Rod’s Blog 5.02.13
After all the hype about me stepping back onstage in underpants and vest (thanks Nick Ahad for highlighting that in your preview!) ‘Sex and Docks and Rock n Roll’ played to good houses all week at The City Varieties and I have to admit – I thoroughly enjoyed playing Ronnie McDermott and wandering front of house in his underwear chatting to people and teasing them. The last night that went a bit too far. Thirty seven of Chris Lloyd’s friends came to see the show and decided to arrive five minutes before we went up and tried to pay for their tickets one by one by credit card. This meant I stepped up onto the stage expecting the house lights to go down and …they didn’t. I was left onstage ‘bantering’ with a full house of expectant punters for what seemed like several hours but which was probably only five or six minutes! This was fairly terrifying and made worse when I saw our mate, and skilled stand-up comedian, Phill Jupitus arrive to watch my pain. A screaming voice in my head said “Phill Jupitus is now watching you die onstage – in horrible white Y fronts!” Luckily the audience were very kind and I was able to riff off their comments until the relief of the house lights going down – which is the very time when as a performer you should be cranking up your energy – not sighing with relief!!
The rest of that night’s performance was an actor’s dream. The packed house was with us every step of the way – shouting out, singing along, laughing at the smallest ad-libs. If that is my last ever performance as an actor – which it probably is to be honest – then I can be very happy.
In actual fact it wasn’t my last ever turn. We packed the van and took the show for one night to the Croft’s Social Club which is right next to Everton’s football ground in Liverpool. Unite the Union had booked the show to play to their members and anyone else who wanted to see it. It was a real test of Boff’s show, taking a play about a Scouse communist family right to the heart of Liverpool in a working mens’ club. Again it went down a storm and, although the audience was much smaller than the night before, they all had a good time.
A week or so later and I am now in week one of rehearsals for ‘The Thing About Psychopaths’. Today was Day Two – and yet we have worked through so much material (character lists, improvisations and actioning the script) it feels like we have been working for days and days. The cast are really giving loads and we are gaining more and more insights into Ben’s play. It really helps the process to know that the show is already selling very well. In Sheffield Crucible the audience is already 75 each night and the theatre hasn’t really started the marketing campaign for our show yet.
Ben is a generous presence in the rehearsal room – sitting watching and contributing really insightful comments when needed. We all had a detailed discussion about what exactly is a psychopath – and what is the definition of a sociopath. This si always interesting – how much are we as ttheatre –makers supposed to know about topics which we are exploring through our art form. My view is straightforward on this: the play is not a documentary or a piece of verbatim theatre about psychopaths. The play throws up the question, ‘In order to survive in modern society, do we have to suspend our capacity to empathise?’ So we are exploring empathy – not psychopathy. It so happens that much of the behaviour we are displaying onstage shares many of the traits of people we have come to recognise as ‘psychopaths’. We as theatre –makers are not experts in psychology and neither should we be. I remember when we toured Emma Adams’ play ‘Forgotten Things’ which ended in a teenage boy committing suicide people in the audience would ask the cast, “So did you do an in depth piece of research in to why teenagers commit suicide before you made this play?”. They were shocked when the actors said “No, not really, we’re not experts in child psychology”.
That is the point for me – we make a piece of theatre that reflects an issue – and in the case of this new play the issue is empathy or rather the lack of it, that is shown by many people in modern society. Whether certain behaviours fit into the spectrum of behaviours that end in the extreme of being labelled psychopathic – that is for the audience to decide. Ultimately, I return to my own personal passion: that theatre should provoke a conversation and hopefully that conversation alerts people to a need for social change.
When you’ve been to see ‘The Thing About Psychopaths’ email me, or write a message on the website, and tell me if you think I’m wrong about all this – or maybe just tell me what you think of the play and our interpretation of it. Alternatively if you see me at one of the gigs – don’t be afraid to come over and chat – I’m the one in Y fronts!
About Rod: Rod became Artistic Director of Red Ladder Theatre Company in 2006, following his role as associate director at the Barbican Theatre in Plymouth. He has also ran The Hub Theatre School in Cornwall and been an actor with several companies including Kneehigh Theatre. Directing credits for Red Ladder include Where’s Vietnam?, Forgotten Things, Riot, Rebellion & Bloody Insurrection, Ugly, Sex & Docks & Rock ‘N’ Roll, Big Society! and Promised Land. Rod is both a life-long Liverpool supporter and a believer in Proudhon’s principles of anarchy – the two might be connected.