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Stacy: interview with director Caoimhe Blair

Over at the Etcetera Theatre on Camden High Street, a new revival of Jack Thorne’s Stacy has just opened, produced by Inkwell.

Stacy is a sexually explicit confessional monologue for one male performer and a slide projector. It was first performed at the Arcola Theatre in 2007, and ran at the Edinburgh Festival and in London in 2012.

I wanted to know more about the revival and the contemporary relevance of this play, so put some questions to director Caoimhe Blair.

It’s been twelve years since Stacy was first written and performed. Why is the time right to revive it now?

I read Stacy for the first time about a year and a half ago, and it crawled under my skin and nestled there. Its disturbing and highly complex protagonist constantly popped up in my head when talking to friends about issues usually relating to the #MeToo movement and its lack of spotlighting women without a platform, and women most vulnerable to abuse.

I then came across a copy of Stacy that had the original blurb on it (as my copy was within an anthology) and I was struck by how dated it seemed in comparison to the play text itself. The blurb described the protagonist as finding life ‘confusing’ and spoke of him as being misguided and unlucky. I wasn’t sure if the ‘boys will be boys’ attitude of the blurb was to trick the audience into believing they would be seeing an entirely different, almost jovial show, or if it was sincere and a product of its time (2007).

Either way, it lead me to reread the play, and consider deeply if someone could read that blurb, see the play, and connect the two as being one and the same now in 2019, and putting on a production of it seems the best way to find an answer to that. 

What is your vision of how to present Rob to an audience? Should observers feel engaged with him, repelled, sympathetic, or something else?

I want Rob to cause the audience a headache. He is a wonderfully layered character to explore, full of contradictions, instabilities and deep seated issues and his shocking lack of self awareness can pivot so suddenly into absolute clarity making him one hell of a story teller.

The journey he takes us on is hugely engaging but Rob can be frustratingly erratic when he chooses to tell or drop his story, and what he chooses to tell us. Remembered events sometimes flows out of him easily, and at other times seems to spurt out of him involuntarily and cause him tremendous pain.

The power of Stacy is that it doesn’t necessarily paint Rob as an irredeemable monster, he is so very human and his desperate need to connect to the audience and make us understand him shows at least at some level that he understands what he has done and now has no idea how to come to terms with it.

Rob is defined by his relationship with power, isolation and the sense of entitlement that comes with growing up pretty, and receiving attention and praise with ease as a result, but what makes him dangerous is his recognisability. Rob is disturbed, definitely, but he lives a normal life, has normal issues and fears, and he is in no way a one off case. 

Some productions of the play have chosen to utilise the set to make its own comment on Rob’s state of mind.  Without giving too much away, what should audiences expect on stage at the Etcetera?

In terms of staging, we have kept things very simple for our rendition of Stacy, in order to keep the story as focused and as aware of its surroundings as possible. Our Rob knows that he is in a theatre, and that he is presenting himself and his story to the audience.

As a result, it is an actor, a stool and over 700 cued projections, many of which give faces to the people he speaks of. With such a simple set, Rob is free to fill the space with his stories and he paints pictures of people and places wherever he chooses as he takes us on the harrowing presentation of the previous few days of his life. 

Tell me something about the company putting on this production.  I know you are recent graduates, and I’d like to hear a bit more.

Originally based in the small town of Felixstowe, Suffolk, Inkwell was formed by a trio of theatre makers: Sean Bennett, Ruby Lambert and Keelan Swift-Stalley. The company then began running productions at the University of East Anglia, recruiting fellow student Ned Caderni as a director, and I got involved as an actor having worked with Ned on previous productions. I acted in their 4 star Camden People Theatre’s production of Uncle Vanya and during that time pitched to them my vision for this production.

Several months later, after Ned and I graduated, Inkwell got in touch with me and said they were holding a slot for me to direct and have financially backed me throughout, giving me full creative reign, which has been a fantastic and informative experience.

What is particularly appealing as a director about putting together a one-person show?

A one person show means intense rehearsals. There is absolute focus on one performer which gives us the luxury of working through tiny details and nuances as well as lengthy character discussions. Peter Hardingham is excellent at multi-roling but rather than just finding character quirks we were able to hot seat him as each character and find depth to them, regardless of their importance or amount of time being enacted.

Doing a show that focuses on such a sensitive topic with such a complex, unreliable central character, means that Peter and I have been able to work collaboratively to find the humanity in Rob, and safely test boundaries and interpretations of the text until we settle on a version that fet truest to the both of us.

Finally, how does Stacy fit into the recent climate of #Metoo and gender fluid debating?

I was asked a lot during the audition process if my reasoning behind doing Stacy now in 2019 was because of the #MeToo movement but I feel strongly that that isn’t the case. The widespread accounts of sexual abuse were a surprise to no one that has listened to and believed women over centuries of abuse. The notion that a high profile protects you from power dynamics being abused and used against you has been truly dismantled by the movement, which makes it clear that women who have no media influence are even more vulnerable to harassment and abuse. Stacy puts a spotlight on that.

More often than not, perpetrators are known by and close to the victim, and violent crimes are committed in places that the victims should only associate with comfort and safety. Those that have committed the crime can live their entire lives not believing to have done anything wrong, which is truly terrifying.

By placing the narrative in Rob’s hands, the audience must follow a story affected hugely by his perspective, and battle with the self excusing and unloading of trauma he delivers whilst trying to make himself understood. Forcing an audience to listen to and possibly even relate to a character who explains amongst so many other things that he has violated someone that trusted him, makes it harder to dismiss all rapists as monstrous bogeymen that only exist in shadowy streets, and instead opens up the conversation of consent, assault and the effects of toxic masculinity in our society.

The effects of the #MeToo movement may bring in a more critical and open minded audience, and an audience that sadly, may be less shocked by what unfolds, but Stacy was just as relevant when it was written in 2007, as it is now. 

My thanks to Caoimhe for her detailed and thoughtful answers, and to Ned for facilitating our interview.

You can book tickets for Stacy (which runs until the 10th March) at http://www.etceteratheatre.com/details.php?show_id=2891


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