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Jon Haynes On ... Playing the Poof Downstairs

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The Poof Downstairs is the first independent work by Jon Haynes, one half of multi award winning theatrical duo Ridiculusmus. This circuitous and dark comedy follows the story of Jeremy, who moves back into his parents’ home to find little has changed. He is still dominated by a nagging mother and bewildered by a distant father who dreams of going fishing. In the conflict that follows Jeremy becomes the focus of his parents’ struggle for supremacy.

Haynes is a playwright, director and performer. He has co conceived, created, written and performed all of Ridiculusmus’ shows over the last 18 years, including works such as Importance of Being Earnest; Tough Time, Nice Time and Ideas Men. The company has won many awards for its work, including the Total Theatre, Time Out, Herald Angel & Adelaide Fringe Awards, as well as being nominated for the Granada Media Comedy Award and twice nominated for the Melbourne Comedy Festival Barry Award.

Well it’s a very different process really, writing on your own and devising a piece without someone co-writing it with you. I spent a lot of time just in my room staring at the wall and writing things down rather than just improvising which is what I do usually, for about 17 years. That’s how we start. Here I improvise, but on my own. I play out all the characters and have no one to bounce anything off of.

Basically because I have more time on my hands and I’ve been spending more time apart from my colleague, and he’s doing other things, it was time to work alone. Naturally when you’ve been working together for 17 years you’d like to sometimes break away. We work with each other all the time. I had some time on my hands and figured it was time for me to make my own piece of work. I didn’t particularly want to do a show of my own at first, but it quickly developed and I’m really enjoying myself now.

The show is part of the BAC’s The Big Story, because the it is…well I don’t want to give much away, but it’s like a shaggy dog story actually. A story with narrative that has digressions and digressions within the digressions, and then sort of goes off forward with more digressions that then become other digressions, so it’s a never ending sort of dream play that takes you all over the place. I suppose it’s kind of an experiment with narrative story telling which is what this festival is all about, different ways of telling stories. I can’t tell you anymore, but it’s a play that never happens really.

It’s quite difficult to describe actually because the show is not what it appears to be, and I don’t know whether I want to give too much away because it’s described in the brochure but it’s not actually that at all. It’s something else. I suppose when the reviews come out it will be made clear anyway. I don’t want to tell people what it’s all about or give anything away. I really would rather not go into detail about what happens because it’s sort of a prank on the audience really. They think they’re seeing something and it doesn’t turn out to be that at all.

This play, that doesn’t actually happen, is based on a play that I wrote when I was 17 called A Slight Uproar. I sent it to the Royal Court and they sent it back, saying it was unimaginative. The play was drawn from me listening to my parents talking. I used to just sit and listen to what they said and write it down from the ages of 14 to 17. I sat in an adjacent room and listened, sometimes even recording them with a microphone. I used to write it all down and it built from their conversations, which is why it seemed unimaginative, because it was literally just two people talking, there was no action. That original play is inspired by my parents, but the character of Jeremy in this play is a bit of a composite of me and my brothers I suppose. My co-star is Charles Millington, which is actually the stage name of somebody who is kind of in the public eye and didn’t want his real name to be used, so I can’t really tell a whole lot about him; he wanted to keep himself pretty under wraps, although probably people are going to recognise him.

As far as Ridiculusmus, we have a show premiering in May 2010 called Total Football, which is about people trying to galvanize British identity through forming a football team for the 2012 Olympics. So it’s about Britishness I think more than about sports. We also have written another play called Goodbye Princess, which is about the last days of Princess Diana. It’s a comedy, with an imaginative situation regarding the conspiracy theories about her being murdered. Multi-layered, with a staged death, it’s a bit edgy actually, touching on stuff that people don’t usually touch on. It’s got a huge cast, especially for a usual two-man act like us, with about 58 people. We even have one scene where about ten Prince Charles look-alikes are all on stage. Quite an ambitious piece. 

- Jon Haynes was speaking to Alex Mangini

The Poof Downstairs will be running from 4th-20th March at the BAC


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