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

My question is about the online world, and I saw it very much in Shivered, that you’re starting to use this kind of commercialisation of violence through internet videos, and TV. I wonder if that’s something you’ve been considering, or something that’s affected you recently.

PR: I was talking about this, recently, to the actors currently doing Shivered. And I was saying that I remember when I was about nineteen years old, they showed for the first time in a documentary on television that famous clip from Vietnam, where a prisoner was shot in the head. And I was in my bedroom with a mate and telly was on, and we didn’t know what was coming up the telly was just on in the background we were just sitting and talking looking at the television.. and suddenly this guy was shot, killed. And that’s the first time I’d seen anything like that. And we were nineteen years old, the first time we’d anything seen anything like that, and we found it so disturbing. I was shaking, he was shaking we had to turn the television off. “Did you see the blood coming out of his head, he was still alive..” And we were absolutely shaken to the call. He went home, I called him to see if he was okay, “I’ll have nightmares tonight. We felt sick. Now you’ve got eight year olds watching beheadings online and making comments beneath it. That level of desensitisation is just petrifying. That is something that worries me, and concerns me, I am in a debate about that the whole time. The other thing that’s interesting to me about the internet and the way it works, is that its democracy about knowledge gone berserk. Where the image of a cat eating a mouse, or a mouse being thrown into a tank of piranhas, has as much weight as the execution of Saddam Hussein, has as much weight as the riots in Tiananmen Square. That everything is given this equal thirty second clip value, so that is this very odd mentality, that fascinates me when I talk to young people, but it’s very scary.

HB: Following on from that, you’ve often been accused of producing shock theatre, and that’s not what this is at all. That there’s something about in showing it, in a visceral space as opposed to on the internet, that you’re re-establishing something genuine about violence.

PR: It’s to make people feel something, isn’t it. You want people to feel something. It’s something I say to actors a lot when we’re working on something: an audience only remembers what  you make it feel. So you can do all of that, and that’s great, and that’s very clever, but unless they’re feeling something they won’t remember it. They don’t leave the theatre and go “do remember years ago when we saw that wonderful light cue change” they don’t think that. What they think is, “do you remember when we jumped at that, when we cried at that, when we got scared? Do you remember when tears came to our eyes?”  You remember feelings, and that’s what reminds us we’re alive. It keeps us human really, and I think theatre is a fantastic place to explore that because you have people going through those emotions in front of you, there’s no screen in front of that, and it’s a great humanising force. And that’s why I get so annoyed when people say, “oh it’s shock tactics”, and I say “it’s the opposite of that!” Because people are coming out moved and engaged in life, I think, I hope.


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