Author Archives: yodamo
From the tectonic pressures of rehabilitation and recovery
A theatrical diamond has been born
Hello Farley, first things first, where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Although I’ve lived in a few other places briefly, I was born in Hollywood and raised in the Los Angeles area of California, and I still live here. For better or for worse, I say… but It’s a great place to be an artist.
When did you first develop a passion for the stage?
I fell in love with theater at nine years old, when I was first cast in an original musical version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It was a local children’s theater production, and I had only one line, but I was hooked and never recovered, you might say.
What is the theatre scene like in Los Angeles?
Well, it has changed significantly over my lifetime, as there are only a handful of large professional theater companies these days. I think what Los Angeles has become known for, over the last few decades, is the 99-seat theater scene. There is a lot of innovative and original work being done here. On any given evening, dozens of shows are pushing the boundaries of the art form all over town. However, my true love is musical theater, and I perform more commonly in the large professional houses that have the budget for the sets, costumes, and glitz of the broadway style shows.
Your performance skills are a bit of a (tasty) soup – what are the ingredients?
I am a seasoned musical theater performer which is definitely the soup base. My wacky sense of humor is the unexpected spicy cayenne pepper, perhaps. Plus, a squeeze of lemon is my big bright versatile voice. The new ingredient these days is my vulnerability, a secret spice one might say, that makes my new show different from my past work.
You’ve got three famous actors, dead or alive, coming round for dinner. Who would they be & what would you cook; starters, mains & dessert?
Judy Garland, Katherine Hepburn, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. It makes me laugh just imagining those three together. And Kate Hepburn would be in charge of the menu. She would run that dinner party, I have no doubt, and I would let her!
You’re bringing a play to the United Solo festival, can you tell us about it?
In December of 2017, just before Christmas, I had a stroke which affected my speech, reading, hearing, and comprehension. I felt deeply lost, hopeless, frightened, and helpless during my illness. With STROKE OF LUCK, I have crafted a way to tell the story, going back and forth in time, in monologues and song.
When did you realise you wanted to turn your experiences into a play & why?
After my stroke I wanted so badly to simply return to being my ‘old self’, but my brain just seemed broken. Well, it was. Nonetheless, I dug deep into my rehabilitation and recovery. With the encouragement of my friends, I gave myself the big crazy task of telling the tale of what happened to me and transformed my life… out loud… with music… to an audience! When the idea of STROKE OF LUCK was born it was a ridiculous idea – as I could barely read or write, and speaking was quite difficult! But I’m a performer – what else could I do? Believe it or not, the show premiered in Los Angeles last year, just 10 months after my stroke. The miracle of that is not lost on me.
You describe the play as containing universal truths…
Well, of course, not everyone has had a stroke, but most people have been touched by this illness because of a close family member, co-worker, or friend having had one. Many people die every year from strokes or never fully recover. But even bigger than that is the question of how you deal with any significant illness. The fact is – being severely ill strips your identity away. It is profound and painful. Who you are, or thought you were in this world, is gone. The loss of identity is a big theme in the show. Also, the loss of one’s “voice” is a very vulnerable thing that I think really resonates with people.
How is directer Kirsten Chandler handling your creative baby?
Kirsten is not only a well respected Los Angeles director, but also a dear friend. She is one of many special friends who came to visit me right after the stroke happened. She knew me before, during, and after the stroke, so she had a true understanding of what I had been through. She helped me craft the humor of the show, and most importantly the “stroke moments” I recreate, in the most powerful way possible. I also could not have done this without the wisdom, friendship, and steady hand of my producer, Dion Mial. His input is incalculable.
What is the last thing you do before you step out on stage?
I need some silence really. I need a quiet moment or a little serenity before the madness of putting it all out there on stage for 90 minutes. It takes all of me, every last bit of me, to do this show.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell your play in the streets of New York…
I’ll make you laugh, I’ll make you cry, and you might just learn something about life, too. I know for sure that you will never forget it.
