Simple Souls – Lisa Chat’s with Paul Gilchrist (Theatre interview)
13 – 30 November
Top Shelf Fringe HQ. You can grab tickets here.
Paul Gilchrist is one of Austrlia’s best writers of Magic Realism. His play Christina in the Cupboard is vivid and wild, perplexing and compelling. The work was able to expose an adherance to a single truth as a kind a normal that may not necessarily be so. Inside the play, the strength of the imagination becomes a point of survival and perhaps even a way of expanding into the limits of the knowable. He has written another piece following a similar literary style. The play is called Simple Souls and is being produced by Subtlenuance this November. Paul Gilchrist directs his own work, and the multitalented Daniela Giorgi produces. For those of us who loved Christina in the Cupboard (and there are many) it is nothing short of exciting to finally see another work in the same style by this writer. Sydney theatre is lucky enough to expereince a lot of different genres but Magical Realism is not one we see regularly, so there is something particularly special about enjoying this style written by a local writer.
The Subtlenuance website has this to say about the forthcoming play:
Sick of a society
of Twitter and trolls,
anger and argument?
Marguerite has the cure.
It’s her new show – Simple Souls.
And it’s about to get her into serious shit.
But this woman won’t be silenced.
I was lucky enough to have a chance to chat to Paul about Simple and Souls, and particularly to ask him about the Magic Realism genre and where he sees his work fintting inside that. Enjoy!
LT: You state that Simple Souls is a return to Magic Realism for you as a writer (Cristina in the Cupboard is your play cited previously). What is it about the style of magic realism that attracts you as a writer?
PG: ‘Magic realism’ – It’s fun. It’s different. It’s joyous. The default position of many of us in the West is a type of ‘little realism’. Unconscious heirs to the Enlightenment, we tend to believe the world is identical to the picture we have of it in our heads. And this perspective is intensified by drama, because it’s an art form that’s fundamentally representational. And then it’s further exacerbated by our local theatrical tradition of naturalism. The result? Theatre comes to be valued when it reflects what’s lazily called the Truth – that is, when it reflects what we already know. Which can make it feel all oddly conservative; an eternal looking backwards.
‘Magic realism’ allows more play. The realism says ‘don’t worry – this won’t be nonsense’. But the ‘magic’ says there’s something more than the ordinary; a space for seeing the world in a new way. And, in that space, we’ve shoveled in as much joy and hope and laughter as we can!
LT: You are introducing thrilling literary histories with a magic realist style and a protagonist named Marguerite. We immediately think of Faust and Mikhail Bulgakov. How much of these histories would you like us to bring into the theatre and how much do you want us to leave at home?
PG: Come as you are! Every audience member brings a different personal history to the theatre…….But, as a side note for anyone with a perverse interest in the writing process, the antecedent for the character Marguerite is not literary but historical. While Cristina in the Cupboard was loosely (!!!) based on the inner journey of the medieval anchorite Christina Markyate, Simple Souls is inspired (even more loosely!!!) by the life of Marguerite Porete, a French 14th century mystic who wrote a book entitled The Mirror of Simple Souls, and was then burnt at the stake when she refused to distance herself from the book’s message of hope. Our play is not about this woman, in any way – it’s a crazy comedy, set here and now – but I was inspired by Porete’s courage and her vision, and I was prompted by her beautiful title.
Our Marguerite, played by the extraordinary Madeleine Withington, initially believes that society is stupid. She feels surrounded by nothing but anger and thoughtlessness. I think every intelligent person has felt that way at some time. Marguerite sarcastically quips that the only way to fit into such a society is to be stupid, to be simple. But her journey in the play is to discover a very different kind of simplicity.
LT: Simple Souls is offered to us as a possible “cure” for the “anger and argument” of the online world. The online world is primarily a vehicle for people to be writing to each other in real time. Why do you think writing (sometimes) loses its artistic and redemptive qualities when used online?
PG: Time. I think good writing takes time. When we speak face to face, words are only a small part of how we communicate. Speaking to someone physically present is a warm, rich human experience because of tone of voice, facial expressions and touch. Typing has none of these. Subtlety is sacrificed to high modality. Irony goes unrecognized. And – the most dangerous thing – we forget there’s a person at the receiving end……..I think these problems inherent in writing can be solved, but it takes time.
Is there really a “cure” for our society of “anger and argument”? Marguerite initially believes there is, and that cure is laughter. With a motley troop of would-be actors (played by our troop of very talented actors), Marguerite sets about satirizing what she feels is a stupid world. But satire is a snake: try pointing it in only one direction! The people most commonly bitten by snakes are herpetologists.
LT: What would be one key thing you would like to say to an audience member as they walk toward their seat ready to watch Simple Souls?
PG:Thank you for coming. I hope we can share with you both laughter and wonder.
Written and directed by Paul Gilchrist
Featuring Alison Benstead, Julia Christensen, Lisa Hanssens, Simon Lee,
Thu Nguyen, Lewis Scamozzi and Madeleine Withington
Produced by Daniela Giorgi
Top Shelf, Fringe HQ
26 Bayswater Rd, Potts Point
13 -30 November