Yes yes, you heard of Gatz, but this is Hemingway. Booze, romance and a lot of losing and finding oneself later, John Collins tells us if the earth moved.
You did F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, and for the last of your trilogy you chose Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. What made you choose this book?
We chose Hemingway intuitively and associatively to the others we’d done. This novel was the one that seemed to sit most comfortably with the actors for some reason, in our experimenting it’s what sounded most like them. Apart from choosing him naturally as the obvious choice next to the other two, I think we were also reacting against those two shows. In a formal way I was ready to be done with reading a lot of third person or first person narration. The Sun Also Rises has a lot of dialogue, the story is told beautifully through it. But it turned out to be the most challenging thing we took on– more than Gatz! Hemingway sets up the dialogue in this frame of prose – so what we did is replace all of that, the digressions, the descriptions, with the theatrical frame.
How do you work on something like this?
We give ourselves a lot of time which means there’s space for mistakes, and we’re ok with that. Transforming something like this into a theatrical rhythm is something that takes time and then it takes distance. Even now we’re whittling it down and making adjustments before we come to Dublin, and the show has been running for two years!
You clearly share the American obsession with ‘The Lost Generation.’ It’s a moment and movement that is so loaded with images, references, objects, places, lists that capture inaccurately or accurately its style. How did you distil that visually for the show? Give me an image!
Gosh – So, Book Three of the novel there’s a point towards the end when the narrator Jake has gone through an insane trip to Spain with this group of friends where there’s been chaos and confusion, emotional pain and people mistreating each other. In both the play and in the book all of this climaxes in a bullfight, watching this amazing bullfighter. So there’s a theatrical climax for us there as well, where we literally tear our set apart, turning tables into bulls, with a matador – some intense drama and absurdity. But the image that I have is of Mike Iveson, who is the narrator, sitting down in the middle of the stage after all of that has washed over him, describing swimming in the ocean. And some of it comes together for me right there.
I read an Andrew O’Hagan review in the LRB recently where he talks about Hemingway’s exhausting and endless shopping list of booze. How did you deal with that when you came across it in The Sun Also Rises?
Well it’s funny some of the reviews that I’ve read really focus on how much alcohol there is on stage. Some of it is real but you’ll never know which ones. It seems as though the stage is covered with glasses and bottles and people are constantly drinking and you know, we decided we just would have them drink whenever Hemingway would have them drink. And it’s a lot!
In 2006 Gatz put you guys in the spotlight, even non-theatre people would’ve heard of the show. What has it been like since then?
It was great to be able to bring that to so many places, and become known by so many people. But it was also confusing to have so many people know you for just one thing, and to then follow that up with a couple of similar projects. People I know will say to me “Oh I’ve seen all three of your shows” as though we only have three, when in fact we’ve been working since 1991, and been making very different pieces. So sometimes I feel we have to dig out of this impression that this is the only thing we do.
Elevator Repair Service’s work generally originates from and relies on ensemble work. What was the process in creating The Select?
Each time we come together to make a piece at the very beginning, that group is the ensemble – whether they have years of experience or none. It’s a way of starting with a group of people and letting them be the primary defining element of the piece – not the text, the people. They’re the filter everything we work on has to pass through. The chaos that comes from choosing a group of people first, and then seeing what they do to the material that you choose, that’s theatre to me.
(The Select) The Sun Also Rises runs at the O’Reilly Theatre from the 27th September. Tickets available here.
Words: Roisin Agnew