Features Q&A and Interviews Published 23 April 2012

Philip Ridley Q&A

An edited transcript of the Exeunt-hosted Q&A with Philip Ridley and the cast, following a performance of his play Mercury Fur at The Old Red Lion earlier this month.
Exeunt Editors

Honour Bayes: I’m here to act as conduit for your questions, and we have some previously submitted through the site and Twitter as well, so, does anyone have any questions for Philip or the cast?

This is to Philip: was there any particular event that inspired you to write the play?

Philip Ridley: That’s always a very tricky thing to answer because the way that I work really, I’m never quite sure when the project is starting and when it’s not starting, do you know what I mean? So, trying to get something together isn’t a kind of linear activity where you kind of think “oh, I’ve got one idea and that will lead to another idea”, and then you’re off. For me it feels more like you’re collecting things, and hearing things, you’re like a kind of magpie going around. The way that I’ve described it in the past is that it feels kind of like an explosion in reverse, you know when you see an explosion in reverse it begins with all this crap and rubbish all over the place, and then you play the film back and all these bits of detritus come together and they form a house, boom: “oh, it was a house”.  Whhhhhomph: “oh it was a chimney”. And that’s what creating something is like, it feels like it’s all out there and all you’re doing is kind of collecting it and gradually putting it together. So, I’m not sure if there was a trigger, a starting point.

Sometimes it’s easier to see that when you look back, and looking back what I always see are personal things that I was going through at the time, for example I suddenly started plays that were to with brothers, and I’ve got a brother, and it’s obviously a lot to with me beginning to question and having a debate about my relationship with my brother. At the time I started to write my dad started to get very ill and it’s interesting that I got rid of the dad at the beginning of the play – the dad is dead and gone. My mother was reaching that stage in her life when she was misremembering certain parts of our childhood and I can see that echoed in the Duchess, so the personal things I think I can find, but not the bigger things. It’s like dreaming, in that suddenly you’ve got something and you never know quite where it’s come from.

To all the cast, after working on a Philip Ridley play, and delivering such a psychological acuity to the characters – which one of you can boast the most impressive psychic scars?

James Fynan: The funny thing is that, as you work on it, the context of doing it makes it different somehow, it begins to carry different connotations…

Katie Scarfe: You kind of desensitise very quickly, which I suppose could be seen as pretty scary.

Ciarán Owens: I kind of found myself drawn to like, dark documentaries, I was watching that Werner Herzog thing about death row and things like that, and would quite happily just sit there and consume. Your eyes stray more to that side of world, rather than the happier side.

HB: I haven’t seen that particular Herzog thing, but I’ve heard it’s quite life-affirming.  And like this play tonight, what I came out thinking there was hope at the end.  I’d read a lot about it being incredibly depressing, and yet I felt hugely “wow, yes”, they intervened to save another at the point of cataclysm, and you said earlier that’s something you feel quite strongly about Philip, in your own writing and more generally.

PR: It’s only in theatre, really, that this exists, I haven’t experienced it in any other artform. But we’re still kind of trapped in the subject matter. That the subject matter dictates what the play “is”, if you know what I mean. So if you’re dealing with what on the outside could look be deemed a dark and depressing subject matter then the play must be depressing. Now there’s no other art form in which this exists. You don’t go along and see paintings or artworks of dark things, the shark by Damian Hirst for example, and go “uhnn, that’s really depressing” – you concentrate on the art. But in theatre there still seems to be this agenda, and it’s almost like a Victorian morality agenda, “ugh, this must be really depressing”, when actually no, any artform that is doing its job correctly is exhilarating. Guernica by Picasso is exhilarating, you don’t come away from Guernica looking depressed; you come away wanting to live more. The paintings of Francis Bacon with their twisted faces and blood, they’re exhilarating pieces of work. The paintings of Goya are exhilarating pieces of work. But in theatre we still have this agenda, so I don’t see this, and I’ve never seen any of the work I’ve done as wanting to send the audience out feeling depressed. I don’t think any art does that if it’s doing its job.


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