How does it feel to have two of your plays being staged in London concurrently?
It’s really exciting and it’s a very happy thing to be back in London - I used to be here quite a bit, and I haven’t been for a number of years so it’s a very happy feeling.
Thom Pain was your first breakthrough play, is that right?
I had a number of things on before that, but certainly that got the most attention. It was at the Edinburgh fringe in 2004 and then it moved to the Soho.
Could you give a quick overview of the play?
It’s a monologue about a guy who... It’s funny, I don’t have an pithy way of summarising, because I hope it’s an experience and to have an experience is a complicated thing and a full thing. But I hope that he asks some serious questions about the value of consciousness and life and living.
So it’s quite existentialist?
I guess it is... I know something about existentialism but then I also just know what it feels like for me to live and for the people around me. I have a little gang of people that I’m in and at some point of our lives, living was a problem and I guess that’s existentialism but I don’t have a great academic grasp of Sartre and so on. If it means ‘why am I alive?’, ‘why should I be alive?’, ‘are there good reasons why I shouldn’t be alive?’ etc. then sure, it’s existentialism.
You were described by Charles Isherwood as ‘Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation’; how do you respond to that?
Beckett is someone who I think I must love. I don’t know him, never met him, and now he’s gone. There was a time when I would read Beckett and I was fascinated by all the formal innovations that he made; but more and more it just seemed to me about life and feeling and love and all those things. So I couldn’t be more pleased to be connected with Beckett in a phrase. I haven’t seen a ton of the Jon Stewart shows because I don’t have cable, but I have no trouble with that quote. It's been around for a while.
So Oh the Humanity is a series of short plays?
Yes, and I hope they’re related enough that it’s a coherent evening and different enough that it’s an evening that has many elements. I suppose in a way a lot of the same questions are in the air. There are a couple of monologues in the five short plays but they are both are set very clearly in a ‘realistic’ setting, such as a coach who’s delivering a press conference and a spokeswoman for an airline delivering a press conference. I hope there’s a different phrasing of the questions concerning somewhat similar problems as to what Thom Pain is reckoning with.
But coming at it from a slightly different angle?
I think so and I hope so. It’s funny, when those plays premiered in New York, Oh the Humanity I was a little bit worried that they would be taken as aggressively optimistic and cheerful, because I wasn’t shooting for that quality. But people found them a little bit less optimistic than I had thought they might. That said, I do mean them as I hope I mean everything - as some sort of encouragement for human beings.
I suppose the very fact we’re having this conversation shows that your conclusions on the question of existence were not entirely negative.
I’m all for living. You can quote me on that.
Do you write in other mediums?
I’ve written short stories, a couple of tries at a novel and I wrote a film once with a friend that got made in Brazil, so it was done in Portuguese; it was actually relief to know that the first thing that would happen with this thing is that every single word would be changed. I would like to write another film and have an idea that I think would have to be on film. I know I’m too old to be boyish about anything but I have this boyish fascination with theatre and the things a person might do in it.
What's your view on how the US election is shaping up?
I voted for Obama and will again and I hope he wins, and I think he will. I’ll be surprised by the 300 million Americans, or I guess it’s about 140 million that vote, if he doesn't. It feels good right now, because it feels exciting enough to be exciting but not so much that it’s anxiety-ridden. I’m looking forward to staying up on election night. I hope it’s not some kind of recount fiasco - it’d be good to see a nice clear victory.