Interviews

NYtheatre.com

You are in London and your production is here in New York. How did you make the arrangements across the ocean and how much input have you had in the rehearsals, etc and how do you manage to work with the cast and crew (re-writes, etc) when you are so far away?

Ideally I'd like to be present at rehearsals but that's not practicable. Basically one needs to exercise a lot of trust! However, the director and I keep in touch a lot through emails and telephone calls, and she raises specific issues with me. For instance, some of the dialogue employed idiomatic terms which the actors didn't understand. On the basis that if the actors don't understand it the audience probably won't too those phrases were changed to a more American idiom. I'm not one of those writers who regards every word in a script as sacrosanct. I'm much more interested in the overall effect. The important thing is that a theatrical performance works and if that means adapting some words to the local environment then I'm cool about that. Obviously it is frustrating to be so far away and not be able to see the piece evolving but at the same time I know the Director very well and I know, based on previous collaborations, she has a very good understanding of my work, and so I'm fairly relaxed about the whole process.

This is the world premiere of Minotaur. Could you give us some background about the director and the group that is producing it and have you had other professional contacts with any of the people involved?

The Luminous Group is a small but vibrant theatre company specializing in producing plays by foreign playwrights. I've had a very fruitful relationship with the Luminous Group since 2001. Kristina O'Neal, who is directing Minotaur, is the Artistic Director of Luminous and she has previously produced four of my plays. This all came about by chance. In the summer of 2000 I was participating in a playwrights' workshop at Soho Theatre in London. While I was working at Soho they were contacted by the Union Theatre in London inviting the playwrights to write short theatre pieces for an evening of shorts all of which had to be set on an underground station platform. I wrote a 15 minute piece called Touch but in the end it was turned down by the Union Theatre. In the meantime I had become friendly with Jack Shea, a playwright in San Diego, and when it was rejected he suggested I send it to The Luminous Group because he knew they were looking for scripts for an evening of short pieces from around the world. I sent Touch to Luminous, they liked it and produced it in February 2001 in a mixed show, including work from Iceland, Romania, Israel, Australia, Canada and South Africa. As a result of the enthusiastic reception of my piece Luminous asked to see more of my work and that resulted in them producing my full-length play The Inner Circle in June 2001 and two more short theatre pieces Stakeout in October 2001 and Couple together with a new production of Touch in March 2002.

Through these productions I built up relationships with a number of the actor-directors who work with Luminous, in particular Kristina. Kristina is usually one of the first people I show my new work to because I know she has an affinity for it. However, I almost didn't send her Minotaur because I had originally conceived this piece for a large-scale production (which I realized was probably never likely to take place) and didn't think it would be a piece Luminous would want to produce, being very different from my previous work. I sent it to Kristina because I thought she would be interested in seeing what I'm doing rather than through any expectation that she would want to produce it. However, when she read it she loved the piece and phoned me up suggesting Luminous could produce it very quickly. Given the topical elements of the piece this was very attractive.

Minotaur sounds like it might be satirizing some of the current events. Am I correct and if so what are you trying to get across to the audience?

Prior to starting Minotaur I had worked on several plays, all of which explored intense situations, dealing with relationships and psychological trauma. All these plays were small scale, in the sense of having a small cast and simple production values, but they dealt with large and often difficult emotional issues. They were, essentially, inward looking. After finishing these plays I wanted a complete change, to write something on a different scale and which would be more outward looking and have a lot more comedy in it than my previous work. At the same time it was obvious that conflict was looming and I became increasingly depressed at the prospect of another war. The writing was partly fuelled by my feelings of anger and frustration at the fact that our two nations (U.S. and U.K.) were being driven by our respective leaders to initiate a war that most of the people were opposed to and which, to my mind, is not justified. One of the few weapons available to the powerless is humor. I wanted, therefore, to satirize the way in which leaders attempt to manipulate the public and the hypocrisy and bigotry which lies behind their self-serving actions.

Having said that I don't think of Minotaur as a simple 'agit-prop' piece. It has many more dimensions to it than that. The main story is the tragedy of the Minotaur and the allegorical meaning of the play is about the tendency of society to reject and fear 'the other', whatever that status of being different is based on. Its theme is therefore much wider than the present political situation.

This is an update of a classic story. Why and how does it help your play to begin with a familiar classical Greek myth?

The initial idea for the play started out as an idea about form. I thought it would be interesting to create a play which used the formal elements of classical Greek drama, treating a mythological story, using a Chorus, masks, ritual movement and dance, and yet make it completely modern in its idiom. It always struck me that Theseus was a 'hero' with some very unheroic qualities, a kind of second rate Herakles, a 'hero' for modern times. As Theseus murders the Minotaur in the play he says: 'It was touch and go for quite a while, but in the end, as usual, good triumphs over evil.' This is obviously intended as very ironic, and I think it sums up a kind of false self-mythologizing that certain leaders indulge in with their tendency to blur reality by labeling people whose motivation they fail to understand as 'evil'. This labeling itself creates a barrier to understanding and tackling the real underlying issues which cause the conflict.

Minotaur is not so much an updating of the myth than a complete inversion, a sort of turning inside out, of the story. I'm one of those people who inclines towards the underdog and it seemed to me, when I thought about the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, that it was a very poignant story and that one could easily imagine the Minotaur as a victim rather than the monster that he is made out to be. So, in my version of the myth, Theseus is not so much a hero, as a self-serving chancer, a con-man who exploits the people around him as it suits his purpose. The Minotaur is an isolated, sad figure, someone who has been excluded from society because he is different, someone who has not been given a chance. In the play he stands for all the excluded outsiders, whether based on deformity, race or sexual orientation. Because he is different he is feared and demonized but he is not at all the monster which it suits the corrupt court of King Minos to depict.

I use the myth in order to deconstruct it. I want to invite the audience to think in a critical way about the myth itself as it is handed down (how it can easily be seen to have the opposite significance to that traditionally given) and to question the way we ourselves behave. I'm conscious that I'm misrepresenting my own play by making it sound very serious when in fact the play is designed to create a very funny, exciting and entertaining theatrical experience. The serious questions are what should lie behind the laughter.

Could you give us a bit of background information about your educational and professional background that helped you write this play?

I think of this play as a first piece in a new phase of my writing. I'm not sure that anything in my background necessarily helped me write this play other than the experience of writing my previous plays.

Minotaur is scheduled to perform for just one week. You have gone to a great deal of time, effort and expense for so short a run. Why do you think this is important and what do you hope will come of this production?

Obviously I would prefer it ran for longer! But it is a question of time and resources. I think of this production as a showcase and hope that people in the theatre business will have the vision and enthusiasm to want to produce it for a longer run. Personally, I think it has a lot of stimulating things to say which are very relevant to our present situation. I also hope that people will find it very funny and a thrilling theatrical experience. People are often encouraged to see things in a very one-sided way and this retelling of the myth illustrates that there are (at least) two ways of telling every story.

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