Cyprus Avenue at the Old Fitz
Eric Miller is a Belfast Loyalist. Proudly, steadfastly British. He believes his five-week old granddaughter is Irish republican Gerry Adams. His family keep telling him to stop living in the past and fighting old battles that nobody cares about anymore, but his cultural heritage is under siege. He must act.
Traumas of the past collide with a terrifying future in David Ireland's brilliant new play Cyprus Avenue.
Rosie spoke to Director Anna Houston about this contentious, boundary-pushing play, and what we can expect from the Australian production.
Read the full interview below:
This production of Cyprus Avenue marks its Australian premiere. What made you want to bring this story here, and why do you think it’s an important story to tell?
When I first read Cyprus Avenue, I was dazed. I found myself shaking with sorrow, with laughter, with horror. I rarely connect with plays on a page - like most people, I need to see a play in action before I can invest in its ideas and emotional offerings. Cyprus Avenue is different. It leaps off the page with a stunning clarity and immediacy. It's an urgent, visceral play - angry and funny and searching. It's important because it speaks to who we are now, at this time, culturally, socially, politically. Playwright David Ireland wrote the play just a few months before the Brexit vote and Trump's presidency, and his prescience is extraordinary - and unsettling.
The Guardian has described Cyprus Avenue as “the most shocking play on the London stage”, but how will it translate to an Australian audience?
This ninety minute play lights upon so many divisive and inflammatory issues with wild imagination, lashes of fury and whip smart humour. Sectarianism, tribal affiliation, religious extremism, colonialism, gendered violence - these are all provocations and conversations stirred up by David Ireland and folded into the action of the play with great intelligence and craft. The play is set in Belfast but these are global concerns, and Australian audiences will undoubtedly find themselves in the work. Certainly, I see myself in this play, and I see Australia in this play. Australian audiences should have the opportunity to engage with one of the most important contemporary plays on the global stage right now. Cyprus Avenue just finished its second sold out run at the Royal Court Theatre after a successful run in New York, and I'm thrilled we can bring this incredible work to Sydney audiences.
I’m intrigued by your restriction of audience members to 18 years and older, because of the extreme violence depicted in the play. What made you decide to restrict the audience, and for those old enough, what can they expect?
The age recommendation should be a good barometer for audience members that may be triggered by scenes of violence onstage. While I wouldn't want to reveal the details of the plot online, we have given a content warning on the theatre website, along with a suggestion that people call the box office for more information about what happens in these scenes. I think this is the very least we can do as responsible theatre makers. Audience consent is important to me, and I want every audience member to feel they are able to equip themselves with the information they need beforehand. The scenes of violence in Cyprus Avenue serve a storytelling purpose, and are in no way gratuitous or fetishized. These scenes may be challenging for some audience members, but they are psychologically, emotionally and dramatically necessary for the story of the play.
As mentioned, Cyprus Avenue deals with some pretty confronting content. How do you approach content like this with your actors to make sure they (and you) are not negatively impacted throughout rehearsal and the show? What methods do you have to ‘shake off’ difficult content after rehearsing violent scenes?
We talk! We ask questions, we check in with each other. We give each other time and space to process and practice blocking, and connect movement to character. We also began rehearsals with the question of WHY. It was important to me that the cast and creative team knew why I wanted to stage this work, what our central dramatic question is, and what role the violence plays in unpacking that question. The scenes of violence are very much contextualised by the playwright's brilliant conversations around prejudice, sectarianism and patriarchy. Practically speaking, we had our wonderful fight director Tim Dashwood join our rehearsals as early as possible to ensure everyone felt safe and in control of their choreography. And building the right ensemble has also been very important. We have collectively created a rehearsal room where everyone performing fight choreography is responsible, diligent and disciplined.
What do you hope to achieve with Cyprus Avenue, and what do you hope audience will leave the theatre talking/thinking about?
I hope that audiences see something of our society in this play - its flaws, its failures, its hope. Its potential for change and redemption. I hope audiences leave with questions about community, about culture, religion, and family. And, I hope they are entertained. This is a play that deploys great humour to plunge us into its darker moments.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:
Favourite production you have ever seen?
De la Guarda's Villa Villa. I saw it fifteen years ago and still dream about it.
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
Dream show to direct?
I'm doing it right now! Cyprus Avenue!
Plays or musicals?
Plays for my brain, musicals for my heart.
What’s next for you after this show?
Cyprus Avenue opens at the Old Fitz Theatre on May 15. You can get your tickets here.