Friday, October 11th, 2019
United Solo Theatre Festival
410 West 42nd Street, NYC
A mercurial talent is bringing his personal twist on Goethe’s darkest tale to the United Solo Festival, New York
Hello Glen, first things first, where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
I live in New York City and travel and perform all over North America and Europe, especially Britain and Ireland.
When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
My mother says I started acting when I was two. Then I tried to organize neighborhood children to put on plays. I did a lot of children’s theater and community theater as well as school plays.
Can you tell us about your training?
I trained at The Juilliard School, at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and in Michael Chekhov’s approach to acting. I’ve also done a movement training called Spacial Dynamics.
Can you tell us about Anthropos & your role?
Anthropos is my touring-production company. It received its name in 2010 to acknowledge the spirit of what my colleagues and I present and the impulse to create and perform stories and plays of unusual scope and humanity. Anthropos is the Greek word for human being. We seek to uphold and celebrate what is truly human, through the arts of theater and storytelling.
You’re bringing a play to the United Solo festival, can you tell us about it?
Friday, September 20 at 9pm. Beat the Devil!
(the WHOLE story)
by JW von Goethe and Glen Williamson
(his drama, my words)
It’s the story of a guy who makes a bargain with the devil, but Goethe gives it a twist, so the devil gets more than he bargained for. It’s purely theatrical storytelling that fills the stage. And it’s relevant, timely and timeless.
You have also toured North America in The Refugees’ Tale, based on Goethe’s Green Snake parable, so what is it about the greatest German poet that makes you tick?
As a consequence of the horrible tragedy of the 20th century, much of the depth and spirit of middle European culture has been lost or debased. It’s part of my mission in life to bring that spirit to life. Goethe, the greatest of many great German poets and philosophers, was also a scientist who laid the groundwork for reuniting western thought with spiritual reality.
Where & when did the idea for Beat the Devil! originate, & is the reality fulfilling your vision?
When I was 21 I was sent through an exchange program to work as a stage hand for the full production of Goethe’s Faust in Dornach, Switzerland, and I fell in love with the story, the characters, the ideas, the imagery and the poetry. Then in 1999, I was asked to perform a solo story version in honor of the 250th anniversary of Goethe’s birth, for the Anthroposophical Society in New York. I’ve been performing it fairly often ever since. It has gone farther and affected far more people than I had ever expected.
What emotive responses do you expect from the audience?
This story touches something deep in us about what it means to be human in the face of evil.
What’s the last thing you do before you step out on stage / the curtain goes up?
Make sure my fly is zipped. Then as I begin, I have a moment to think of the people who guided me to this story, including J. W. von Goethe himself.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell your play in the streets of New York, what would you say?
This is one of the greatest works of world literature. I’ve condensed it into 90 minutes. I’ve been performing it for 20 years all over North America and Europe. It’s won two awards off Broadway. And I would love to share it with you, whoever you are.
September 20th, 2019
United Solo Theatre Festival
410 West 42nd Street, NYC
Direct from it’s Off-Broadway run at the Soho Playhouse in Manhattan, Martin Dockery’s award-winning mind-bending comedy Inescapable makes it’s Vancouver premiere. The Mumble caught up with Martin & the play’s director, Vanessa Quesnelle
Hello Vanessa, first things first, where are you both from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Vanessa: I’m from Ontario, Martin is from Brooklyn, NY, and Jon is from many, many places in Canada.
Hello Martin, so when did you first develop a passion for theatre?
Martin: My British great-grandparents toured America as actors in a theatre troupe. Their daughter then went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and then HER daughter (my mother) went to SUNY Purchase in New York for acting. I myself have an MFA in playwriting from Columbia University. All which is to say, it seems the passion for theatre is in my very DNA.
You two have just had a baby girl, hows that going will she be coming to Vancouver too?
Vanessa: Martin and I are very fortunate that we can travel and perform together – a real balancing act, as you can imagine. Our baby is 15-months-old now and it’s already her second summer on tour. Luckily, she’s a pretty easy-going baby who loves being out and mingling with other people. There’s no real model for how this is supposed to work and so we’re just figuring it out as we go. There’s a great network of traveling artists and supportive locals without whom this would be SO MUCH MORE difficult – if not impossible. But having a baby on tour has led to all sorts of beautiful moments with strangers and friends. After ten years of traveling without a baby, it’s a refreshing way to reengage with the fringe world.
