PLAY FAGTO RY
New Artistic Director Ian Brown‘s first full-scale production at the Traverse Theatre is Ines De Castro by John Clifford. a veteran of three previous Traverse shows. ANDREW BURN ET spoke to him about a gruesome story of Portguese power play.
‘I start with the story always and try to tell it as clearly and as strongly and as feelineg as I can. so that it affects the audience; it makes them feel. I think that in itself has a value.‘ Hunched over his orange juice in a shaded part of the Traverse courtyard. John Clifford is at once energetic and relaxed. outlining his ideas in swooping gestures with his large. expressive hands. The story he has been trying to tell in his new play. which opens at the Traverse next week. is that of Ines De Castro. one which is all the more gruesome for its basis in fact.
The setting is medieval Portugal. and Prince Pedro is engaged in a passionate affair with Ines. This is an inadvisable relationship for two reasons. Pedro is married to someone else. and Ines is Spanish. Portugal being at war with Spain. pressure is put on the King to have Ines removed. She is duly executed. but on the death of the King two years later. Pedro ascends to the throne. His revenge is immediate. A banquet is held. at which an exhumed but undeniably dead Ines is crowned queen. while her murderers are tortured to death by way of entertainment.
Though the story has hallmarks of Jacobean gore and passion. Clifford decided to interpret it in the genre of Greek tragedy — a treatment partly inspired by a 16th-century
Portuguese dramatisation of the story. ‘For years.‘ he says. ‘I had a vague ambition to write in the Greek style. with most of the action taking place offstage. I needed to express the intensity of feeling involved and find a proper structure for it.‘
Clifford‘s earlier work at the Traverse includes Losing Venice. Lucy's Play and Playing With Fire. all plays with historical or mythical settings. ‘When I was younger.‘ explains Clifford. ‘I tried to write naturalistically and it didn‘t work. What‘s happening in the world enrages me and fills me with so much despair. and that‘s not a good basis to write from — it tends to overwhelm me technically.
‘Also. I think it‘s a crime in a way to spread despair around. It‘s very important to try and get a bit of distance so that you s r can look at things more clearly. I‘m utterly bored by the idea of trying to portray the past as it
might have been. The idea is to present an image ofthe present.‘
After a degree and post-graduate research in Spanish literature. Clifford found Iberian drama ‘much more real to me than the work of contemporary British playwrights.‘ His current work seems to confirm this. Besides Ines. this year has seen him adapt Lorca’s Bernarda Alba for the Lyceum. C alderon‘s Schism In England and De Rojas' La ( ‘elestina for the National and Ccrvantes‘ The Magic Theatre for the Scottish touring company Winged Horse. ‘lt‘s very difficult to make a living as a playwright because the commissioning rate is so low. It‘s been like a play factory this year.‘
Ill-starred love is a familiar theme for collaboration between Clifford and Ian Brown. who directs Ines as his first full-scale production since taking over as Artistic Director of the Traverse. It was Brown who commissioned Clifford‘s first theatre script. an adaptation of Romeo And Juliet for TAG. Clifford also wrote 'I‘AG‘s extraordinary version of Great Expectations last year.
With Losing Venice and Lucy ’s Play about to open in America. and a tour of Great Expectations planned which will cover the Middle and Far East. his labours are at least paying off. But demand for his work has reached a level which suggests he might be a play factory for a while V'CI.
Ines De Castro opens at the Traverse Theatre on Sat 8 at 7. 30pm. An exhibition on the life and death of Ines De Castro opens at the Richard Demarco Gallery on the same day at I ()am. .. ., :j'
Stuart Mcauarrie and Alison Peebles in John Clifford's Ines De Castro. Photo Sean Hudson.
SPACE FOR LUNCH
Science Fiction has suddenly become the fashionable thing in the theatres of Edinburgh. American Connexion recently made their Scottish debut with a play set in a time of interplanetary travel and Theatre Workshop has a futuristic youth project planned for later in the year. Confirming the trend is ()xygen I louse which returns for its latest lunchtime rtm at the Nethcrbow with a season of four plays collectively known as .S'onteu-here In ()ur ( 'nii'erse. . .
