Sophie Motley Interview

August 11, 2010

Following the death of her son in a homophobic hate crime, Anita (Eleanor Methven) has been forced to leave her home because of her neighbors homophobia. A 17-year-old kid Davey (Kerr Logan) has been following her and in her desperation to find out why she opens her door and lets him in. We find out that he was somehow connected to her son’s murder, that he found the body. And Anita wants to know more. And more. And more.

Director Sophie Motley talks here to Caomhan Keane.

Did u approach Prime Cut Productions or did they approach u to do this piece?

Prime Cut had been in touch with Belfast Pride, as Pride wanted them to do a production. So when Emma Jordan from Prime Cut approached me I went RIGHT! READ THIS PLAY! She read it, she loved it and that’s how the production began.

I was fascinated to see how it would go down in Ireland because it has a really universal theme. It’s not an issue play but there is a huge issue surrounding it. It goes beyond homophobia.

What was it about this play that made you think it worth staging? Was it the subject matter? The writing?

It was the play and the writing and where the writing sits in the writers cannon. It is the first play Philip (Ridley) wrote that isn’t set in a twisted version of reality. His work prior to this was set in a post apocalyptic East London. So a huge thing that attracted me was that he forced himself to write about real people and real places. Real reactions to real crimes rather than escapism.

You directed Pitchfork Disney in 06. What is it about Ridley’s work that appeals to you?

For me it’s the fact that he’s able to force an audience to do the job themselves. What his writing does is it draws you far, far away from the room or the space that he has set the play in, through his storytelling and his description, which is so visceral.

If you are shown a scene of a man being beaten to death that’s one thing. But if it’s described to you, beautifully yet really intensely and horrifically, then that’s going to have a lot of power.

It could also be said that because he plotting is so straightforward the dramatic tension needs to come from the choices the actors make. How did you go about casting this piece?

Eleanor was very obvious. She’s such a wonderful actor. I saw her in Edward Bond’s Saved in The Peacock and she was playing south-west London there. She just has this incredible power. But she’s got guts to her as well. So I knew she was able to portray a woman who’s gotten through some really tough times and is still grieving for the loss of her son.

But it was very, very hard to cast Davey. Because a lot of young actors don’t necessarily have the experience to sustain a two hander for an hour and a half. With Eleanor Methven!

He needed to be a lost, confused teenager with a certain amount of rage and a certain amount of passion, all of it unbridled.Davey spends a lot of the play hiding his identity and the truth, so you need an actor who can hide all the emotion but then play it at the end. To have the soul as well as the craft.

Did you or your cast do any research prior to undertaking?

I did a lot of work with the Rainbow Project and Belfast City Council, just looking at statistics and looking at case studies. It was horrific, yet fascinating.  40% of the LGBT community in Northern Ireland have been subjects of a hate crime in the past three years.

But research is parallel rather than paramount. There’s a point where you have to just be objective and let yourself pick the play apart.

We had a lot of help from Philip on that side. Because Philip gave us a lot of background information on where his interest in the play came from. A friend of his, who he went to Art School with, was murdered in a very similar way to Vincent. Philip had to clear out his locker and give its contents to his mother. And that mother wanted to know everything, EVERYTHING about her son’s lifestyle. So the impetus was there.

Some of Ridley’s critics claim that Vincent River, for a play about homophobia, says little about its root causes and that Davey’s revelations are calculated, that they are in some way disingenuous?

I think that has more to do with the playing of it. It’s a play with a lot of exposition at the end. But what’s essential about that ending is that it’s not for Davey or the audience. It’s for Anita. It’s because of her need to know what her son looked like when he was dead.

At the beginning of Vincent River, Philip has two quotes. One is “Grief is to want more” and “I use words to lick my thoughts clean. “And that really helped us going into it. Because it was very clear about what the writer wanted from that final section of the play.

In the past 8 months I’ve seen 60 shows and this is the first one outside of the Gay Theatre festivals that  deals with gay subject matter directly?

I’m not so sure if the gay theatre festival necessarily helps that. Because it specifically segregates. Does somebody with a play that has got gay issues in it say “oh I’ll wait for the festival where I know it will fit?” Don’t we need to stop putting a line between two different types of theatre. Isn’t it all art?


Prime Cut Productions in association with Belfast Pride
8.15PM, 10 – 21 AUG 2010
Project Arts Centre, The Cube
Tickets €16/12


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