Can you tell us about your training?
Vanessa: I’ve been acting since as long as I can remember. All my training has been hands-on, as I’ve been in countless productions in every capacity imaginable, both on and off-stage.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
Martin: I want every show I make to feel like an Experience. Capital E. I want people to be lifted out of their every day world. It’s what I’m looking for when I attend a piece of theatre. A visceral experience that transcends the reality of simply sitting in a dark room with other people.
In a world where you can get entertainment ‘on demand’, what makes theatre special?
Vanessa: Theatre remains the one form of entertainment that you cannot get ‘on demand.’ It happens in a specific time and place and if you’re not in the room for it, then it’s gone forever. The theatrical space exists in the same space in which we exist; time passes the same on stage as it does in the audience. It is as three-dimensional as we are. The actors are breathing the same air as the audience; they are feeling the same energy. When theatre works, it is unlike any other experience in its immediacy. It’s a shared experience with other people both on and off-stage, all of whom are together buying into an alternate reality that both reflects and reveals our own.
Can you tell us about RibbitRePublic and ConcreteDrops, & of their merger?
Martin: RibbitRePublic has consistently been making work for the fringe since the 1990’s, if you can believe it. ConcreteDrops has been doing likewise every year for over ten years. Safe to say, we’re all pretty committed at this point. When you join forces with another group, you want to make sure they’re going to be around for a while, so that the show itself can have a good, long life. Also, we like each other – so why not do a project together?
You’re bringing a play to this year’s Vancouver Fringe, can you tell us about it?
Martin: Like an episode of The Twilight Zone as conceived by M.C. Escher and written by Samuel Beckett, Inescapable is a fast-moving comedic thriller that plays with both our sense of time and identity. When two old friends find themselves trapped at an annual holiday party, a lifetime of secrets and betrayals are exposed just as quickly as the duo’s inability to remember them.
So Vanessa, as the play’s director, what are you bringing to the table?
Vanessa: Well, hopefully, I’m bringing what every director brings to the table, so to speak: an eye towards telling a story clearly. Not so easy in the case of Inescapable. With its inherently cyclical nature, it would be easy for the larger picture to get muddled and lost. And so my job, I feel, is to maintain a clear through line within the eddies and whirlpools of action and intent, so that even as the characters find themselves trapped in an ever-repeating moment, there is a rising momentum towards a clear climactic finale.
Where & when did you first get the inspiration for Inescapable?
Martin: After Paterson made the suggestion that we should do something together, I spent a few days mumbling to myself while walking around Bellingham, where I was performing at the time. The show just sort of came out, pretty much fully formed. If you see it, you’ll see just how bonkers this must’ve made me seem – mumbling this intense dialogue to myself while inadvertently weirding out Bellingham in the process.
Can you tell us about Jon Paterson, his role & how he is doing so far?
Vanessa: Jon is great to work with. Always game for trying things out. Rehearsals have always been super fun. As an actor he is capable of a wide range, from a sort of goofy amiability to something unhinged and menacing, both of which make him perfect for his role in Inescapable.
Inescapable won Best Script at the Orlando Fringe & Best-of-Fest at Minnesota… does that bring you any validation?
Martin: Well, yes, of course, it’s always validating to win an award or two – how could it not be? But more so has been the reaction of the audience as they are experiencing the show. It’s quite a theatrical ride, I think.
What was the biggest obstacle you overcame while putting the play together?
Vanessa: Well, the biggest obstacle has been the fact that Jon lives in Liverpool, Nova Scotia, while we live in Brooklyn, NY. And so rehearsal itself has been a creative affair. Luckily we’re at many fringe festivals together and so we’re able to put some time aside. At this point, though, we’ve been doing the play for a number of years – it’s in our bones and not much more than a refresher rehearsal is needed.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the play to somebody in the streets of Vancouver…
Martin: Do you like the Twilight Zone? Black Mirror? Puzzles? High energy, mind-bending, comedic thrillers? Well, then, I dare say you’ll love Inescapable.