'l’ve had a kind of on—toff love—hate relationship with science fiction for a long time.’ says co-director John Mitchell. ‘As soon as we said to people we were thinkingof doing SI" all these writers asked if they could write us a play.‘ In its past five seasons ()xygen Ilousc has staged over 20 plays. some by known writers. but many by exciting new writers. It's an eclectic taste that has produced countless entertaining lunchtimes ranging from the movingly intense to the amusingly off-beat. ‘lt wasn't new work we were looking for this time.‘ says Mitchell. ‘it's just the way it turned out. It's a happy coincidence.‘
The season kicks off with M.Z. Ribalow's .lloondance. a satire on the MacDonald's view of the world in which two astronauts attempt to Americanise the moon. It is a Lost In Space kind of comedy with a surreal oils feel and a meeting with Merlin the magician. Sexual politics he at the core of Christopher Burton‘s Ill/(THU-('/I(’IIIISII'.\' about the sole survivor of a Deep-Sleep accident and her partner. a supposedly asexual android with dodgy male sexual programming.
(irant Morrison isan established writer for l)(‘ and 2000 AI) comics and now tries his hand at playwrighting with a Lewis Carrol-inspired fantasy. Red King Rising. ‘It’s a terrific play .' enthuses Mitchell. ‘I think he‘ll be the new find ofthe season.‘ The run finishes in the last week ofJuly with writer and actor Andrew Dallmeyer‘s Brainchild. an allegory on man‘s loss ofspiritual direction and involving a scientist who replicates himself.
Clearly there is a whole range of style and approach. but like the best
" sci-fi. the plays tell usas
much about the present as
they do about the future. 'Red King Rising isa satire on Thatcher's Britain.’ says Mitchell about the play he is directing. 'it has a lot of re|c\cnce to today'. And while it maybe asking a bit much to expect something on the scale of ( ‘lose Encounters or Dune. an increase in Arts Council and District Council money (not forgetting sponsors the Science Fiction Bookshop and the Bay Tree Company) has given the company the chance to use a designer for the season. ‘We can really create moods.‘ says Mitchell. ‘and that takes the place of technical effects. I think budget restrictions can help enormously because they focus the imagination and the intent. I like the black space in the theatre because it throws the attention on to the actor. These plays are more akin to 50s science fiction in that they're not big budget.‘ (Mark Fisher). .S'omeii-here In Our
L'ni verse rims ll'ed—Sat
I. I 5pm every week in_.lul_v at the .N’etherho w A rts
( 'entre. Edinburgh.
. EUROPEAN : SHAW ' On Saturday 24 June a ; groupofstudents from ‘ [Edinburgh left Scotland to begin a three week. three nation European tour. taking (ieorge Bernard Shaw‘s I’ygmalion to Paris. Heidelberg. and Ljublijana. Following a successful tour last year of the revue ()h.’ WhatA Lovely War! French language student theatre group Les Iiscogriffes have. paradoxically. allowed themselves to perform an Iinglish play overseas. Wisely. they are not attempting to compete on the same ground as the natives. but are playing the role of culture-mediators.
The play was performed the night before in the Crown Theatre.
9 q ‘71? --\\ . , e 2': MW.” 32'? .~ :8! 1;, ' .~ . .;v‘.‘
Oxygen House. illustration by Melanie
Edinburgh before an invited audience. Despite the sparkle and enthusiasm of the production. it remains a strange choice to take abroad. Many hate Shaw. the interminable pontifictar ofearly British Naturalism who raved incessantly about Ibsen‘s Quintessence. whatever that might be; but through the offices of Lerner and Loewe. Pygmalion has secured a permanent niche in popular imagination — its melodies and imagery pervade us all (practically from birth). and in its sentimental didacticism it stands as an icon ofthe British class ‘system‘. ‘This is really the area we want to explore‘. explained director
:' (iordon Wise. ‘ln itsfilm
versions. the action has lost all its subtlety. become hopelessly softened. The original contains considerable ambiguity within the characters. particularly in Higgins. We're aimingto remove the melodrama to concentrate more on the characters themselves. After all. Shaw wrote it practically as a novel. with along epilogue explaining what happens to them all afterwards.’ What about its overtly moralistic intention? Will it appeal to a non-British audience for reasons other than being the original of My Fair Lady? ‘It‘s possible
i to see it as a product ofits
time — perhaps it will show Europeans some of the issues that shaped British society.‘
This. I suspect. is probably the most helpful way to view I’ygmalion. for despite its date ( I914) it remains a classic piece of Late Victorian art: in it: Naturalist earnestness. invoking (like Sherlock Holmes) the clash between an anti-sentimental (sexless) man ofsciencc and a landscape of middle-class sensibility. This production goes about its business with confidence and efficiency: David
The List 30 June — 13 July 1989 23