CINEMA/THEATRE : David Benedict on theatre

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The Independent Culture
Nick Ward (below) has been busy discovering that a change is as good as a rest. After initial success in the theatre, most notably with his fenland play Apart from George (National Theatre Studio/Royal Court Upstairs), and then The Strangeness of Others (Cottesloe), he moved into film, writing and directing award-winning work including Dakota Road and Look Me in the Eye, which will be screened as part of the BBC's Screen Two season in Spring 1996. Yet for all the satisfaction and rewards of independent film-making, theatre still exerts a strong pull.

He returned to theatre with The Present at the Bush earlier this year, and he's gone south to Croydon for Trouble Sleeping. Clearly, grass is not growing under his feet. "Having spent so much time in developing features where something might go through seven drafts, it has sharpened my need to get some stories told. I've been very heartened in the last year. People want new plays again. After all the battling in film, I don't feel at all jaded now." It is also the scale of the work which excites him. "You can put a play on with little money in three weeks, and you are certainly less censored in the theatre because of the commercial considerations. The heart of the process is in the rehearsal room rather than in script- editors' rooms."

Ward is in the midst of rehearsing his latest play, Trouble Sleeping, an early version of which was broadcast (and published by Faber) as a radio play, but he's keen to refute the charge that this spells disaster. "Structurally, and in every way, it's the most theatrical piece I've ever been responsible for. Dialogue is merely one element." He's gone back to the Fens for this play. "The way they speak in a wonderful minor key sets them at slight odds with what they're saying. There's a great music to it, despite the seeming flatness. That's inherently theatrical."

'Trouble Sleeping' opens tonight at the Warehouse Theatre, Croydon (0181-680 4060)