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.