Sept 5, 7, 11, 12, 13, 15
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Aug 26–31 , 2019
It was great to be back at Oran Mor where the year celebrating 500 productions of A Play, A Pie and a Pint launched into its autumn season with Crocodile Rock, a new one-man musical by Andy McGregor. Darren Brownlie plays 17-year old Steven McPhail who introduces himself in song from his makeshift music studio. But this joyous beginning is something of a false start as young Steven found that life at home on the Isle of Millport was tedious, empty and downright boring. The stage was strewn with piles of boxes containing his possessions, giving you the impression of someone who was trying to make decisions about his life and how to live it. By the way, the music in this show was top notch, ably supported by the 2-man backing band of Gary Cameron (keyboard) and Gavin Whitworth (bass and guitar).
As the stories unfold in song, we learned about Steven’s adored mother and rather straight-laced father. We saw him going down to the beach to stare at Millport’s eponymous crocodile rock, which just reminded him of how detached he felt from his surroundings, and how much his soul longed for something different. All his ups and downs were expressed in the music as well as a large cast of imaginary characters. In places the show seemed almost operatic in its production and lyrical quality.
Out of the blue, and to our great delight, along came someone new – a drag queen from a larger world that Steven met by chance and found awe inspiring right from their first encounter. As we watched he seemed like a little boy being led into a new world of wonders he had never dreamed of – a world where at last he felt at home.
But he sang of great heartache as well. Having plucked up the courage to tell him, he loses his father’s approval and finds himself actually disowned. In tears he shouted “I won’t apologize for being who I am”. He had come onstage dressed as a woman, with long blond hair and a tight sequinned pink dress. Now the joke becomes serious, symbol of a great expression of overcoming. With every leap he took us with him, his songs becoming bold, and his world that little bit happier as he realised the true nature of his identity, the real Steven in full frock and make-up. This show was put together to make us laugh and cry, and it did that in spades. It also brought joy out of the heart of despair as we shared the quest to be your real self whatever it may be.
“It’s about feeling alive”. Music is a great many things to different people. For two aging and forgotten rockstars, it’s a chance at redemption, to set their lives back on the right track. Venture Wolf’s third production at the fringe finds the special effect that music has, and runs with the idea, allowing for some pretty strong emotions to surface. But with a confused script that feels more like a clash of ideas than a successful jam session, Vinyl Encore misses that special connection it was aiming for.
One morning, a guitarist for a modern hit-making band, Kieran Kurtz, finds himself in the house of 70’s cult rocker King A. The previous evening, the two had come together on a night out, both trying to chat up a record producer. As the haze of the morning clears, the producer’s promise is revealed – he’ll release a record for both of them, so long as they record it together. Instantly the battle of age and style is clear.
Playing King, AW King is completely believable as a rock star. He is a punk rocker whose lyrics are like psychedelic poetry. Kurtz, played more straight laced by Paul Vitty, is insecure about his talent as a guitarist, keen to play far more than just three chords in a song. The dream to work together is about as madcap as they come, but as the jamming begins the possibility starts to look quite attractive. Competent musicians, at first King’s lyrics don’t quite fit Vitty’s improv guitar, but there is a spark of something. Aping the heavy guitar rock sound of the White Stripes, and highly reminiscent of DIY punk, there’s potential here for excellence with some polish.
The problem with Vinyl Encore’s production is that it promises the two will get over their differences and end up creating something harmonious and unique, but they never do. The music never quite reaches brilliance, and the other elements of the script echo this. Unstructured, the dialogue can feel a little too improvisational sometimes, meaning that the lines crash into each other as much as the characters. Both musicians are clearly going through more personally than just a career slump, but the story beats don’t combine in such a way that the emotion can be felt. It’s not that they are unlikeable characters, in fact, they are quite relatable. It’s just that the convoluted and sometimes absurd nature of the script doesn’t allow for sufficient empathy to build.
