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Josie Rourke: Room D19, Murray Edwards

Josie Rourke (New Hall, Murray Edwards 1995) and fourth-year Modern and Medieval Languages student Annabel van Daalen discuss crockery, cutlery and culture shock.

  • Photography
    Kat Green
  • Interview
    Lucy Jolin
- 3 minute read

Sitting here, I remember being the Salford girl who had never been to London,” says theatre director Josie Rourke, who is perched on an armchair on the top deck of the split-level, stripped-down hymn to concrete that is D19, Murray Edwards.

“I saved up and bought lots of clothes from Next because I thought that was cool. My mother thought I was going to Malory Towers. She baked me a fruit cake! In a tin! Oh, I was so excited. I spent six months planning what cups and saucers I was going to bring.”

“I did that too!” says the room’s current inhabitant, Annabel van Daalen, who is in her fourth year of a Modern and Medieval Languages degree. “In my first year I had a lot more pans than I do now. And a lot more spoons. These days I’ve got maybe two forks, one spoon, three knives…”

But despite the culture shock, it didn’t take long for Rourke to dive into the Cambridge acting scene. Indeed, on her first day, Rourke’s roommate, Rebecca Morahan, introduced her to the actor Anna Carteret (who just happens to be Morahan’s mother). And it was Morahan, she says, who suggested that they co-direct the freshers’ show at the ADC: Rourke’s first foray into directing.

Have more fun. And kiss more people. Not that I did badly!

“Not that I lack confidence! But she certainly gave me a push. She was an amazing friend. Knowing her helped me realise that directing could be a job. Her father was an acclaimed director. To meet someone who makes their living directing is a big deal if you are the first in your family.”

Van Daalen has also made connections: as former guest liaison and speakers’ officer for the Union Society, she has encountered everyone from Katie Hopkins to Oliver Stone. “That was quite an experience,” she says of the latter with a grin. “He was a pretty big personality.”

The iconic dome at Murray Edwards
The iconic dome at Murray Edwards

Today, the walls are lined with mementoes of van Daalen’s year abroad. Returning to Cambridge has been odd, she says. “When we came back, everyone had left apart from the MMLers and the engineers. Everything changes when you do the year abroad. I was working nine to five, and for the first time since school I had time just to do and be. The sense of perspective really helped me.”

Rourke nods. If she could advise her younger self, she says, she’d suggest more fun. “And kiss more people. Not that I did badly!” Rourke says. “But there’s a wonderful intensity that’s capital-R romantic to being here, to doing everything from a great supervision to flinging yourself into a show – or worrying about how Oliver Stone takes his coffee.”

Josie Rourke is artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse, London, and director of the 2019 feature film Mary Queen of Scots.

Annabel van Daalen is currently weighing up career options, including journalism and diplomacy – while preparing for Finals.

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