatali has been at Sherman Theatre for a few months now and will soon be making his directorial debut with the theatre. It’s not however his Sherman debut. While at University in Cardiff Mercatali found himself directing Death of a Salesman in the Sherman Studio for Cardiff University’s Act One drama society. From what was from an almost accidental start, there was ‘no going back’. The original intended career as a journalist was instead derailed for one as a theatre director. In returning to the city of Cardiff- a city he feels a ‘close connection’ with– and to the theatre where this career began means the role as Associate Director has so far felt as much a ‘homecoming’ as an exciting new chapter.
In getting a start in the industry Mercatali very much ‘Worked my way up from the grassroots in pub theatres in London.’ It was in new work that he found his niche early on and propelled his career forward; ‘Meeting Philip Ridley was a transitional moment. My career had a momentum that took me along with it, in working on new plays.’ Mercatali soon found himself wanting to be part of a larger team, he reflects that ‘I wanted to lay down foundations’. In the intervening years he’d kept an eye on the Sherman ‘It was very exciting to me watching the work travel to places like the National and New York.’ Above all it was the shared focus that drew him back ‘The Sherman’s commitment to new writers seemed to echo the passion I felt and the experience I’d got to date and so it felt like the perfect marriage going forward.’
Working on Katherine Chandler’s new play Buddy, a co-production with RWCMD, allows Mercatali to combine twin passions of new writing and working with up and coming talent. The play will be performed at both RWCMD and The Gate Theatre, London and gives actors in training the rare chance to work on new work, as well as experiencing what working in a professional company will be like. The play itself offers Chandler’s unique way of ‘Dealing with a subject that’s very important but setting it around something that is very entertaining and funny in its own right.’ Alongside the chance to work on new writing, is the chance to strengthen bonds with one of the leading drama schools in the UK. Mercatali feels that ‘Working with the positive outlook and optimism of students is galvanising. They make me feel optimistic.’ Above all the project is an opportunity for Sherman to cement relationships with performers who are the future of the industry, while showing them the kind of work being created on their doorstep.
It will be back in the Sherman Studio that Mercatali returns for his directorial debut at the theatre, with Tremor by Brad Birch- also a veteran of that space. Mercatali is excited for the play and the space he’s directing in- ‘I adore the Studio space and what you can do with it.’ For the play itself he’s eager to see what audiences will take away; ‘What is so fantastic is that Brad centres everything around a relationship dynamic and their different reactions to the same tragedy. There’s so much human truth in that for people to relate to.’ The chance to start at the Sherman in such a collaboration is something he’s also looking forward to.
Working to support new talent at the Sherman is set to form an integral part of Mercatali’s remit with the theatre. He is running the New Welsh Playwrights Programme and JMK/Sherman Directors Programme established by Sherman Theatre’s Artistic Director Rachel O’Riordan. The focus initially has been on connecting these two initiatives to better support emerging talent. Collaboration is something Mercatali feels strongly about thanks to his own experience; ‘For me when I was a young director I realised that collaborators were absolutely vital.’ And this collaborative attitude is at the heart of supporting the new directors and writers. Mercatali is excited about the possibilities these initiatives hold for the Sherman, and theatre as a whole ‘And it’s all round a fantastic opportunity to mentor them.’ For the writers too ‘We’ve had a great history and track record of writers in Wales and I think we can feel confident that we have some really exciting and important voices emerging.’ Reflecting on his role in this Mercatali is keen to stress that nurturing talent is at the heart of what he’ll do; ‘Within my role artist development is vital. And we know that the next generation is important and vital and we all benefit from that in the long run.’
The Sherman’s commitment to new work that drew Mercatali to the Sherman in the first place is hugely important to him- and the reason he knew it would be a good fit for him as Associate Director. ‘I think the Sherman’s new work has been very exciting and it’s been a very important part of the development of Welsh voices and so I looked to that and the mark that the Sherman was making in Wales. And I felt that it tied in with the mark I was trying to make and the mark I’d like to make going forward.’ Above all there’s a real sense of energy and excitement as Mercatali gets ready to take on his first productions with the Sherman- as he puts it ‘From there my feeling is one of optimism about all of the possibilities going forward.’ And the sense that this is just the beginning for him, and the Sherman."
This article was written by Dr Emily Garside.