An ominous knock at the door propels this production towards its conclusion, with a sense that something more slick could have achieved a far greater effect. Both Vitty and King bring the required emotion to their respective roles, and their passion for music is so clear. But in the end, they don’t quite manage to articulate why the music made them feel so alive.
theSpace @ Surgeons’ Hall
12th-17th August 18:05
19th-24th August 19:05
Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Edinburgh International Festival
21 August 2019 to 24 August 2019
Let’s face it, the bastion of baffling pretention known as ‘Interpretative Dance’ is at the very pinnacle of the pyramid of thespian charlatanary that are the Edinburgh Festivals. Interpretative Dance tackling the, ahem, laugh-a-minute Norn Irish ‘Troubles’ sounds like a ‘Legitimate Target’ or at least a fleg up for a spot of recreational rioting. However, and I can’t believe I’m writing this (I’m as surprised as you), Oona Doherty’s ‘Hard to be Soft: A Belfast Prayer’ is one of the best fifty minutes I have ever spent in a theatre outside of the bar.
Full disclosure. I’m from Belfast (and Hard as Fuck). I arrived with a mouth full of sarcasm and a hipflask full of whiskey. I left in a daze, genuinely and deeply impressed by what I was sure was going to be a load a ballax. Gobsmacked by a piece of work which at one level is just punters prancing about on a stage but on another is an eloquent understated yet (gulp) powerful physical drama.
That David Holmes, top-end Soul Techno Gay House DJ producer, soundtracker to Hollywood, proper Belfast Boyo and all round good egg himself provides what is termed the ‘soundscape’ doesn’t hurt. The whine of paranoia and choppers, the unmistakable whirr of the tyres of the armoured cars on the streets, samples of various Spides and Millbags (ask somebody from Belfast), sweeping electronica, the music (soundscape my arse) sets light to some great dancing and a genuinely poetic portrayal of the daftness of the last forty years telescoping from the personal to the political.
A Belfast Prayer doesn’t just avoid cliché, it dingies it altogether. (Love that word)
Nobody gets done, nobody sings about Colleens or dogs or some Boyo on a horse that fucked off years ago because he clocked you were a psycho and fifty texts a day at least. No-one glosses over the barbarity. And praise be to St Michael Alec Joey Van Barry and the lord Georgie Himself nobody bores anyone to death about the alleged politics. Amazing. Just one gripe ‘Soundscape? Really Davy…. Soundscape?… aye dead on mate… yer from East Belfast for fucks sake. Have a wee word eh? Plus it was a bit smoky in there, alright? Up The Hoods!
Aug 21-26 (17:05)
In my role of reviewer, I always like to take the most objective route possible, to preferably not know anything about the play I am set to see. In the case of ‘Genesis: The Mary Shelley Play,’ however, this would be impossible. Half a lifetime ago, in 1998, I found myself busking in Pisa, composing a poem entitled ‘The Death of Shelley. ‘ This was my turf, & whatever the play did, it had better do it bloody well. The story’s core comes from the creative furnace that was the meeting of poetical minds at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva in 1816 – as canonized in English literature as the Shakespearean plays. Following the massive 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia, the year of 1816 had no summer, & thus kept inside by the constant rain our poets & their entourage resorted to telling ghost stories. From it came Frankenstein & also the modern version of Dracula – from Byron via Doctor Poliodori, who was also present at the villa & is in the play. This, by the way, got off to a terrible, terrible start. A cluttered, fairly insane rush to get all the characters on stage, chitter-chattering their back-stories so we all knew what was going on. Far better to have them listening to Coleridge’s Christabel or those German horror novellas which were the true seed-spirations for Frankenstein. They were never mentioned at all, a fatal flaw – but we did get to see Clare Claremont’s naked buttocks.
