The stuff gets going

Actor one minute, playwright the next, Simon Donald talks to Mark Fisher about difficult linqs and

cracking comedy.

It’s been a busy day for Simon Donald. After overseeing the rehearsals for his new play The Life ofStuffwhile director John Mitchell is ill. Donald-the-actor has sailed through another performance as Aguado in the Traverse’s Columbus: Blooding the Ocean, before I corner

him close to 11pm to talk about

Donald-the~playwright. But the non-stop workload as with any new play, there are continual rewrites to be done on top of his other commitments has put him on an adrenalin-high and he‘s as sharp and alert as ever. ‘There’s some really good stuff happening,’ he enthuses about the rehearsals. ’Some really good bits of playing

going on.’

As a performer, Donald is a veteran of several Traverse seasons and a leading figure in the forthcoming series of TV’s Soldier Soldier. His list of writing credits may not be so long although significantly his Prickly Heat was published in First Run (Nick Hern Books) and those involved in his earlier award-winning A Tenantfor Edgar Mortez remember it with much fondness but his time spent on stage has helped produce dialogue that is spare and economical, giving little space to


Simon Donald: hitting characters with large themes

restrictive stage-directions and communicating his themes implicitly, never explicitly. ‘Because ofthe work I do as an actor,’ he says, ‘I make sure that what I do is sayable and enjoyable to say. [don’t give anybody dead lines to deliver. That is the worst problem you face “I’ve got to say this bit and I can‘t do anything with it, it’s inactive” I always try and write active. It’s to do with letting people speak thoughts rather than speak lines. I hope that in a lot of the play people are verbalising what’s going on in their head.’

The play, the second draft of which is published in the current edition of Theatre Scotland, is a dark comedy set in an empty factory where gang-leader Willie Dobie is about to throw a party for the ‘dolies’ who do his dirty work. His criminal empire is expanding and the Scottish underworld has been invited round to take drugs, act malicious and talk fast. ‘I don’t think it’s about one thing.’ says Donald. ‘I’m not interested in issue plays. I think



it’s about pretensions and desires and quite desperate chasing after them. and along the way learning about other things. It’s about the chaos of that process of discovery. And it’s also about fun. There are themes in it, quite large themes, themes to which there are no answers, like who are we. where do we come from and what are we made of , wherein lies moral responsibility I think those themes are in it. I’ve no idea what the answers to any of those questions are, but I’m interested in watching people get hit with them.’

It’s also about the Americanisation ofculture, the allure of Hollywood gangster imagery and about Scottish homophobia, but above this. a key concern for Donald has been to develop the comedy without disrupting the fictional world he has created. ‘l’m not interested in saying, “here we go. we’re in Scene Eleven and the laughs are starting to die away, so I better put them back in again,” because it darkens up and I’m perfectly happy with that. I think the funniest bits are the most honest bits. The scene where Leonard deals with the reason for his eczema is the only emotionally honest and truthful moment Leonard has, that’s painfully funny. because Evelyn laughs at him. It’s a painful truth.’

Despite the spaced-out or downright violent nature of some of the characters, Donald admits to liking them all, an important element in making the humour work. ‘Laurel and Hardy I think is the funniest thing the universe has ever seen,’ he says after having watched Sons of the Desert that morning, ‘and it’s because they love each other and it’s because they fuck each other up all the time and it’s because they’re incredibly petty and incredibly grand. That’s what Life ofStuffis like. It doesn’t have the slapstick and that era’s type of comedy, but I think at the root ofit, it is about pain. I know that’s a commonplace thing to say, but something isn’t funny ifyou don’t have a stake in it or ifyou don’t care about the person when they say that thing that reveals their whole heart and somebody laughs in their face.’

Life of Stuff, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Sat I—Wed 12 Aug and in the Edinburgh Fringe.

Lust for life

Iain Heggie is not a man short oi opinions. We've got through the parlous state oi British theatre, the inability oi directors to physicalise, the superiority of stand-up comics, the maltreatment at new plays, the lack oi adequate rehearsal for touring productions, the unhealthy predominance oi marketing managers the shoddy treatment oi actors and the concentration on buildings instead oi events, beiore we’ve even mentioned his new play. That play is Lust, a 45-minute monologue starring Forbes Masson that's about to start a short low-key tour including a run at the

Forbes Masson who also stars in Me. Mysell, Us on the Edinburgh Fringe

Counting House in the Edinburgh Fringe.

Commissioned as an episode ior an as-yet-uniilmed TV series based on the

Seven Deadly Sins, Lust tells the tale oi a young man who reacts to his girliriend’s iniidelity by deciding that sex is too risky, not only tor him, but for everybody. He makes it his job to put an end to it altogether. Heggie says that despite the similar subject matter, the monologue is oi a diiierent orderto his last performed work, A Night 0i Gentle Sex Comedies. “it’s quite dark,’ he says. ‘The closest iniluence is probably Alan Bennett in terms oi monologue; the playing oi the comic knowledge gap -the audience having a diiierent agenda irom the character. It’s more like Alan Bennett than Willy Russell in that sense. Shirley Valentine is played without an alternative agenda, but Alan Bennett monologues are played with you seeing one thing but the characters trying to tell you something else.’ The idea that this technique can

appear as though the character is being patronised is one that Heggie is quick to reiute. Typically, he draws on the world at stand-up comedy to make his case. ‘The writer is the character,’ he says. “There are some stand-up comics I don’t like, because they iundamentally laugh at things outside the room. It seems to me the most dangerous comedy is that which laughs lirst oi all at the comic and second at the audience and only thirdly atthings outside the room. I don’t think you’ve earned the right to laugh at things outside the room unless you’re laughing louder at yourseli. All the characters that l’ve ever written in one sense are me. The biggest joke is on me. It l’m patronising myseli, yes that's true.’ (Mark Fisher)

Lust, Arches Theatre, Glasgow, Thurs 6-Sat B Aug and on tour.

44'l‘hc List 3| July— l3 August 1992