Review: Children’s Children

Written for Exeunt

At one point in Matthew Dunster’s new play an earnest young man launches into a ten minute diatribe against the oil companies who are raping the natural world. He leaps from one desperate injustice to another, becoming increasingly depressed at the impossibility of a quest which is as epic as it is important. There’s just too much to care about, leaving him exhausted and frustrated.

The same could be said of this play. Dunster’s writing is laced with a kind of brutal humour which engages for a while. But he tries to cover so much ground that you begin to feel as if you’re being beaten into a submission. Statements are thrown about that dare us to care, generalisations are made about people’s selfishness and inability to see into the future, attacks are made against big business and perceived capitalist ideals. In an increasingly hysterical manner, Dunster begs his audience to see the bigger picture, to not simply think of themselves and their children but to think (you’ve guessed it) of our children’s children.

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Interview: Jon Cooper on A Lady Of Substance

Written for What’s On Stage

Shortly after graduating Kent University, Jon Cooper won a place on The Old Vic’s New Voices company 2006. Subsequently he was chosen to be part of the Old Vic’s US/UK exchange program. His first full-length play For Once I Was was developed at The Old Vic and then went on to have a run at theTristan Bates Theatre. A Lady of Substance was developed at the Manchester 24/7 Festival with director Matthew Dunsterand is currently receiving its London premiere at the Tristan Bates Theatre.

Talk us through the story of A Lady of Substance

It’s about an older poet, early 40s, who has had a relatively tragic experience happen in her life and is stuck in a cycle of self-destruction. She’s left her flat and then comes back one day to find that this 16 year-old girl has broken in and has been squatting. The two of them together have loves, the young girl of hip-hop and the older woman of poetry. Over the course of a 24-hour period the two of them spend time together talking and sharing and learning and writing, while also dealing with the loses that have happened in their lives and also going on a gigantic bender!

So there are some embarrassing hip-hop and performance poetry moments in it?

Well there are a number because I wrote them all! As a young middle class white man I’ve done a sterling job! No I believe that hip-hop is a continuation of poetry in many respects. Hip-hop is the selection of words and the refinement of the English language with a beat placed underneath it to help accessibility. You can learn as much from early hip-hop about the way a particular society was dealt with by the police and what it wasto live in those social conditions as you can from Keats about love. I thought that that was an important thing to be exploring. Also it’s a nice generational thing to have an older and a younger person who are trying to describe to each other why it is that they love what they love and actually finding that they have some common ground.

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Interview: Matthew Dunster

Written for What’s On Stage.

Director Matthew Dunster is an associate director of the Young Vic, whose previous credits include Some Voices, The Member of the Wedding, Testing the Echo and You Can See the Hills.

He is set to direct Mogadishu for the Royal Exchange, Manchester and Lyric, Hammersmith in the spring of 2011, as well as a production of The Most Incredible Thing, a ballet featuring the music of the Pet Shop Boys at Sadler’s Wells.

He directs The Maddening Rain, a one man play which gives an unsettling portrayal of a world where people are bought and sold on a trading floor, written by Nicholas Pierpan. Felix Scott stars in the piece, which runs at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 18 September 2010.

Matthew DunsterMatthew Dunster’s eyes sparkle as he explains his ineptitude with numbers “I was crap at economics. I can’t even figure out what mortgage to have!” He grins sheepishly “In fact that’s a total lie… my wife figures out what mortgage to have, she’s a lawyer and much more switched on to that stuff than I am.”

So what then has drawn Dunster to The Maddening Rain, Nicholas Pierpan’s engrossing and impassioned one man monologue about city traders? A retired trader himself, Pierpan still socialises with people from the city (intriguingly some of whom have invested in this production) and in a work that pulls no punches, this is the baldly astute writing of a true whistle blower. Dramatic stuff, but for Dunster the real pull comes from it’s exploration of how the poison latent in a money driven environment can pollute anyone, anywhere.

“I had a three year period where I worked at North West Water, in debt recovery which is basically being on the phone to old people, telling them why they should prioritise paying their water bill over their fags and their telly – it’s not a nice environment. (Towards the end) this 16 year old girl started and found all that very upsetting. Then about a month later I heard her repeating, parrot fashion, what she had heard from me and I thought ‘I’ve gotta get out of here’…that kind of environment trains you and desensitises you.”

Eyes clouding over he’s quiet for a moment before suddenly brightening “Also I think the quality of the writing is extraordinary… Nick’s a better writer than most people who write about these things and that’s why I wanted to do it.” Straight from a successful production of Love The Sinner at The National Theatre and acclaimed productions at The Globe Theatre and The Manchester Royal Exchange, Dunster read Pierpan’s script and fell for it hook line and sinker, eventually telling the producers that he would do the show anywhere.

They have ended up at The Old Red Lion, something Dunster is (perhaps surprisingly) happy about “When I came to London in the early 90s it was red hot because of Kathy Burke and all her gang…so even though I lived in South London I made that place my local, not even to see the shows but (because) it was always so buzzing.”

Whilst admitting that some of this shine has come off the venue his enthusiasm is infectious when discussing the experience this creative team is bringing to his much loved space “For a fringe production we are very highly resourced and I think that’s quite exciting in that space – you get more than you will expect.”

In his smoothly taut production this certainly hold true, with the polished expressionistic lighting and design creating a conceptual cradle for Felix Scott to deliver a simple but brilliantly vivid performance as our increasingly tortured protagonist. “Felix is an incredible actor… very open and very sensitive… the producer’s just said ‘Get the best actor’ and I don’t hear that very often! So that’s wonderful and I was able to absolutely pick the person who was spot on for the role.”

He feels very lucky to have been given so much support both creatively and financially, passionately expounding on how the fringe has become nothing but a nursery bed for the West End; “As soon as you become a commercial concern you start to re-qualify what you want to programme… it used to be about opposition, but now it’s just about making that money back.” It’s a refreshingly blunt assessment. In both business and art it seems money compromises everything; I come away thinking that it’s not only Pierpan who’s an insider with a whistle to blow.

Review: The Maddening Rain

Written for What’s On StageThe Maddening Rain

Nicholas Pierpan’s The Maddening Rain is an unsettling portrayal of a world where people are bought and sold on a trading floor and a sharp look at how the poison inherent in such an environment can pollute anyone.

Performed in a snapshot narrative by the impressive Felix Scott we see one man’s journey from an average Joe with two A Levels to “Big Swinging Dick”. Pierpan’s monologue may lack the razz-ma-tazz of Lucy Prebble’s Enron, but the impotent outrage feels as strong in a story which is told gracefully and with a wry gallows humour.

Whilst outwardly smooth Scott, with elegant direction from Matthew Dunster, cleverly reveals the darker recesses of our protagonist with a twitching neurosis which perpetually threatens to envelop this suave chancer. Relaxed and yet maniacal, it is an acutely empathic performance.

Emma Chapman and David Sharrock’s surreal, yet oddly pertinent lighting and sound design adds to the feeling that this is an expression of one man’s psyche, giving the whole production an unsettlingly nightmarish tint.

A look into the psychology that drives these city beasts and the social rules that create them The Maddening Rain is an intelligent and original take on a somewhat saturated contemporary subject.

Runs until 18 September 2010