Lisa chats with director of Four Places, Nicholas Hope (Theatre Interview)
Tap Gallery from July 29 to August 10
Four Places is an interesting story, written by Joel Drake Johnson. Sketched together on a deceptively simple frame, this emotionally precise play uses its spare structure to devastating and darkly comic effect. A brother and sister have received word from their parents’ caretaker that their elderly parents may be a danger to each other. The brother breaks his routine to join his sister and mother on their weekly lunch date in hopes that together he and his sister can get a clearer picture of the situation. As the mother confronts the indignities of age and the children stare down a mounting list of losses and disappointments, an image of the family emerges that is true to life. Johnson gives readers an unwavering exploration of the ways that the love and knowledge family members have of one another creates both hurt and comfort.
Nicholas Hope is directing for the first time in a long and illustrious career, and he was good enough to answer a couple of questions when I had the opportunity to put them to him.
Lisa – What made you want to direct theatre?
Nicholas – I’ve worked for 25 or so years as an actor and have always wanted to direct. I’ve simply been too hesitant to take the step. A year or so ago Jeremy (Waters) invited me to direct one of my own pieces, and that extra push led me into an incredibly rewarding collaborative experience. I’m excited to now be directing someone else’s work.
Directing is in many ways an extension of acting. As an actor you are aware of the whole work and of all the elements involved: you have to be in order to negotiate the role. Your main preoccupation, though, is your character or characters within the piece. As a director, your major preoccupation is with the whole work, within which you need to be aware of the performances and roles and assist the actors to both achieve their best and service the integrity of the production. In the end, it’s the relatively egocentric urge to be part of interpretive storytelling that attracts me to both acting and directing
Lisa – So it’s sort of the universal versus the particular in a way? What drew you to Joel Drake Johnson’s Four Places?
Nicholas – I read it. It’s a compelling piece of beautifully structured writing that encapsulates our fears of mortality, responsibility and loneliness in a poignant yet richly humorous fashion.
Lisa – Mortality, responsibility and loneliness are experiences we all know, and also Four Places is about a specific family at a specific time. What makes Four Places, a very American style of play, something that will appeal to Australian audiences?
Nicholas – The play speaks to many of our repressed fears about ageing, love and isolation in a way that is non-country specific. It makes me, at least, grin, groan, laugh and cry with self-recognition and wit. Indeed, I’m genuinely surprised you see the play as identifiably American, and I’d be keen to know why (because I need to be aware of those elements!). Personally I think the play could be set in any Anglo based middle to lower middle-class satellite town – I could see it in the UK, Canada, America, and certainly Australia. The issues it deals with – age, death, love, isolation, alcohol, emotional and physical separation, family bonds – are dealt with in a cultural context we in Australia are very familiar with, and there are no specific American references. It has a very contemporary appeal for Australian audiences.
Lisa – I was thinking from a structural perspective, but I’ll have to corner you after the opening night and nut that out. Do you take a light comedic approach to Four Places or do you prefer to keep the play close to its darker themes? The productions I’ve read about tended to fall one side or the other.
Nicholas – We are yet to begin rehearsals. My inclination, however, is to find the comedy within the darkness, and the darkness within the comedy. That’s one of the strengths of the play for me.
Lisa – Each lend themselves to the other in obvious and strange ways don’t they? Do we ever escape the world fashioned by us and for us when we were children, or do we move away from it, but find our relationships insist we engage in those old struggles as if they are still real?
Nicholas – I’m not a trained psychologist, though I did do two years of social work training before going into acting, and acting requires a fair understanding of how people work. I used to think we were totally shaped by the nurturing (or lack of it) that we received; now I’m not so sure. I suspect there’s an elastic mix to the way humans respond to their childhood. Nevertheless, our society runs according to a slowly evolving paradigm of beliefs and expectations that are reflected in the microcosm of child rearing and family relationships, such that the relationships we enter in adulthood cannot usually help but be based in those same paradigms. Perhaps we simply attempt to move to or away from the outer extremes of those paradigms, depending on where we started; but escaping them is well nigh impossible.
Lisa – I couldn’t agree more. What have you enjoyed the most about bringing Four Places to life?
Nicholas – What I hope to enjoy is the collaborative experience of building something up from beautifully evocative written words to equally or more evocative live performance; and then being part of the experience of watching, hearing and feeling that performance we have all created communicate itself to an audience. That sounds very touchy-freely, but I must admit it is highly egotistical in reality.
Lisa – Ha ha – I think the touchy-feely pretty much goes hand in hand with the ego most of the time! What do you enjoy the most about directing?
Nicholas – The moments when I know I am making the correct decision, even when that is questioned by others. Knowing I’m right, in other words. It’s not always the case.
Four Places is at the Tap Gallery from July 29 to August 10.