Interview with Aoife Spillane-Hinks | The Yellow Wallpaper
Words: Caomhan Keane
A young woman comes with her husband to a house by the seashore in the hopes of recovering from what is being called a hysterical nervous condition. It's the end of the 19th century and the treatment prescribed by those in the know is to lock her away in an attic room, with no contact with the outside world, little contact with her newborn baby and strictly no reading or writing. Deprived of real human interaction, forced to rest and do little else, she confides her unraveling thoughts in her secret diary. As she does, she starts to see something emerging from the wallpaper. This might be a ghost story, worse yet, it might not.
Initially mounted as part of the ABSOLUT Fringe in 2011, Then This Theatre Company revive their haunting one woman show, The Yellow Wallpaper, at the Project Arts Centre. Based on Charlotte Gilman Perkins semi-autobiographical short story, Maeve Fitzgerald turns in a performance described by the critics as 'stunning' and 'hauntingly vivid' last time round.
Her Director, Aoife Spillane-Hinks, talks to Caomhan Keane here.
What's your own personal relationship with this text?
It is a story that is taught very frequently in the US High School curriculum. So I read it in my English class when I was 17 in Connecticut. We spent a long time looking at it and I loved it from the first time that I read it. I wanted to direct it there and then. I didn't, luckily, as I think it took the next ten years to come to an understanding to really do this piece.
How did this production come about?
Maeve Fitzgerald and I met each other in 2009 and really hit it off and were looking for a project to work together on. We looked at a lot of different things- would we devise something or put on a full staging of a play. One thing we both knew was that we love good writing. So one day I just printed The Yellow Wallpaper off and said 'you know what, why don't you just read it out loud'. So we sat cross-legged on the floor of my one room studio apartment and she read it. When she finished we just looked at each other and said, that's it. This is what we should work on.
What made you think it would translate from page to stage?
The interesting thing about it is that in the beginning of the piece she is more reserved, trying to make her peace with being stuck in this room all day. And as she goes on, the piece becomes much more active and much more immediate as her problems grow and her insanity grows as well. So in terms of its dramatic structure it actually worked quite well. So, even though it is a piece of literature, even though it is something to be read, it's quite a dynamic and gripping piece. The character- the narrator herself- has a very strong voice. There was something quite gripping in that for Maeve to sink her teeth into.
How did you get it on its feet?
We were able to spend three weeks- me, Maeve and our dramaturg Tanya Dean, reading it through, looking at every word. Tanya had printed out about 6 or 7 different versions, different edits that the author had made. We had great discussions over whether we would use one version with an explanation point or this other version with a full stop. Those little tiny choices that we made as we got to know the text meant that by the time we actually got it on its feet, we knew the piece so well and the text so well that Maeve was simply able to walk into the world of the character.
Gothic literature is all the rage at the moment on the Irish stage. Why do you think that is?
There are a number of reasons why The Yellow Wallpaper is an interesting or worthwhile piece. It's a sort of important document of women's experience in Victorian America. It is an interesting piece of Gothic literature. But the bottom line of it is that it is a great story. Good work just keeps coming back again and again. So whether you are interested in women's literature or 19th century medical practice, the fact is, it will captivate you because of that fact. No matter how long ago they were written they still captivate your interest, terror and imagination in general.
Last time we spoke both yourself and Maeve were keen to shy away from this being over sold as a feminist work?
I love work that is political, not propaganda that takes on big questions and big issues. Whether it is economics like Serious Money or gender relations like Boston Marriage. Any aspect of politics or civilisation in general really. But the question can’t take over the art. One thing we were concerned about was those issues overshadowing the simple fact that it is a wonderful piece of writing and, we hoped, a wonderful production. It is part of a discussion of gender relations in general. Some people will come to it because they care about feminist literature or questions about feminism in general. But it doesn't rely on that to be a piece that it’s worthwhile.
What has it to say to a 2012 audience?
This could have been written today. It’s a simple story about a person with huge mental anguish going through some big psychological problems. And not being understood by the people she loves and the people who are treating her. Those issues are still relative. So while the Victorian context is helpful in understanding where the words are coming from and where the story itself is coming from, we also feel that the telling of the story is quite contemporary, because it feels very immediate and very modern.
When I read The Yellow Wallpaper for the first time it was almost as if it was written for the Boys School. How has this change of venue affected the piece?
We have taken it from two sides to three sides, from standing to seated. It's a much more immediate encounter with this woman as an individual going though this terrible thing. We are sitting right in front of her, we are in her eye level, and we are not looking down on her. That action of watching her and being part of the surveillance was part of the design. It originated with the Boys School. I wouldn't say so much that we lose something as we gain a different perspective.
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Tuesday 20th November 2012 | Theatre
No comments have been posted for this article yet. Be the first!
Log in to leave a comment
The opinions expressed here are those of the viewer and do not reflect those of Entertainment.ie. Entertainment.ie accepts no responsibility, legal or otherwise, for their accuracy of content. Please contact us to report abusive content