Lovesong at Red Stitch Actors' Theatre

Speaking with Director Denny Lawrence this week was a great privilege for Carly as she heard all about the beautiful play currently on at the Red Stitch Actors' Theatre - Lovesong - and about Denny's illustrious career. If you're down in Melbourne before September 23rd, this sounds like a must see but pack your tissues and prepare yourselves for laughs as well because, as Denny describes, this play will take you on an emotional rollercoaster of love and the intricacies of long relationships. Read more below:

Starting with the history of this production, why have you chosen to stage Lovesong, and why at Red Stitch Actors Theatre?

Well, Ella Caldwell, the Artistic Director and I have known each other for a very long time and we talked about my doing a play in her first season as Artistic Director a few years ago. We looked at a number of plays including Love Love Love which I did last year, and this one, which I really liked but there were issues with rights and availability and so on. So I ended up doing another play and this one was always on the waiting list of shows that I really wanted to do. I really loved both of them – as it happens both with Love in the title – quite different plays but both just plays that I happened to really like and both by terrific British writers. It ended up being that this show was second just as we juggled times – my availability and actor availability – but Ella has always loved the play and always supported it and so, as a result of her championing it with the Ensemble, it has been on the stake for a while and I am delighted that we are finally getting to do it.

Lovesong has been described as a show that incites ‘mass sobbing’. When working on such an emotionally powerful show, was there any pressure to lead the audience to a certain emotional response? If so, how are you tackling that as the Director?

 

It is inevitably a play that gets to people. So far we have only had one preview with some very young audience members – a schools group – who were completely engaged. That was very encouraging because Lovesong is a very mature character kind of piece – and indeed many of the students were in floods of tears. It is inevitable that’s going to happen but the thing that I would stress is that it is a not a downer of a play – it is a celebration of life, a celebration of a relationship, a marriage. And though it ends as life will end for us all for one of the characters in the play – the response that I think we want, that I certainly would like, is that people see that positive aspect to it and realise that it is about that affirmation of life, about making your own choices and making a success of a relationship. So yes, sad, but there are also a lot of laughs in it, a lot of smiles, a lot of familiar moments to people who have been in long term relationships and in the end I think it is very positive for that couple.

What relevance does Lovesong have to a 2018 audience?

 

Well, two things about that. It is a universal subject, it is about love, as the title implies, and about the importance of love and about how difficult it is to maintain relationships because we see the marriage of this couple going through a forty year period – they are played by two other actors when they are younger – and we see them in parallel, these lives. The triumph of that relationship is something that is pertinent to anybody at any time. The other thing about it is that is obviously opens up the question a little bit about making choice as to when you end your own life – and that is a very controversial issue in Australia right now in 2018, so it couldn’t be more up to date.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lovesong plays 21st August-23rd September 2018. Image supplied.

What can audiences expect when they come to see this show?

First off, I think that they will expect and will get four terrific performances, and indeed added to that a fifth performance because I have introduced into play a live cello. So we have a wonderful cellist who is playing original music written for the show, we have our own theme, and this adds immeasurably to the mood of the piece. So I think that audiences will have a very good experience of theatre, something that isn’t the equivalent of any other form because it is a drama with music in it that is immediate and resonate. I hope that the production is a good one that does credit to what it is a really wonderful play! I mean, Abi Morgan is obviously one of the leading writers in Great Britain at the moment with The Hour and The Iron Lady, and all those credits she has in film and television as well as her theatre. So, they get a really good play that is really well acted and, in my opinion, that is what theatre is! It’s about good plays and good acting and I believe that that is what we are giving audiences with this production.

What has working on Lovesong taught you further about yourself as a Director? And then, through these characters, what have you further discovered about love in general?

I would say that the answer to both of those questions is not so much that it has taught me something new so much as it has reminded me of things. You know, I have been around for a while now in both life and theatre and one could always go back to any text and to work with a group of creative people because it reminds you about the extraordinary delicacy of those relationships.

On this show, I think it has been particularly to work with a couple of older, more experienced actors who have done a lot of theatre between them, as well as a couple of exciting emerging actors. But when you are working with people who have been around for about as long as you have in both life and theatre, you get a particular connection to it and so that has been very important to me.

And in terms of the play and my life – there are many resonances there in both the young couple’s relationship and all their ups and downs and then, not so much for me as yet, but in the older couple’s relationship, realising that after being through all of that – and some of us have had relationships that haven’t succeed, I personally have been in and out of relationships as most people of a certain age have, and at the end of the day it is a salient reminder of how important it is to respect the other person, to give ground a little bit, to compromise and negotiate and to really work hard to make a relationship succeed. And I don’t think that it is easy. I think that perhaps even more so these days, it is harder and harder to do that in the modern world.

Of course, it is different again, as this play demonstrates, for women particularly because with a couple who has come up immediately post war and grown up through the 50s and 60s, they have certain expectations of a relationship and a marriage – for example, what the woman’s role is. That was changing, as we see the couple going through early in their relationship and has changed a lot now. So one of the great things about it is that I think that it is very good to look at a relationship between a male and a female to see the growth, and strength and increasing independence of a woman in a relationship across forty years – I think it is quite salient and I hope very good for those young audiences to see.

RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS.

Favourite production you have ever seen?

I think probably I would say the production of the James Trilogy by the National Theatre Scotland and done by the National Theatre London where I saw it a couple of years ago. It is an extraordinary trilogy of plays about the emergence of Scottish Nationalism, written at the time of the referendum in Scotland and it was done really simply but really elegantly with only one dynamic set element and otherwise very few set pieces and props but with a cast of about twenty-five people with swords and kilts. Bag pipes – the whole thing! It was done by a great writer and great actors and it had a lot of history and I am a great history buff!

You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?

I’m boring – I keep going back to the same places! I have spent a great deal of my life over in NYC so I go there a lot! I also spent a lot of time living and working in London so I go there a lot too but I guess my favourite city in the world is Paris so I go there a lot too. So that would always be my first thought- go to Paris again!

 

Dream role in any show to direct?

That’s a really hard one! There are so many good ones! I think that I would invariably go for a Shakespeare because there are still a number of Shakespeare’s I haven’t directed yet so I think at the moment I am in the mood to have a go, and I hope that I can have a go at, Measure for Measure. I think that would be a great play to do right now.

 

Plays or musicals?

Ohhh now you have really got me. Look, right now I am really enjoying doing this play but over the years I have written a few muscials and I have a musical at the moment that I have been workshopping over the last few years and that is a show that I really want to do. So my passion at the moment is musicals – but I do love plays – I just really love music and having music in plays like in Lovesong. Right now I am looking to do a really great musical.

 

Who is your industry inspiration?

There are many of those but I want to nominate two. One is someone who I never met but whose writings on theatre meant a lot to me, as they did to many people and that is Peter Brook – an extraordinary theatre practitioner who I think really changed the face of Western Theatre for all of us. The other is Sir Tyrone Guthrie who I had the privilege of working under but only in a very minor capacity back when I was a student. He had such a wealth of theatre experience and such an elegance and calm, strong, intelligent approach to how he would guide the actors in the play. Even though I was an actor then not yet thinking of directing, his approach was one that when I came to directing, I always thinking about it and trying to emulate it just a bit.

 

What’s next for you after this show?

Well two things – I still work a lot in film and television and I have a television project that I need to go back to because we are in development phase and, as I said, my musical which we do have some interest in. I cant say at the moment from where, but we need to do a bit more work on it because every new work needs finessing and I am looking forward to getting back to that!

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