Social Media

Graham Cowley - Don’t Destroy Me Interview

Offie Award winning Two’s Company is staging another rediscovered jewel this January, Don’t Destroy Me by pioneering Jewish writer Michael Hastings. Known for reinvigorating forgotten masterpieces and bringing them to London theatres, this pivotal new production will share a tender and insightful story about Jewish refugees in post-war London.

Don’t Destroy Me will follow the story of Sammy, who comes to live with his father and stepmother, 15 years after they escaped Nazi Europe as refugees. Having grown up in Croydon, he is starting a new life as an apprentice in London; yet his arrival seems to shake the balance of the Jewish household. With no way to prepare him for what is to come, how will he forge these new relationships, and uncover hidden secrets to try to make life bearable?

Producer Graham Cowley

The production is directed by Tricia Thorns, the artistic director of Two’s Company and is produced by Graham Cowley. We caught up with Graham ahead of the run at The Arcola Theatre.

Let’s go back to the origins of the company, what led you to help found the company?
In 2003 there were huge protests against the invasion of Iraq. We thought the best way to protest was not to write to the papers or march but to put on a play. We had found the perfect voice – Miles Malleson’s 1916 play, Black ‘Ell, written after his own experiences in the trenches. The story of a young officer, decorated for bravery, who comes home to the applause of his family and friends, but who has been so traumatised by his experience that he refuses to go back. A cry of pain and anguish, echoing down the years, against the folly and savagery of war. So effective that it had been banned and all copies seized. We put it on at the Soho Theatre, very quickly, where it was greeted enthusiastically. We followed that with a series of other plays, written during the Great War, and became fascinated by plays written at the time of the events they describe, forgotten but which have something to say about our life today.

How do you reflect on the 20+ years since you launched?
It has been a joy to re-discover plays which might have been successful in their day, but which have dropped into obscurity, and discover resonances with our experience today. Two examples – John Van Druten’s 1931 London Wall, about women at work in an office, harassed, ignored despite their talents, which made us think about how much had changed and how much had stayed the same for women in the workplace; and Staircase by Charles Dyer, written in 1966 when homosexuality was still a crime, about two gay men and their life together.

What can you tell me about Don’t Destroy Me?
Michael Hastings wrote this, his first play, in 1956 at the age of 18. He went on to write many successful plays, including Tom and Viv and Gloo Joo. This piece is not only remarkably mature and assured for such a young writer, it is a terrific drama in its own right. A Hungarian Jewish family escaped Nazi death camps just in time, arriving in London with no money and no English. It’s 15 years later, and the young son, who has been brought up by his aunt in Croydon, arrives to live with his father and stepmother to start work as an apprentice. How will this new life turn out? And how will he get on with the strangely assorted other tenants in the house?

Described as a ‘forgotten masterpiece’, why did now feel the right time to stage it?
We admire Michael Hastings’s work hugely and premiered his only unperformed play, The Cutting of the Cloth, shortly after his death. In that play, the young apprentice tailor writes a play in his lunch hours. When we read Don’t Destroy Me we realise this was the play that he had been writing! We couldn’t resist this rich, complex, bitter-sweet story of a family reunion, but also its wider relevance, opening a door into how refugees, fleeing from dreadful danger, make a new life in this country. With so many arriving on our shores at this time, it seemed very current.

Previous Two’s Company production Red Night. Photo by Phil Gammon.

As a producer, what does your role within a show entail?
I assemble, with the director, the team of designers, I help cast the play, I negotiate contracts with all the team and the theatre, I supervise the marketing and publicity for the show, I raise the money to put it on, and I buy the drinks on the first night! I monitor the show from every angle all through its run and put it to bed at the end.

Can you describe the piece in 3 words?
Exciting, moving, bitter-sweet.

What keeps you inspired as a creative?
Again and again, discovering plays from the past so fresh they might as well be brand new. Working with a director who I admire and love, who is also my wife! Also having a regular team of designers, and always having a mix of actors I know and admire and exciting talents new to me. And, this time, producing at the Arcola Theatre, the fulfilment of a long-held wish.

What do you want an audience to take away from Don’t Destroy Me? 
I very much hope they will be moved and amused! And intrigued that a play nearly 70 years old can come up fresh as paint.

Don’t Destory Me runs at The Arcola Theatre from Wednesday 10th January until Saturday 3rd February 2024. Tickets are available from

Two’s Company previous production The Staircase. Photo by Phil Gammon.

Post a Comment


Theme by STS