Interview With Tom Creed
February 24, 2011
MIMIC, a one man play, written, composed and performed by Ray Scannell at a grand piano, returns to Dublin after a hugely succesful turn at The Dublin Fringe Festival in 2008. It tells the story of a boy called Julian Nearey who grows up in 1980s Ireland, in a very traditional Irish household dominated by religion. He discovers his talent for being a mimic and entertains everybody with his impressions of Morrissey and Columbo before it takes a more sinister turn, involving celebrity culture and plastic surgery, taking Julian away from home before eventually bringing him back again.
Director Tom Creed has had a terrific year, helming Absolut Fringe highlight Berlin Love Tour, Broken Croi/Heart Briste( a hit from the previous years fringe) and Barry McGovern in Watt, which enjoyed a week-long run at the Public Theatre in New York back in January. He speaks here to Caomhan Keane about how the show has become more prophetic with each staging, how he feels Irish theatre can progress and just what they put in the Barry’s tea to make Cork such a breeding ground for theatre talent.
What is MIMIC about?
It’s a play that Ray wrote before its first run in 2007, before the events of the past couple of years came to dominate all of our news pages and consciousness. The thing that we have found over the years is that it has become frighteningly more prophetic in terms of the economic collapse. Something Ray has imagined is becoming closer and closer to the truth each time we do it.
How did the collaboration come about?
Ray and I were in college together. We both studied English and Philosophy in UCC. At the time Cork was a very exiting place to make theatre. There wasn’t a theatre course but there was a whole generation of us who came out of the drama soc who would include a lot of the people I still work with now. Hilary O Shaughnessy and Lynda Radley who I worked on most recently on Berlin Love Tour, Ray and Thomas Conway who’s the literary manager of Druid.
What was it about Cork that made it such a hive?
Corcadorca were at their height. We were all in our late teens early twenties when Disco Pigs came on the scene and taken with the idea of making theatre that was contemporary and relevant and formally adventuress, not confined by any of the ideas of what theatre could be, that was handed down from the previous generation. We were seeing Corcadorca making shows in nightclubs and the possibility of what theatre could be was something we were all really exited by.
How has MIMIC developed since you first conceived it?
Ray had an idea to do a piece that he would perform himself because he had done a lot of work as a playwrite and as an actor and as a musician but he had never done the three things in the one production. So he approached me to work with it on him. That was at the end of 2006. So in 2007 we put on the first version of it in Cork Midsummer Festival. It was very raw, very rough and very long but the response we got there was very encouraging. So we worked on it more for some performances in Cork, Galway, Kilkenny and Dublin in 2008 where Ray won best Male performer in the Fringe. We continued to work on it a little bit every year since, performing it in Cork in 2009, New York in 2010 and then in Paris just a couple of months ago.
Who or what artist/shows influenced the piece?
It’s very much its own thing. I think its part of a continuum of the one person performance. We are about to do it in New York and there is a whole kind of range of performers from Spalding Gray and Lori Anderson, who mixed music and spoken word. There is a bit of the Tom Waits, late night piano that we would have had in mind when we made the original production but it’s also very much its own thing. It’s not a musical, he doesn’t really sing. It’s spoken word with a continuous piano accompaniment underneath it. It’s a very cinematic thing, like running a film in the audiences head.
That sounds like what Roger Doyle was trying to achieve with his cinema for the ear series?
A bit like that. That was like an atmospheric radio drama on stage where as this is something that comes to life in front of you, it’s very much live performance. While it doesn’t interact with the audience it’s very much about what happens on stage.
You put the rest of us to shame with the amount of theatre that you take in. Have you noticed any recurring trends?
The most obvious thing-a part from the monologue- is the fact that there are much more people being adventurous with form and the shape of how stories are told. The past year in particular at the Fringe we have seen an explosion of people being a lot more fearless about how they use the tools of the theatre to make meaning which is not narrative based. People are getting more comfortable with metaphor. Its not that people are throwing out language. People like Grace Dyas or someone like Ray are absolutely word smiths of the highest order. It’s about crafting language. They are less tied to linear story telling that we might have inherited.
What do you think has facilitated this playing with form?
We’re being exposed to that type of work through the festivals. The work we are being exposed to is not necessarily the well made plays in the Abbey and the Gate anymore. Were getting a bit more international, were getting a bit more European and we are being influenced by the films we are seeing. Films like Christopher Nolan’s are now common place. The cultural references we have been growing up with have become more multiple. The pop video is the default mode of communication these days, so we are used to things being more fragmented and getting information from all these different sources at the same time.
What would you like to see happen to continue this development in Irish theatre?
The possibility of what we can do through the theatre has exploded. There has been such a positive response to the theatre that has been made by the next generation that there is actually an appetite for that type of work. Both among the established theatre audience and those who haven’t seen theatre before.
I don’t have a problem with work that is based on the repertoire, in fact most of my work has been text-based. But there are new ways we can engage with the repertoire on a large-scale and be less reliant on received forms and ideas on what theatre is and audiences are prepared to tolerate. Audiences will go to see the tried and trusted old reliable classics over and over again but they get exited when these classics are treated in a way they haven’t seen before.
There is a whole generation of people who are getting more ambitious. Directors like myself and Wayne(Jordan) are getting opportunities to work on big stages but we are still the exception to the rule. There is a generation that are starting to come into their own and I think a lot of the organisations could be braver and more responsive to what is going on as a whole.