Writer Anna Rubincam, and director Chaz Doyle, give us some insight into this new play, which has its premiere at SLT next week.
Anna: How did the play come about, and what inspired you? Is it your first?
There’s a medieval church in France and its main doors are decorated either side with stone carvings. On the right are representations of the Virtues, and on the left, the Sins: greed, gluttony, lust, represented by screaming grotesque faces. The Virtues are in pristine condition, but the Sins are almost completely worn away from centuries of parishioners running their hands over the figures. Evil has always fascinated people more than Good, and the battle between Good and Evil is the foundation of Christianity, with the Pope as the supposed general.
The idea for the play came from imagining how a new pope might be tested to decide whether he was truly worthy to be God’s representative on Earth. It made sense that this test would take the form of a meeting, over one night, with a mysterious visitor. The play would explore who the visitor was, and how such a meeting would unfold. It’s a challenging concept, given the scale of religion, but Catholicism is full of high drama, and it was fun to imagine alternate narratives and play with expectations.
And as this is is my first play, it feels exhilarating and a bit scary to watch it go from pages on a screen to a full production. I can’t wait to talk to people about it.
Chaz: What themes does the play explore?
From the title you can guess that there is certain theological argument to the piece, which is definitely a strong theme throughout. However, the play also makes us question what it means to be a good person, how our past shapes the person we become, and what we wish we could change given the benefit of hindsight.
What captured your imagination in choosing to direct the play?
The script is a joy to work with. I’ve been fortunate to work with the script from its inception, through first, second and third drafts and finally to the completed piece. When Anna first mentioned that she had been writing a script, we found ourselves talking for hours over its ideas and themes. I love that the play keeps us questioning what we believe to be the truth, even as the conversation moves between topics.
Your last set for Forty Winks was a memorable Chaz Doyle production (!) – what can we expect this time?
The last show was very much a classic proscenium arch production, with the audience looking into the action from behind the looking glass. This play is very different, the audience are like a fly on the wall to a situation that never gets observed. They need to feel the claustrophobia that the characters feel; the sense that this is a rare thing that is to be treated with reverence, and that every minute counts. So this time, there are no moving rooms, mechanical swans or stairways to heaven.
Anna: You’re a director yourself – tell us about the process of working with Chaz on your play
Directing my own work is a challenge I don’t yet feel qualified to do. I knew before the play was submitted that I would have to find a director that I trusted completely, because I wouldn’t be involved in casting or rehearsals.
The nature of a play is that it’s generally conceived and then passed from writer to director, director to actor, and then from actor to audience. It will never be one person’s vision, and shouldn’t be. I can write a line of dialogue with a certain intention of how it should be delivered, but that’s not necessarily the best way to deliver it. Chaz might direct the cast to interpret the script a different way, and they might do something in rehearsal that he never imagined, which happens when you have four strong actors. It’s a play that openly invites different interpretations from its actors, and I hope from its audience too.
Rehearsal photos by Mat Hill
Father of Lies runs from 14 – 18 May at the Old Fire Station, and tickets are on sale here.