Things evolved a little better, I must admit; a series of set-piece scenes which showed our troupe to be fine, fine actors. Where many plays taper into the wind after the start, Genesis actually managed to gather itself together & keep us interested until the end. The Byronic portrait was the best part, I think, & done quite well. The Allegra sub-plot appeared, sprinkling in a little of that scandalous gossip which followed Byron everywhere, while the subtle foreshadowing of Shelley’s Leghorn disaster was a clever touch. But the real damage had been done right at the start, & I found myself lolloping on to the finale in the same way I watch a cartoon film with my kids; out of duty really.
Like I said, the actors were good, pristeen even, but they didn’t look like the avatars they were meant to be playing. The Diodati Summer has become part of our folklore & is recreated very much like the mystery plays of Kerala & Tamil Nadu, where scenes from the Mahabharata are acted out village to village. Imagine the disconcertment of a South Indian audience when they gaze on Vishnu & discover he looks more like Ganesha. There was also very much a lack of any real ‘fear,’ a bit of LSD-hysteria & a couple of Hammer Horror lightning bolts. But of course this play was too busy cramming in far too much biographical detail to worry about entertaining us.
Damian Beeson Bullen
This was a totally brilliant show from the beginning to end. From the moment when the two protagonists entered the stage, the pace and intensity never let up for a minute. The “Play about Words” was indeed a play ON words as manager Kenneth and employee John sought to navigate the ever increasing demands of political correctness, overlooked by the large whiteboard behind their desks, covered with motivational slogans and strategies to improve employee performance.
John, it seemed, was in trouble and the hour centered on Kenneth’s efforts to correct him. The room shrank as focus and attention grew on the tussle between two men professionally trained to define what political correctness actually entailed. It was the contrasts that I really enjoyed, the arguments and questions delivered with surprising physicality, given that the set was an office and the weapon of choice words. Kenneth would constantly correct John, pointing out a progression of rules and conditions that must be complied with. John becoming increasingly frustrated until he could take it no more and confronted his boss.
With consistent, sometimes astonishing, performances, this show took us on a comedic rollercoaster ride of a debate covering just about every aspect of political correctness. John was driven to anger by the persistent Kenneth, determined to follow the rules. In the end, he complied with the amendments and received praise from his relentless Correctness officer. But not before the pair of them had made us laugh at the absurdity of it all, and made us change and open up to the ideas coming at us thick and fast.
amendments: A Play On Words
Aug 19-24 (21:35)
As the room turns from dark to light Maggie emerges with a man dog. Complete with leash and black leather whip, Maggie means to please. Played out around a white table with more objects of desire than a Toys R Us store, the first of her clients arrive. As spanking commences, time passes and with tasks left unfulfilled the playful sessions begin. This is not a dominatrix sex dungeon, but in fact a comedy theatre show about the Dos and the Don’ts of everyday life, the Whys and Why Nots? Fantasy or reality, right or wrong, who is to judge ? The man above or the man below? You, me or the woman who deals therapeutic pain through pleasurable means. Remind Me Again Why I Need a Man is here to answer those very questions. From civil servants to highly strung bankers they have all required the services of Maggie and her magic. Then the unthinkable happens.
We both like comedies that have a heart. Something that makes you care for the characters even as you’re laughing at them. We like our characters vulnerable. Read the full interview
With another impatient ring at the door, death”s assistant turns up with his new look. Sporting a purple suit and a born again attitude, he is happy to announce that the fun starts when the heart stops and Maggie’s nearly did. Could love conquer death ? Would you lie to death? Does Amazon exist on the otherside and does Alexa Google have all the answers? Remind Me Again Why I Need A Man has some hidden but yet obvious messages about who we are. Thought-provoking, dramatic, motivating, emotional, bewildering and burgeoning with love and fear, this comedy drama connects all the dots. Relationships are the key to life and this duo have smashed it. Creatively written, honest and open, as time slips through Maggie’s hands and love becomes more of a stranger than a friend, you are left with a only one gnawing question? I hope I don’t have a list that long, or do I?
Aug 19-25 (13:00)
Post Mortem is currently wowing the Edinburgh Fringe
Hello Iskandar, first things first, where are you from and where are you at, geographically speaking?
Hello! I am from the UK. I was brought up in the West Midlands, but also spent parts of my childhood in Australia and New Zealand. I am mixed-race South East Asian – my father is Bruneian-Pakistani. In short, culturally I am a mix of different places and people. I am currently in London.
