Michael Cox: Tell me about the production.
David Leddy: I’ve always wanted to make a piece about meditation, where the audience take part in the meditation as part of the show. And that’s the basis of the show. Normally, obviously meditation is a powerful thing even though you’re just asked to relax and visualise beautiful pastoral scenes and hopping bunny rabbits. And I wondered what might happen if, during a show, you asked the audience to visualise events from their own lives that echo the events in the narrative.
For example, we ask them to imagine a time you knew something was growing and multiplying inside your own body, or a time when you missed somebody so badly it became such a sensation it actually hurt you. And so, playing with that idea that the play itself doesn’t have any inherent meaning. The audience contribute most of the meaning when they come and watch the play and interpret it. [Audiences] are always drawing on their own experiences to understand something, and I wanted to push that one step further and to embed it right into the weave of the piece.
MC: Where did this interest in meditation come from?
DL: Well, I was sort of secretly raised as a Buddhist by my father. I was always interested in meditation, and most people working in theatre have done a lot of meditation. The first time I was formally taught meditation I was quite disappointed because I was expecting to chant and meditate and to have fireworks go off behind my eye, and I thought ‘Is that all? You just lie on the floor and focus on your breath?’
MC: Do you find that the production came from a revived interest in meditation or has the production perhaps strengthened your belief in meditation?
DL: No. I think it’s more complicated than that. It’s not just about meditation. It’s one element of the show, and it’s drawing on lots of other areas at the same time. In many ways the piece is a love affair with visual art. I wanted the piece to be a meditation on modernism, on the period in the mid-20th century when there was enormous, exciting and explosive energy in the idea that the past can just be completely swept away and a new world can be built just by the energy from our own minds.
I feel quite envious of those artists in that period; that sense of excitement about what the future might bring, and that energy and hope I think, for me anyway, is all summed up in the collection of Peggy Guggenheim. Peggy features as a character in the play. I read her memoir a few years ago, and it’s a really crazy book. It’s written in this fast, breathless pace, and you can sense the great and the good of modern art whizzing past. She had a relationship with Samuel Beckett, which I found fascinating, and the fact that she considered marrying him and they had this wild on-again/off-again affair. They would stay in bed for a week, and that would only be interrupted by Beckett going out to buy more champagne. That features, and the piece makes lots of allusions to pieces by Beckett, particularly Krapp’s Last Tape.
The piece is set in Venice. Venice, for various reasons, cuts across all of those themes. It’s the city of love. It’s the city art. And it’s the city that Peggy Guggenheim made her home. And there’s something very powerful about locating something in Venice and the idea that Venice is the city of the imagination. It’s a city that we all have a strong sense of what it’s like, whether we’ve been there or not. So, as a city to ask people to visualise, I think it’s more powerful than any other.
MC: When writing Untitled Love Story, did the story come first, and did you think the meditation aspect would help with that, or through wanting to work with meditation did the story come forth?
DL: They all sort of developed at the same time for me, back and forth. Certainly, in any of the pieces I write, the story doesn’t come first. The overall concept of what I’m doing with it as a piece of theatre is what comes first. I’m always interested in playing around with the theatrical form. But having said that, for me, emotions are what comes first. I always want to do some element of stretching the form and picking and pulling at the form of what theatre is and stretching it while still making it a piece of theatre. That’s what comes first, and then there’s finding a narrative that fits within those ideas.
MC: Is this devised at all?
DL: No, I never devise. It’s all written by me.
MC: Have there been any surprises so far?
DL: Artistically there haven’t been any surprises. It’s a very controlled piece of work. We’ve done two development periods. But it’s surprised me how much fun it is. It’s a very thoughtful piece of work and some of it is very elegytic and mournful. It’s about love and loss. But rehearsals are hilarious. I think it’s the funniest group of actors I’ve ever worked with. We laugh a lot. The audiences might be surprised that, when they come to the show with thoughtful meditating, that we spent a lot of our rehearsal time telling dirty jokes. They tell me REALLY filthy jokes, filthier than what’s in the play, and the play is pretty dirty.
MC: Did you approach Remarkable Arts or did they approach you?
DL: We worked with them last year with Sub Rosa, so we already had a relationship with them, and we had a great time with them, so we’re very very happy to be back with them this year. They are a lovely company.
MC: Any final thoughts or comments?
DL: It’s a very visual piece as well. I think that’s what surprises people. We have a set with an enormous, expansive, shiny red cloth that fills the entire stage. We think of it like a Rothko canvas that’s risen up and comes to life. It moves around, rising and floating and falling. And there’s also water on stage. Of course, Venice is famed for its water, so there had to be some water.
David Leddy’s Untitled Love Stories performs at Remarkable Arts’ St George’s West performance space from August 5-29 before touring.