We had the chance to talk to Gavin Quinn about Pan Pan’s new production “The Importance of Nothing” which opens at the Project Arts Centre this week. You can see the results below.
As part of One Time Season, Project Arts Centre and Pan Pan presents The Importance of Nothing.
12 November 2016-19 November 2016 7.30pm
Below, Gavin tells us about the Evolution of the Play:
I’ve always wanted to do something in the theatre with Oscar Wilde, but perhaps not just putting on one of the Wilde plays. I’ve obviously seen a lot of Wilde plays over the years and my memory of them is of costume dramas with sparkling, delightful language but not particularly close to the original impact which was that of social criticism of the time.
I enjoyed the performances but really I did not have a relationship with them, so I looked at the other works by Wilde. I was very intrigued to try to do something with De Profundis, which is his letter or memoir which he wrote in prison, when he was “C33”. I also looked at Wilde’s essays, especially “The Importance of Doing Nothing”, which is where the title of the play comes from, without the ‘doing’ just “The Importance of Nothing”. ‘Importance’ is a word which is used often in the titles of his plays and in other productions related to Oscar Wilde’s work.
I thought of the idea of looking at Wilde’s aesthetics as a starting point. He was an aesthete, the idea of art for art’s sake. That was the beginning. Looking at the whole idea of Wilde as an individual, more interested in the subjective and the archaic in a person, rather than the ordered world of 19th century realism. So that was the beginning of the piece.
Initially, I got a group of writer/ actors, apart from Andrew Bennet and Judith Roddy, and I started creating scenarios of interviewing them and having these types of Socratic dialogues and discussions around Oscar Wilde, around Oscar Wilde the person and especially around the question is he better known for being arrested for gross indecency or his work. The idea of Oscar Wilde as a gay icon, Oscar Wilde the person, Oscar Wilde the father, Oscar Wilde the husband, Oscar Wilde the bisexual, Oscar Wilde the artist and Oscar Wilde the prisoner.
So I worked through a lot of his material and especially some of the poetry, including the poetry of Bosie Douglas, and also a little bit about the life of Bosie Douglas. It’s like an honest response to everything Wilde is, but particularly influenced by De Profundis, below the depths or from the lower depths. The title was actually given to him by Robbie Ross.
In the process of making all this material, the actors wrote about 35 to 40 scenes, and we only show 11 or 12 scenes in the performance. So at least 70% of the material we don’t show. However it’s all been rehearsed but parts were not used for one reason or another. Sometimes the reason was too much exposition or for being too similar to other scenes, but also we ran out of time. At one time we were looking at doing the piece over six hours, over several nights but we decided that it would be stronger and riskier to do it as a two-part piece with an interval.
The concept for the project is that it’s an imaginary prison, it’s not a particularly realistic prison. It is more the concept of a prison. We invented a character called Lady Margaret Lancing. Lady lancing is a character in one of Wilde’s plays, and the concept is that she is related to Bosie Douglas and that she, perhaps because of ancestral guilt, blames her family for putting Wilde in prison. She gives anti-homophobic workshops in prison to assuage her guilt. So it’s also the idea of this titled person who used to be a punk and now devotes her life to helping prisoners, to make their lives better. So it looks in a comedic way at the idea of therapy in itself and the idea of intervening in people’s lives.
This is reflected in De Profundis itself, as Wilde wrote letters for prison reform. He talked about his fellow prisoners, and especially talked about prison in the terms that it was worse for me than it was for them, because they were poor and more used to suffering. So there’s an interesting class element which I wanted to get across in having a Lady Lancing, a titled character. She gives a workshop and only three people turn up. Two are members of the gay community and the other character is called prejudiced Gerald, who hates everybody!
So the play is the interaction between these characters. A lot of it is based on dialogue, in keeping in a way with Wilde’s style, he often would have written the dialogue first and then the plot later. It’s heavily influenced by Plato and the dialectic style, that through conversation you come at something from every angle, so that you can see something in the round. So that it is through conversation that we actually learn about things, but certain things are emphasised. It’s not about finding truth, it’s more about creating a perspective and an emphasis for the speaker. So all this is woven into the piece.
All of the collaborators, the actors that are in the show, contributed to the text. So it’s lead by the guiding author who is Oscar Wilde. The text is generated from the actors through careful manipulation of certain types of scenes and ideas. So it’s not necessarily true to say, it’s a device piece, it’s more like a curated piece of text.
So then I edited and collated some of the scenes and put it together into a performance piece. So it’s very performative, it’s not necessarily a play, it’s more of a performance piece. It’s more like one big long poem, more like an honest reaction to Oscar Wilde. It’s both conceptual and also intuitive. It’s not necessarily about something but it is something as James Joyce would say.
So we have a great cast, Judith Roddy has joined us to take a small part in the piece, she plays a female prison officer, who sits and observes the show, a little bit like an invigilator in a gallery and she has a big scene at the end. She recently played Nora in ‘The Plough and the Stars’ in the National, and has moved to London like a lot of young successful actors, but occasionally is performing over here.
The play is an irreverent and colourful look at identity. What does it mean to be called certain things in this age when people are using a hundred different labels to describe identity and sexuality? It is a sort of humorous look at that. The play has a series of surprises and musings on Oscar Wilde. There is quite a lot about the notion of prison and what prison is for. It is an idiosyncratic subjective piece. It sets out to be interesting and complex as is Wilde’s life and his legacy.
Please note, this is an edited version of the original longer interview.
The Importance of Nothing runs at the Project Arts Centre until Nov 19th.