Heartbreak House - 10 Days in Dublin | In Conversation with Liza Cox
Words: Caomhan Keane
A group of guests arrive for a weekend stay in a country house, a house that is built to resemble a ship. It is occupied by a siren-like woman, her peacock husband, and presided over by a crazy old sea captain. The assembled company is “charming people, most advanced, frank, humane, unconventional, democratic, free-thinking, and everything that is delightful to thoughtful people.” However, there is something in the atmosphere of this curious house that drives people to act in unpredictable ways.
Spoonlight Theatre was founded by three recent graduates, Ronan Murphy, Sam Coll, and Liza Cox, who met in Trinity College, and came together to form the theatre company, over a shared love of and wish to create engaged and engaging theatre. Liza Cox, the show's director, talks here to Caomhan Keane.
Tell me the story behind Heartbreak House?
Heartbreak House is, to me, an investigation of the dichotomy between pose and “true” nature, of the existence of an inherent identity, as well as exploring the necessity of a self-preservatory detachment from an uncomfortable reality. Forced to relinquish their outward personas, a hierarchy is established within the house based upon the characters’ ability to adapt to the ever-changing challenges, which rise to the surface. But self-preservation can come at a high price, and the callous cruelty indulged in by these characters masks a deep-seated dissociation from humanity, both on an interpersonal and a wider societal level. Amidst the bedlam of the house and its zany inhabitants, the play’s concerned with the consequences of carelessness and willful disengagement.
Why do you think Shaw is so under appreciated by this generation?
I think there are several possible reasons for the dip in his popularity. On a most basic level, many writers go through phases of being in or out of fashion; that’s a pretty natural thing to happen. But in Shaw’s case it’s an extraordinary dip: during his life he was considered one of the most important writers in the world, not just in Ireland; and now, if you mention the name George Bernard Shaw in Dublin, half the time people think you mean the pub on South Richmond Street. It’s strange.
One big factor is, some of his themes are now dated, to an extent. His Nietzschean preoccupations, and his Fabian politics, are ideas that have in large part gone out of fashion. But these things are extremely far from being the only aspects of his work: many of his themes are universal, and he had a fantastic sense of character. He’s criticised sometimes for creating characters that are clearly abstractions of ideas, but I think in response to that, his genius lay in combining these abstractions of ideas with characters that are psychologically very true. There’s so much invention and energy and wit in his writing, and he deserves to receive a lot more attention than he does.
Last year we had Pygmalion? Are we seeing a revival of interest in his work?
Pygmalion’s a play, which has never really gone out of fashion, I think, largely because of My Fair Lady. The Abbey’s production last year was really a fantastic one, and I hope it does spark a revival of interest in his work. There’s also a production of Heartbreak House running as part of the Chichester Festival in London this summer, with Derek Jacobi as Captain Shotover. We weren’t aware of this when developing the project, but it’s interesting, given how rarely the play is staged. In my opinion, it’s high time for a Shaw revival, anyway.
What's the piece’s relevance to the now?
I think the issue of disengagement is what makes it continue to be relevant. It’s one which isn’t specific to any one period, although I believe that there are specific times and places when it becomes a much more pressing issue. Without wanting to draw heavy-handed analogues with the contemporary situation in Ireland, I think it’s something that’s really important to be asking questions about. If members of a society are disengaged from what’s happening within that society, economically, politically, then there’s something extremely wrong, and I think we’ve learned that in Ireland in recent years.
Why did you choose this one in particular?
We wanted something, which would combine a lot of fun and energy with issues we felt strongly about, and Heartbreak House ticked all those boxes. It’s a big project, and has presented a lot of challenges in terms of interpretation and staging, but has been enormous fun to work on, and the cast are an extraordinary bunch of actors. There are elements of the play, which are almost, like a children’s’ book, which we felt could be combined extremely well with the concept of detachment from reality: our set is built around the idea of a pop-up book, largely 2D, which combines these two aspects. The zany energy of the piece was another large factor in our choice: the play itself has been huge fun to develop. There’s a lot of really fantastic writing in it, and a big sense of fun.
Tell me about Spoonlight Theatre Company?
I founded Spoonlight in March 2012 with two other recent graduates: Sam Coll and Ronan Murphy. We wanted a platform to create the kind of theatre we wanted to create, as well as an opportunity to develop our skills. There’s a great atmosphere in the Dublin theatre scene at the moment; so many people are creating really innovative and beautiful theatre, and there are lots of new, exciting theatre companies starting up. It’s really inspiring to see that kind of energy. We decided to found our own company, our objective being to address issues we feel strongly about, and to combine them with a sense of fun; to address them without didacticism. As I’ve mentioned, Heartbreak House does just that, in our opinion. Ideally I’d like our next project to be a piece of new writing. There’s something very exciting about engaging with new writing, and there are a lot of very talented emerging writers who are looking for a forum for their work. Now that this project is up and running, we’re already planning our next production.
Choice of venue?
The Back Loft’s a really beautiful space, and one that works really well with the play’s topsy-turvy aesthetic, with its strangely angled walls. It shares a building with La Catedral studios, and there’s a fantastic atmosphere about the place. We’d been concerned about the huge skylight in the venue, which lets in a lot of natural light, but it’s worked in our favour, as the play’s action spans from afternoon into evening. It’s been a challenge for our lighting designer to work with the natural light, but one she’s enjoyed. We’ve all really enjoyed the venue, as have our audiences; there’s a great energy in the space.
Heartbreak House runs until Saturday July 14th in the Back Loft, Dublin as part of 10 Days in Dublin | For more information see 10daysindublin.com
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Friday 13th July 2012 | Theatre
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