Book of Days – Interview with director Elsie Edgerton-Till (Theatre Intereview)
Book of Days
New Theatre – season 8 July – 9 August
One of the more exciting Sydney July theatre openings is New Theatres production of Book of Days, directed by Elsie Edgerton-Till. Lanford Wilson wrote Book of Days fourteen years ago, and I confess, it’s a play that has been high on my “to see” list for a while. The story of a small community, where life revolves around a cheese factory, a fundamentalist church and the community theatre is a set up filled with promise. And any play with a bookkeeper as the protagonist who lands the role of Joan in George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan, has me won over already. As if that isn’t enough (for those of you who don’t know, I am a bookkeeper in RL – surprisingly they are rarely thought of as protagonists) we have this additional adventure to enjoy:
When a prominent local businessman is violently killed, Ruth suspects foul play. She begins a determined quest to uncover the truth of his death, pitting her in direct conflict with powerful forces and unconsciously mirroring the character she is playing on stage: Shaw’s crusading, fearless Joan of Arc. A comedy, a tragedy and a murder-mystery, Book of Days explores questions of morality and redemption, identity and community, and the threat posed by the religious right.
Book of Days has a thrilling list of cast and creatives bringing it home this week.
I was lucky enough to be able to toss some questions at director Elsie Edgerton-Till, who gave us the enthralling answers below:
Lisa – Does Book of Days make you want to eat a lot of excellent cheese?
Elsie – Wrapping my chops around excellent cheese has always been high on ‘Must Do As Often as Possible’ List. Suffice it to say, I have always adored cheese. Book of Days is set in a fictional Midwestern town whose primary industry is cheese. Listening to Lanford Wilson’s artisan cheese crafter characters wax lyrical about cheese has me dreaming cheese and muttering cheese puns to quell my desire to live on cheese alone.
Lisa – Ha! I want some now! Why do you think so many people, Christian or not, female or male, find Joan of Arc so inspiring?
Elsie – She stuck to her knighting, as my grandmother would say.
Lisa – That’s a great saying. Is it difficult to direct a play with so many deep, complicated, well created characters? It seems everyone has a back story they use the present to hide, in Book of Days.
Elsie – Twelve fully formed characters onstage has been a gift. This play is a true ensemble piece: every character is very present; there are no supporting roles. Working with the cast to develop the interweaving relationships and histories of the populous of Dublin has been a deep well to mine. An invigorating journey to go on with a cast of excellent actors.
Lisa – It’s definitely a full meal in a small town. What connections do you see a Sydney-sider forging with the life of a Dubliner?
Elsie – This play focuses on a content community faced with a problem. A problem they could tackle or ignore. In our personal, local and national communities we are continually faced with the choice to make change or maintain the status quo. From personal issues though to our response to global warming or the rise of the extreme right in Europe and radical fundamentalism in the middle east, this play explores questions of morality and redemption, identity and community through the lens of individual response and its social ramifications.
Lisa – And it does all this with that list of twelve strong characters. Lanford Wilson has been described as having a “Loving respect for the oddball romantics of the world.” (New York Times 2002) Did you feel that in the script, and did you find yourself forming the same connection with “romantic oddballs?”
Elsie – Entirely. His characters are drawn with a great love and respect for the everyday struggles of their small lives. This compassion makes for the sparkling comedy and deep pathos of the piece. And I’m a huge sucker for comic revelations of truth and beauty. I just keep falling for these characters over and over.
Lisa – I can’t wait to have the chance to fall for them myself. What would you like an audience member to take away from this production? Do they need to brush up on the Shaw play Saint Joan first? (Here’s a wiki link if you really want to)
Elsie – No need to brush up on Shaw! Whilst the play is rich in literary references, the given context by Wilson’s characters is more than ample. I hope that audiences laugh and nod knowingly at the joyous folly of the people of this town. I hope they enjoy the whimsy and pathos of this story of how the community of Dublin dealt with the challenges they faced.
This is going to be a fantastic production, unmissable on the 2014 calendar. Grab tickets here.