Can you tell us about your training in theatre?
Sure, I actually trained very specifically in screen acting. My training in theatre was cumulative over years of working on and making plays. My first work in theatre was in Perth, Western Australia where there is a small, tightknit artistic theatre community which is remarkably friendly and forgiving, as well as a place which produces artists that punch far above their weight. It was a safe place to take risks, make new work, and learn the craft. After that I worked on professional commercial theatre productions, where I learnt a lot about the inner workings of theatre organisations from the perspective of an actor. From there, I feel like I am constantly training. My greatest education came from reading and seeing plays – London is a theatre Mecca. I see about three pieces of theatre a week (most of the year round) and read a lot more.
In a world where you can get entertainment ‘on demand’ , what makes theatre special?
Great question. The short answer is I don’t really know, it just feels very special, but that is hard to qualify, isn’t it? The longer answer after a little thinking is that I believe theatre is special because it is a dialogue, or at least I think good theatre should be a dialogue and when I say dialogue, I mean the conversation that exists between artist and audience. When I write a play, I write with the hope that the audience will fill in the gaps. I believe a play only exists as a play when it is put in front of a live and reactive group of people. That dialogue, that relationship, is special and is fundamental. It is also about agency, as an audience member you are free to watch and engage as you wish, whereas with other art forms someone is quite often directing your gaze, does that make sense? Theatre is also special because it is steeped in tradition and history. A history of sharing stories with one another, of using stories and metaphor to talk about injustices, civil rights, pain, joy, and the entire scope of human emotion. And finally, it is also about being vulnerable. We go to the theatre to experience the greatest pains, the deepest fears, the highest hopes, and to be entertained. All of that requires both an audience and an artist to be vulnerable; to share something in the dark that when the lights come up that will leave everyone impacted and thoughtful, and hopefully a little more human.
You are an award-winning playwright, can you give us the low-down on your laurels?
I won the Tony Crazy Playwriting Award in 2014. It was formerly the Soho Theatre Young Writers Award but was recently renamed in honour of Tony Craze, a playwright and novelist who has had a lasting impact on the culture of supporting new writing in Britain. In 2015 I was long-listed for the Bruntwood Playwriting Prize and have previously been nominated and short listed for other awards such as OffWestEnd.com’s Adopt a Playwright and Old Vic 12.
You’re bringing a play to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe; can you tell us about the show & your personal role?
The play is titled Post-Mortem, which by its definition means: an analysis of an event after it has occurred, especially in order to determine why it was a failure. It is a play about young giddy love, the trauma that outlives it, and what happens when we are confronted with the hard truth that perhaps we haven’t moved on. It is the story of Nancy and Alex who met at seventeen, fell in love, the kind of love that is obsessive, whole-hearted, and knotted together, but then it broke. In this play we meet them ten years later at their best friends’ wedding, where they have to confront conflicting narratives about a shared traumatic event in their lives in order to get through the wedding together as the Maid of Honour and Best Man, respectively. I am a playwright-performer. In this piece I am performing as Alex, I have not acted in my own work since 2011, so this feels like foreign territory to me. I am also co-producing this work with my company Ellandar Productions in conjunction with Jessica Rose McVay Productions.
What is it about performing in front of other people that makes you tick?
I enjoy performing and acting in front of an audience, partly because it is nice to know that these people have invested money and time into coming and seeing your work. They are there to listen to you and give you their undivided attention. There is a power to that and there is no denying it feels great, but in the words of Uncle Ben, “with great power comes great responsibility.” I relish having that responsibility as a theatre-maker and as an actor. A responsibility to be sensitive and respectful with the character you’re playing and the emotional journey they are taking, a responsibility to entertain as well as put on stage a human being that is every bit as three-dimensional as a human being sitting in the audience. Lastly, and at the risk of sounding like a cliché, I feel very alive on stage. Being on stage makes me more receptive and perceptive, it helps me to think, listen, and breathe. I am hyper-aware of my surroundings both within the context of the play and within the very real context of the physical space of the theatre.
