Lynne Parker Interview

May 30, 2010


You’ve got the cities most successful company, Rough Magic, presenting the countries favorite writer Oscar Wilde’s most popular work The Importance of Being Earnest at The Gaiety Theatre, our most opulent theatre. What more do you want? Well how about some Stockard Channing, combining her bankable weight from Grease (Rizzo) and The West Wing (President Bartlett’s wife) with her theatrical chops (she has an Obie for The Six Degrees of Separation and a Tony for A Day in the Death of Joe Egg) to breathe life into the character of Lady Bracknell.  Not enough?  Well there’s rising star Aoife Duffin repaired with her Christ Deliver Us Mater, the magnificent Eleanor Methven; the two Rory’s, Keenan and Nolan, cast well to type as Jack and Algernon and Daragh Kelly…well I just love Darragh Kelly. In a time of dramaturgic disappointment is this the light at the end of the tunnel? Director Lynne Parker talks to Caomhan Keane

Alan Bennet once said that The Importance of Being Earnest was the most perfect play. That it was completed there on the page and there wasn’t much you could do with it.” What kind of challenges does that present you as a director?

Of course it’s the perfect play. It’s the most perfect comedy ever written. You mess with it at your peril. So the challenge is to make it fresh yet completely faithful. The more you explore it the more you discover what a dense, perfect, wonderfully observed piece of writing it is and how much he knew about human nature.  Even in the absurdist world that he has created, it is an incredibly truthful play.

What do you think it tells us about human nature?

It is what we all aspire to, the perfect square circle, and the perfect outcome. And this play just gives us that little glimpse of heaven where things actually work at the way they are supposed to. It’s a play about joy with this beautifully light touch and this fantastical sense of silliness. Which is necessary to the human spirit given the ghastliness of the world.

How did Stockard Channing get involved?

Lady Bracknell is the champion of the establishment, which Wilde was always keen to lampoon. But he has such a splendid insight into her as he allows her to tell us that, in fact, she came from a poor background. But now that she is in the establishment she will defend it to the death.

In the United States that snobbery and the kind of defense of the establishment is still well-practiced so I wanted to approach an American actress. I wanted somebody very experienced as a stage actress. But as it was in the Gaiety so I also needed somebody with a serious profile. And Stockard became free as we were putting together that idea.

Tom Stoppard said that Earnest is a very coded play abut homosexuality. Is that something that you were very aware of coming into this production?

If you want to see that, it’s there, the whole notion of bunbering. There is just such mischief in it. But I don’t thing that is the point of the play. I think the point of the play is a celebration of romance, love, whit and a satire on snobbery.

In recent years we have seen a modern-day staging of Earnest in the Civic, an all male production in the Abbey as well as a site specific Dorian Gray and of course there was Berkoff’s Salome at the Gate. Do you like to see people play with Wilde?

The only thing I totally disapproved of was the handing over of one of the most fantastic female parts of all time to a male actor. With the greatest respect to Alan Stanford I just think its wrong.  It’s unfair and it’s not necessary. Wilde wrote brilliantly for women and he had a very acute sensibility and you jettison that at your peril. I don’t think they were going for a comical effect but I just don’t think it worked. It doesn’t deliver for me the full value of the character.  You are distracted by the concept when all you need to do is to do it right.

Do you think there is a problem with Irish stage actors, and particularly with writers like Wilde who more so than any other writer, save for maybe Shakespeare, has these wonderful witticisms, these well-known phrases that end up being spoken in bold italic print?

But you can’t underplay them either. What you have to do is to find the situation that engenders them and the motivation behind them. So that they are driven by something. Not just sound bites on their own.

Your past three shows have been vastly different from one another. What attracts you to a project?

Diversity is the cornerstone of Rough Magic’s policy. If you look at our work over the last however many number of years you will see that none of the shows look like one another, you have to go for new territory each time, otherwise you stagnate. For me it’s not deliberately looking for the opposite of what you have just done but it really helps if you go into a whole new world or a whole new thread of theatre.

Rough Magic presents Stockard Channing in The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin 2 – 19 June 2010.

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