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Talking Point ... Alex Martinez

Writer Alex Martinez, son of anti-Franco novelist F M Ortas, is a novelist and screenwriter whose first play to be publicly performed - Private Thoughts - opens at the Hackney Empire on Thursday (9 April 2009, previews from 6 April). We caught up with him recently to find out why the play has caused a bit of a stir in the local press.

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What's Private Thoughts about?
The play deals with obsession and the positive and negative power of guilt. However, essentially it is a play about courage. The courage to face our deepest, darkest urges - to resist them, but, above all, to fight to understand them.

The play covers the subject of paedophilia – would you say it's a taboo subject for dramatists?
No subject is taboo in and of itself. If art in general, and the stage in particular, are not free to explore any aspect of human behaviour then we will be censors of our own, complex nature. You might as well argue that people themselves are taboo. How certain subjects are treated is another matter. A piece conceived with sincerity and sensitivity is not the same as one aiming to shock for the sake of it. A lazy, gratuitous treatment of a so-called 'taboo' subject should be shunned for no other reason than its lack of quality.

What do you say to people who claim you're painting an overly-sympathetic portrait of a paedophile?
Firstly, Eric Godber isn't a paedophile - he's a man suddenly besieged by child abuse fantasies that he finds abhorrent. Secondly, I don't know what is meant by 'an over-sympathetic portrait'. It is either a truthful portrayal of a person in turmoil, or one that doesn't ring true. Each member of the audience must decide that for themselves.

How do you approach constructing a dramatic character going through such private turmoil?
I wouldn't say I 'constructed' characters - I discover them. I feel them intuitively. All of us, to some extent, have known varying degrees of anguish, temptation, and guilt in our lives. A writer uses his own emotions in the same way that a painter uses the daubs of pigment ranged on her palette. Some portraits require more browns and reds. Other, blues and greens. Similarly, some characters take darker emotional hues from the writer, accruing levels of intensity on the page that may not necessarily exist in the writer himself. This is not unlike the way that an actor invests a role with life.

Do you think the play has universal resonance, if so why?
I do. We see a human being laid psychologically bare before us. I would be extremely surprised if that level of raw vulnerability failed to move the vast majority of people.

What are your plans beyond Private Thoughts?
Hackney Empire have expressed the wish to stage more of my plays in the future. The next play is already written, and our company, Theatre Ortas, plans to start producing that in the coming months. It would also be gratifying to see Private Thoughts transfer elsewhere after our run in April - here or abroad - and even possibly tour the country.

Private Thoughts is at the Hackney Empire from 6 to 25 April.


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