Laura is an obsessively doting mother with a teenage son. Her friend Frank, a gay playwright with a failing career, is suffering from a terrible wasting illness. When Laura’s son returns home from abroad Frank’s appearance at the family’s celebrations sparks a tragic train of events that will haunt the friends forever.
Will Frank confess to what really happened that day, or will he stay silent and try to profit from the family’s misfortune? And, can the lives of those effected ever be revived?
A modern day ghost story and sharp tragi-comedy Mouth to Mouth follows the fate of a group of friends haunted by the past.
Tell us a bit about Mouth To Mouth. The story, the themes, the characters.
This time last year we staged the Irish premiere of Breathing Corpses by Laura Wade. This year we stage another acerbic and dark comedy, Mouth to Mouth by multi-award winning British playwright Kevin Elyot (author of My Night With Reg, The Day I Stood Still and Forty Winks, all for the Royal Court.
Crooked House tends to make work from terse, comic texts with strong narratives and richly drawn characters. Mouth to Mouth is a modern ghost story, set among the middle class literati of London, and seen from the point-of-view of Frank, a gay playwright who wonders if he can write about the tragic events in his friends’ lives to revive his flagging career in the theatre. One of his friends is an obsessively doting mother, Laura, whose son Philip, Frank has saved from drowning. The story revolves around a horrific event that occurs at the homecoming party for young Philip, one year ago, and from which none of the characters have been able to recover.
It is a timely exploration of lust masquerading as love; multiple betrayals; and the morality of generating art from the personal tragedies of friends.
It’s written by Kevin Elyot, whose other work has also focused around diversity issues like those in Mouth to Mouth. Do you think these elements will challenge Irish audiences?
No, I don’t think the elements will ‘challenge’ an audience particularly. But they will surely engage them – as they are pertinent and complex. No issue is presented in a black and white, fundamentally judgemental way. The play invites us to consider many perspectives when looking at a single issue. Irish audiences are well used to this.
Considering the fact that the arts are almost always the first to be cut in government spending cuts, how do you think the arts are faring out in the current economic climate?
There’s been a huge campaign by theatre artists in particular to draw attention to the economic relevance and importance of the arts, and that’s succeeded to some extent, with the national Campaign for the Arts. People now think of the arts as an economically viable sector. In recent times too there has also been a focus on the healing potential of the arts and on theatre having a ‘healthy impact’ on people. So I think that the public don’t any longer see theatre as exclusively a middle-class activity for entertainment purposes only. Despite this, the amount of money government can invest in the arts will be limited in this climate. I think we should not be looking at how little money we get but we could spend more examining what exactly is funded with this small pot. Is it spent on the creation of say a wonderful show like Freefall, by artists like Corn Exchange? Or is it being spent on paying administration – for example – the salaries of the local authorities’ arts officers, sub-art officers, arts specialists, arts advisers and category arts officers? What can an artist do with the €10,000 that a venue spends on watering the plants (this is what one regional arts centre I know spends on the maintenance of potted plants inside and outside the venue)? There is possibly enough money for the arts in actual fact, but not if we spend it on non-artistic work and endeavour. Unfortunately, the artists are not usually the ones writing the applications for funding, nor are they the ones networking the channels of administration that keep the funding going towards non-artistic activity. They are usually too busy, How is it possible, for example, for a theatre company to pay two full-time salaried positions in admin (let’s say a Company Manager and an Admin Assistant) for a number of years, and at the same time to pay actors for only four to six weeks in one year? Okay, I know that marketing and publicity and development are all important, but think of the work that might be produced if we adopted a more Eastern European approach and employed six actors full time and two admin people for six weeks only.
Aside from my rant there, I think that the impact of the recession has been (for us in Crooked House, at least) that there are now more young artists with more time on their hands looking for a place they can work. We have a space, called The Liffey Studio, which is used a lot by young theatre makers in their twenties. They haven’t got enough money to emigrate; they can’t get any work; and they have a desire to be creative or they’ll go mad. So they’ve been experimenting, making, developing and performing plays, projects, films and texts in our space for the last 18 months. I don’t think this would have happened two years ago. It’s a good development because it keeps these young actors, director and writers connected to the sector and will, I hope, help to replenish the sector.
Tell us a little bit more about what you do at Kildare Youth Theatre and Crooked House – you focus a lot on getting young people involved in theatre.
Yes, we do a lot of work with young people. We have Kildare Youth Theatre, a Community Theatre project, there’s a Glee Club, and we provide lots of other training and incentives as well including a theatre director’s course. We also work extensively in an Outreach capacity with local communities affected by suicide. Theatre is used to develop life-enhancing skills with young people in particular. I believe, for example, that a young person who is engaged in a good theatre experience is having a life-saving experience: for me, theatre saves lives. And I see this in so many different levels with the work we do.
Mouth To Mouth runs in Project Arts Centre from 23rd August to September 4th
Words: Anna Hayes