Burke Shares Shepard Revelations at WOS Outing
Date: 25 October 2005
Whatsonstage.com theatregoers were treated to a unique insight at this weekend’s Outing to The God of Hell at the Donmar Warehouse. At an exclusive post-show discussion, actor-turned-director Kathy Burke, who directed this European premiere of Sam Shepard’s post 9/11 black comedy, shared her views on the American playwright and different aspects of the production.
Described by Shepard as "a take-off on Republican fascism", The God of Hell is set on a Wisconsin dairy farm owned by Frank (Stuart McQuarrie) and Emma (Lesley Sharp). Usually, nothing ever happens here. But with the mysterious Haines (Ewen Bremner) recovering in their basement and slick government official Mr Welch (Ben Daniels) now knocking at their door, things start to move very, very fast, and with vicious consequences.
At the post-performance Q&A, Burke was joined by assistant director Christopher Rolls in conversation with Whatsonstage.com’s Terri Paddock. Highlights from the discussion follow…
On Burke’s relationship with the author
”Sam is very hard to pin down. I’ve managed to have four conversations with him. In the first conversation, I apologised for being very bad at emailing, and he said, ‘That’s not a problem because I still write with a typewriter’. He’s very much got his own thing going on. One of my favourite directors, Wilson Milam (who directed Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind at the Donmar in 2001), warned me, ‘You’ll get nothing from Sam, it’s all your interpretation.’ I told Sam my first impression on reading the play was Joe Orton and Entertaining Mr Sloane. He said that was very astute because he had reread that play before he wrote this one because he wanted that farcical element. It is really needed because it is so horrendous what happens to this nice couple, it’s horrendous and unbelievable. Sam said keep it light. It is very important to have fun with it and not to be too frightened by the subject matter. But it’s also a horror story.”
”Do you know what, I wish he was around to see it. There’s part of me that wants his approval. I keep saying, ‘I’m doing this for Uncle Sam!’ (a pun on the warped American patriotism portrayed in the piece) It’s very hard, you know. I would love it if he just came along to a rehearsal and even if he just said, ‘oh man, you’ve got this all wrong’, that would be some kind of feedback. It’s odd when a writer is still alive and you can’t ask them stuff.”
On her approach to the play
”I wasn’t tempted to make it too dark – even before Sam said “keep it light” – because of the pace I read it at. There were no big pauses, it all just rattled along and it’s quite strict in its rhythm. One thing that was very important to me was the relationship between Emma and Frank. They love each other, but they are a bit embarrassed about each other when someone else is there. He’s just a man who loves his wife and his work. The relationship between a man and a woman is very important. In that line where he shouts at her, it was vital to me that it comes out of the frustration of the moment and is not at all said in a sort of ‘white vest-wearing man who beats up his wife’ way. You have to get the impression in this play that, for this couple, everything’s at stake. I wanted the audience to love Frank and Emma the way I love them. They are such a warm couple, and it broke my heart when what happens to them happens.”
”When Emma says, ‘I don’t know about the rest of the world’, it’s such an innocent, almost throw-away line, but it tells you so much about her. It is because of that, not knowing about world affairs, that they get into trouble.”
”I don’t have rules and regulations in rehearsal. I’m not a normal director in that sense. The only thing I was strict about was the pace - it really has to be a short sharp shock. Yes, that’s what it is. A short sharp shock by Sam Shephard - there’s a new tongue twister for drama students!
”It reminded us of that film – what was it … Invasion of the Body Snatchers! With that paranoia, all that ‘they’re coming to get us’. And it’s like, who’s coming to bloody get you? You live in the middle of nowhere!”
On the play’s cast
”The four actors, I just think they are so brilliant, and they’re very smart. They are fearless, and I think with a play like this you have to be fearless. You can’t come shuffling on and say ‘well, here we are and he’s being tortured…’ and be apologetic. You have to just pull out all the stops and go for it.”
- by Caroline Ansdell & Terri Paddock
The God of Hell opens to the press tomorrow night (Wednesday 26 October 2005) at the Donmar Warehouse, where its limited season continues until 3 December 2005.
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