Appropriation: Lisa chats with Paul Gilchrist (Theatre Interview)
Fledgling Theatre Company
Wed 17 April to Wed 24 April. You can grab your tickets here.
One of the more exciting theatre events this month is Fledgling Theatre Companies new Australian work Appropriation written by Paul Gilchrist. Heavily engaged with the promotion and exploration of local works, Paul and his theatre company Subtlenuance have forged a name on the Australian Theatre scene associated with high quality independent work that consistently challenges presumptions and preconceptions associated with what local theatre should and can achieve. Given this connection, I was more than a little interested to find Fledgling Theatre Company had engaged Paul Gilchrist to write a ‘sequel’ or follow up to the fairly well-known play ‘Hamlet’ written by one William Shakespeare who is not a local Australian writer. Appropriation is a comic musing on the future of Fortinbras whose reign starts immediately after the end of famous play. The production is directed by Chris Huntly-Turner who is currently engaged with some very Derrida-esque deconstruction of attitudes and ideals around Shakespeare. Hot on the heels of the enormously successful first round of the ‘Bar’d Work Shakesbeer Sessions’ he co-produced with James Haxby, the arrangement between Shakespeare devotee Chris Huntly-Turner and the savvy local writer Paul Gilchrist strikes one as a match made in heaven.
The Fledgling Theater Company website has this to say about Appropriation:
Hamlet is dead. What’s next?
Appropriation tells the imagined story of Fortinbras, a rash hothead who learns from his politically gifted wife when to wield a sword and when to weave a story. Raw, poetic and darkly funny, the performance is a surgical assault on how we use stories to establish power.
I was fortunate enough to get a chance to chat to writer Paul Gilchrist about this exciting project, and get his take on a couple of questions that came up for me when I first heard about the project.
LT: While the people of England were watching Hamlet, Queen Elizabeth had refused to name a successor. Hamlet willingly bestows his fathers crown to the son of his father’s enemy, Fortinbras. Do you see Fortinbras as a symbol of what people of the day (and now) might fear in a leader?
PG: My Fortinbras, played by Nick O’Regan, is a comic version of the worst possible leader. He doesn’t think. He doesn’t listen. He’s all push and shove. Everything is about him. He doesn’t realise that the most effective political action comes from a shared vision. But the women in his life question his mindless adherence to violence, telling him he has “the makings of a poet”. And he does; his language is colourful – to say the least – contemporary, colloquial and crude. I’m very excited about what director Chris Huntly-Turner is doing with the script. Fledgling Theatre produces vibrant physical theatre, and this physicality is a thrilling pairing with my linguistic concerns.
LT: Why is a Sydney writer in 2019 excited by the idea of writing a ‘sequel to Hamlet?’
PG: Who hasn’t sat through four hours of Hamlet and wished there was more?
But, seriously, you don’t need to know Shakespeare’s play to enjoy mine. There is no required knowledge.
Appropriation is a playful dig at our habit of borrowing old stories and claiming them as our own. After all, why invent a new story when you can gain easy publicity by taking something from the canon and embellishing? Running a new work company, I’m particularly aware of this tendency in the theatre scene…. the temptation to wear borrowed robes. And this is what this play explores. My play is an appropriation, but it also explores the concept of appropriation. Fortinbras expects to rule by brute force, but others realise there are more subtle ways of gaining power and prestige. “Listen to the Danes,” says his mistress Astrid (played by Shannon Ryan), “You say they’re confused. You know their frightened. Listen to them. Listen to their stories. And weave yourself into them.” Stories are powerful, on a personal and political level. We need to be aware of what stories we are being told and what stories we tell ourselves. That was true in Elizabethan times, and it’s true now.
LT: Fortinbras is interesting as Hamlets mirror and also a foil. How conscious were you of Hamlet the character when writing about Fortinbras?
PG: The inspiration for Appropriation was the contrast between these two characters. Shakespeare clearly sets them up as the man of action versus the man of words – yet both Fortinbras and Hamlet finish Shakespeare’s play saying the other would prove a good king. My Fortinbras wouldn’t believe that for a second. Speaking of Hamlet’s tendency to wank on, Fortinbras says “Actions speak louder than words. And fuck they hurt more.” He dismisses the power of language, falsely seeing words as the antithesis of action, instead of words as one type of action.
But, as I suggested earlier, audiences don’t need to be familiar with Hamlet. This play stands alone. And, to momentarily source Fortinbras, it’s better than Shakespeare’s – because in Gilchrist’s play Hamlet dies on page 3.
LT: The play Hamlet makes us think of political power as something worthless, superficial and above all transient. Without spoilers, how does your Fortinbras handle the corruptible nature of political power?
PG: Badly. His brutality only alienates others, inciting insurrection from the Danes and rebellion from his own forces. But he gets plenty of alternative advice: he’s told by a travelling actor (played by Asalemo Tofete) “Rule with force and command cowards. Rule through a shared dream and its effortless. Because he who rebels against you, rebels against himself.” So, is my vision of power cynical? That it’s all about manipulation? Despite being a comedy, the play’s answer to that question isn’t a simple one. There’s always the danger of manipulation, but that’s not a reason to disengage from the political sphere. After all, what we can do together surpasses what we can do alone. We simply have to be aware of the manipulators.
LT: If you can’t invade and take Denmark, why would you choose Poland?
PG: Famously, in Shakespeare’s play, Fortinbras goes to fight the Poles over a piece of land Hamlet declares worthless. And yet Hamlet admires Fortinbras’ sense of purpose, his ability to avoid getting lost in the intellectual maze that so robs Hamlet of vitality. In Appropriation, this piece of worthless land represents the challenge to Fortinbras’ thoughtless singularity of purpose. His violence does not “cut through the crap” and back in Denmark he’s forced to learn the power of language – doing so, I hope, in a story the audiences will enjoy for its physicality, poetry and humour.
Presented by Fledgling Theatre Company
Written by Paul Gilchrist
Directed by Chris Huntly-Turner
With William Bartolo, Damien Carr, Tara Clarke, Clay Creighton, Alex Daly, Marcela Franco, Sonya Kerr, Angus Mills, Nick O’Regan, Alex Rowe, Shannon Ryan and Asalemo Tofete
12 – 27 April