Celestina: take two
Edinburgh-based playwrght JOHN CLIFFORD has produced some highly acclaimed plays in Scotland, and with Celestina makes his fifth appearance at the International Festival. But, asks Gareth Davies, why is he underused on the domestic theatre circuit?
ith oycr ()5 plays to his credit. including Losing
li'niu'. Ines do (USN?) and forthcoming adaptations
of I'illl.\‘l and Anna Karenina. John (‘lifford is one of Scotland's leading playwrights. This year he celebrates not only his fifth production at the Iidinburgh International l5estiyal. but also his second with director (‘alixto Bieito. following their acclaimed production of (‘alderon‘s Life is a Dream six years ago. Last year. (‘lifford took the unusual step of appearing in the premiere of his own semi-autoiographical play. (iml‘s .Vt'u' Frock. to audiences in Iidinburgh and (ilasgow. But. like many writers. he is deeply frustrated. Because despite receiying acclaim and recognition for his work on the international stage. the theatres of the city in which he liyes seem reluctant to stage his plays.
‘I am frustrated] he acknowledges. on the eye of joining (‘alisto Bieito and the Birmingham Reportory Theatre (‘ompany in rehearsal in the midlands. ‘It is very. yery frustrating. I think the main difficulty for me. here in Scotland. is that my work is just so yery different from what people are currently producing. It comes from a whole different set of inspirations — I take a lot of inspiration from Spain. and from the liuropean theatre tradition. which is very different from British theatre. We haye a very strange theatre tradition here. It‘s Very insular. I think. and Very old- fashioned. and yery reactionary on the whole. And it obyiously takes a long time for that to change.‘
But. as Clifford acknowledges. it isn‘t always the oyerriding theatre tradition which foils a writer‘s best laid
68 THE LIST FESTIVAL MAGAZINE ‘Q—‘:" A...) .1734
plans — this is in fact the second time he has translated and adapted Fernando de Rojas‘ sprawling tale of greed and lust. ('vlcsrinu. for the stage. In WW) the National Theatre commissioned him to produce the play for a production to star Joan Plowright in the leading role. Sadly. l’lowright's husband Laurence Olivier died shortly before rehearsarsals began. and the production was cancelled. ‘Iiycryone was yery excited about it.‘ (‘lifford says. ‘But in the end it neyer got staged at all.‘
This new version. produced by (‘lifford in collaboration with Bieito. is very different from the WW) script. haying been adapted into play form directly from the original story.
‘lt was written in I499. way before there was any kind of
theatre as we know it. so it was basically a novel. in dialogue. and incredibly long. The first thing (‘alixto and l did was to cut it in half. At that point. it was four and a hall hours long. (‘learly that was far too much. so I cut it down again. and during rehearsals it's been cut down even more. And whereas with the National Theatre Version I was concerned with tidying it up. making it neater. this one retains the story‘s strangeness — it has a very different feeling and very different kind of aesthetic to it: it is a very modern piece. really. so we wanted to emphasise how incredibly modern it actually is.‘ The story of the brothel keeper Celestina and her deyious machinations in matching up a rich nobleman with his ()/)j(’f d'uniour is a tragi-comic affair. featuring award-winning actress Kathryn Hunter in the lead. as well as Scots actor .\'eil McKinyen. Director Bieito last drew attention at the Eli“ last
‘WE HAVE A VERY STRANGE THEATRE TRADITION HERE.
IT'S VERY INSULAR'