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In Conversation with Francis Greenslade | The Platypus

"I wanted to write something that was directly relevant to the lives of the people in the audience. So that they can watch themselves."

Today we chat with Francis Greenslade, writer and director for the upcoming production The Platypus, a play that explores the disintegration of a relationship in a new and exciting way. Playing at Theatre Works from 19 June to 6 July.


What inspired the creation of the work and how does the platypus fit into that?


Some years ago, I was pitching another show to a different theatre company. A French absurdist play about a family that tries to escape a threatening noise. We had a workshop and a read through, and the gatekeeper of the theatre company came to listen. And when we’d done, there was a dispiriting silence and they turned to me and said - You know Francis, I don’t think the nuclear family is very relevant anymore. I was slightly stunned - certainly the nuclear family can be a highly toxic environment and, yes,  it has fractured over the years, and there are certainly other ways of living together in society, but at that time I was dropping my kids off to the local school, and most kids there had been born into a nuclear family. It certainly wasn’t irrelevant where I was living. In fact, surely, most couples who decide to have a child together, do so in the expectation that they will be raising it in a loving and stable relationship. And that’s basically a desire to have a nuclear family.


So I thought there’s a big gulf between what this theatre worker thinks is relevant to the audience and what is actually relevant to the people who come and watch theatre. And I do think sometimes, theatre companies don't programme for their audience but for their own cohort. So that other theatre workers won’t stand in the foyer afterwards and disapprove.


So I wanted to write something that was directly relevant to the lives of the people in the audience. So that they can watch themselves. Not a play about a king or a football player or an Eskimo. Not that there’s anything wrong with plays about kings or football players or Eskimos, I just didn’t want to write one.


The Platypus is the story of an ordinary couple that is having difficulties.


What fascinates you about depicting a relationship, particularly one that is falling apart, on the stage?


But I didn’t want to write a naturalistic play about the disintegration of a relationship. I wanted to see if I could tell the story in a different way but still make it truthful.

 

When you're at home, sitting around in your underwear eating peanut butter from the jar, or whatever floats your boat,  you are just about to as normal and natural as you will ever be. But when you leave the house and meet someone else,( your boss whom you dislike, a very old friend, a teenager serving you at the bottle shop, etc) you become a different person. You put on a different persona. I wanted to represent that theatrically. So, in The Platypus, when one of the two leave the house and meets someone else, the scene is in a different theatrical genre. There’s a scene in Shakespearian verse, one in an Oscar Wilde style and even a music theatre take off. So while the story is a very familiar one, the way it’s told is not. That’s the interest for me - keeping it surprising and interesting while not losing the emotional truth.


What has been a highlight of the development and rehearsal process so far?

 

I’m not the first person ever to have their work put on stage and not the first to direct their own work, but it is the first time for me. Usually I’m the actor working on someone else’s thing. So to watch something I've written start to take shape and to be able to work with two brilliant actors who are able to try things out and change their performances if something doesn’t work and bit by bit piece the show together is an absolute gift.


How do you work with the actors to ensure the relationship between the two characters feels authentic?

 

It’s something we talked about at the beginning. Not letting the form of the piece get in the way of the truth of the situation. I think if the company (and that includes designer and sound and lighting and stage management and everyone who works on it) have the same vision then it becomes much easier not to let go of that as a priority. It’s difficult to know how successful you’re being while you’re in it, you tend to lose objectivity. But hopefully when we get to an audience we’ll find that the work is in the right place. 


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