Your director is Jessica Rose McVay, how is she handling your baby?
With great care and consideration. Jessica is a colleague but also a good friend, we met in 2012 whilst both working on shows in New York and have been talking since then about finding the right piece to collaborate on. Jessica is a woman who approaches the craft of making theatre with zeal and honesty. Jessica has been integral to the development of Post-Mortem. When she came across the play, we, together, took the work, stripped it back and forensically interrogated the piece looking at what it was about, who these characters were, and what the contemporary resonances of the play are. As a playwright-actor I can’t be the “playwright in the room” as I run the risk of being the viewer in the view. As such, I rely heavily on Jessica to note the show and have honest conversations with me about the dramaturgy and narrative, there is a lot of trust involved in our collaboration. Jessica is also a movement director and like me is very interested in the physical language of the play. This iteration of Post-Mortem wouldn’t exist without her input into developing the physicality of the piece. Jessica runs a very democratic rehearsal room and was very generous in providing the right time and space for the work to evolve into what we’re presenting in Edinburgh.
Post-Mortem seems quite a personal play – is there much of your own life experiences in there?
Post-Mortem began life as a different play in 2010 titled The Hill and The Piano. When I look back on the latter play now it is very clear to me that it was a cathartic writing exercise to help me process the end of my first relationship and love. It was overwritten and painfully elegiac. Since 2010 at different intervals I have picked up the piece to redraft, in 2015, I was fascinated with the idea that we, as human beings, have a tendency to mythologise our past and especially events of emotional significance like a formative experience in love, at least that is what I had observed. I was also interested in the malleability of memory and how two people could remember the same event in very different ways, not just emotionally but the actual order of events. I decided to write something new, but started the process by asking the question what is something in my own past that I have a tendency to mythologise, it led me straight to The Hill and The Piano. Hence, Post-Mortem is the product of those thoughts around self-worth and self mythologising, the malleability of memory, and the bones of an old play that was very much material excavated from my personal life. That being said the process of writing Post-Mortem involved deconstructing The Hill and The Piano, and rebuilding it with new foundations. There are echoes of the original play and some theatrical fossils from earlier drafts within the current play, but now it feels a lot further away from me. Alex, doesn’t feel like a representation of me or my experiences but rather a fictional character that has very familiar roots. Likewise the situation in Post-Mortem is a version of events that feel close to a personal experience but exists at a comfortable and necessary distance. I didn’t set out to write autobiographical theatre.
What emotive responses do you expect from the audience?
Empathy. Neither Nancy nor Alex are perfect, in fact they are deeply flawed and in many ways Alex has the tropes of a classical tragic character, specifically a flaw which prevents him from ever being able to fix the situation in front of him. The two characters are embarrassingly human, and I think are deeply relatable as individuals but also as a couple. I expect audiences will be drawn to both Nancy and Alex, at times each one has a conspiratorial moment with the audience where they both feel vulnerable. I think both have been wronged and have wronged the other, in that sense we’re not trying to answer a black and white question about who is right? I expect audiences will be sad at points but leave the theatre with a sense of hope. I would love for audiences to leave and be talking about their first love. Sometimes those experiences can be painful, or overwhelmingly disappointing, or funny, or heart-breaking. I feel we place these relationships on pedestals, or sweep them under rugs, we do our best to forget them, or to glorify them. They are such crucial experiences, integral to our learning, and often can really shape who we become. I think it is important to not mythologise them and remember them as they were, what they taught us, and what we’ve taken from them. Sometimes it is fun to look back, and that is okay, in a world that is constantly looking forward I get lost a lot of the time and have to look back to work out where it is I am going next.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell your play to somebody in the streets of Edinburgh…
Post-Mortem is a love story that starts with an exploding pig heart, comic books, and Dido. It ends with lies, a lot of pain, and death. Come and get stuck in the middle of it! It has poetry, a lot of puns, the Macarena, and a wedding gone wrong.
Assembly George Square Studios
5th – 26th August (10:50)