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GHOST ABOUT THE HOUSE by Matthew Campling King’s Head Theatre 7 – 30 June 2018

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A hilarious, sexy, haunting gay comedy!  

 

Interview with playwright and counsellor/psychotherapist, Matthew Campling

 

LPT magazine: Thrilled to see you’re back in a pub theatre so soon with your latest play GHOST ABOUT THE HOUSE.  How many plays have you had performed and how do you start the process?

Matthew Campling: ‘Ghost’ will be my 11th performed play.  But then I started many years ago … my first was in 1980, in Johannesburg, South Africa, where I lived for 20 years.  I then had another 4 performed in SA between 1881 and 1985, and two in London (Blind Faith, 1987 and Sweetest Gift, 1995).  I then took a long break while I developed a career as a counsellor/psychotherapist, magazine agony uncle and media spokesperson on men’s health and eating disorder recovery.  

I’m one of the playwrights who’s constantly bringing together an idea or two into a play.  I write many more plays than I then take on to performance (the unproduced plays are always good writing experiences).  So at the moment, while we are pulling together the production for Ghost I’m also sending other plays out, and making development notes for three others.

We’re used to seeing gay plays featuring relationships between men but your recent plays have focused on bi-sexual relationships.  How important is this to you?

It really just happened that my plays Abominations (2016) and The English Heart (2017) featured bisexual men.  When you are working with small casts having bisexuality is a way of introducing interesting elements.  In terms of importance, I think bisexuality is a factor of sexuality that is never exhaustively examined.  We find pockets of artistic life – the Bloomsburys are the most obvious example – where there was a flowing of sexuality.  That’s really interesting when I think a lot of people like to identify themselves as one or the other.  But then we have a polysexual community, and people who have sex with their own sex but don’t want to identify (eg MWHSWM – Men Who Have Sex With Men).   In Ghost there are no bisexual men, rather these are all gay men and their sexuality is not an issue in the play.  The issue is to do with working out which man they want to be with – if they can swing it!

We enjoyed your last play THE ENGLISH HEART (Etcetera Theatre June 2017) for its hilarious dramatic irony.  Where will the humour lie in GHOST ABOUT THE HOUSE?

I’m glad you enjoyed that – I wrote the play as the Referendum was unfolding and it required some fast rewriting when Theresa May sprang that sudden general election.  I’ve often taken a dramatic situation – bisexuality/political situation – and brought in the comedy.  ‘Ghost About the House is a straight-forward gay comedy in that in the modern-day scenes the Ghost is haunting the house owned by Alex and Edward – and the two men don’t realise that the problems in their relationship come from the interference of the ghost.  But the audience will see the ghost (in underpants) whizzing round the stage, causing mischief.

In the 1936 scenes, same actors playing different but time-connected, characters, I wanted to write light fluffy English period comedy.  Noel Coward/Terence Rattigan.  I slipped in Lady Millicent, fragrant and blooming – while in the 2016 scenes the same actress plays Nita, the manic yummy-mummy.  So there are different comedic strains – the farce of the Ghost, the period wit, and the fast-shifting modern relationships.  There’s less political comment here – I think we’ve all had enough lecturing about Brexit – I wanted to write a fast-paced, innocent comedy that would just be entertaining and diverting to watch.

In the 1936 scenes, same actors playing different but time-connected, characters, I wanted to write light fluffy English period comedy.  Noel Coward/Terence Rattigan.  I slipped in Lady Millicent, fragrant and blooming – while in the 2016 scenes the same actress plays Nita, the manic yummy-mummy.  So there are different comedic strains – the farce of the Ghost, the period wit, and the fast-shifting modern relationships.  There’s less political comment here – I think we’ve all had enough lecturing about Brexit – I wanted to write a fast-paced, innocent comedy that would just be entertaining and diverting to watch.

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 I’m very pleased to be working with Scott, and it’s reassuring to have people constantly say oh Scott’s VERY good!

 

 

... the two men don’t realise that the problems in their relationship come from the interference of the ghost.  But the audience will see the ghost (in underpants) whizzing round the stage, causing mischief.

Whilst the play is part farce, a joyous romp with many characters

set in two time periods. is there a deeper point that you are expressing?

The deeper point is always about relationships between people.  Take the character of Alex/Henry.  In the 2016 scenes he’s Edward’s partner.  Edward has introduced a new lover – Lenny – and Alex suffers, but holds on.  In the 1936 scenes the same actor is Henry – Henry is also suffering because Lady Millicent keeps rebuffing his protestations of love because he’s too young.  So that’s saying something about how the causes of suffering are never simple.

Overall the deeper point is just that I thought it would be interesting to focus on two time periods – 1936 with the approach of WW2, and 2016 with the approaching Referendum – because they are both periods where we as human beings on the little stage are affected by what’s going on on the bigger global stage.

Considering you have directed your own work in the past, just how pleased are you to have experienced director Scott Le Crass on board?  

Of my 11 plays I’ve directed 5 so 6 have been directed by others.  I’m very pleased to be working with Scott, and it’s reassuring to have people constantly say oh Scott’s VERY good!  I have worked with different kinds of directors.  One director wouldn’t change one word of what was only a first draft, she loved it so much (The Good Woman of Sandton/Johannesburg and Grahamstown Festival, 1985).  That was a big hit so she was vindicated in her refusal to include additional dialogue.  I once worked with an assistant director who, the day he had the cast to himself, re-directed all the scenes.  The actors were confused and the assistant director had to go!  Mainly when one as a writer works with a director you need someone who brings a fresh eye but who will also respect how many different tiny moments have gone into the play.  A director who just slashes a scene might save time but like trampling weeds underfoot, perfectly charming plants /moments will also be crushed.  Scott and I have already developed a nice flow, with both giving our thoughts and neither trying to take over.  I’ve experienced a director who wanted to take over and it felt like it was much more to do with their sense of insecurity rather than it being good for the production.  Scott let me read with the actors.  A treat  I haven’t had for a while - I have worked professionally as an actor.

What are you particularly looking for in casting the play?

Bite and energy with the words and situations.  I find sometimes actors audition by reading the lines rather than putting character into them.  But when you get the person who invariably gets the part, they speak the lines the way I’ve heard them spoken, and the page comes to three-dimensional life.

We’re also looking for actors who want to be part of a process and a company.  There’s so much angst swirling around, I’m always on the lookout for actors who are supportive rather than critical.  An actor who, from their insecurity usually, is always in a black mood can really bring down the fun of the rehearsal and performance period.  Since there’s not a lot of money in pub theatre, the whole experience needs to be as nurturing and pleasant as possible

Do you find that your work as psychotherapist helps you in developing character?    

Even before I dreamed of being a therapist, my plays were always concerned with personal relationships.  If I’m writing about an issue its always from the personal.  In developing characters I ‘audition’ different types.  Given the small number of actors one tends to use, each character needs to express as much as possible.  So the widest personality baseline is required.  And there I reference people I have encountered in life – yes, that was their motivation/would it work for this character?

For example, when I wrote The English Heart it needed a tall, handsome, charismatic man who was bisexual (so the married couple next door could both fall in love with him/be seduced by him).  I ‘auditioned’ various personality traits he should have and realised that for the character to work he needed to be vulnerable, not Superman.  I love the concept of ‘layering’ – I like to layer-in aspects of character that are based on the 20 years I spent as a therapist.

In developing the characters of Edward and Eddie in Ghost About the House, because it’s a comedy I focused on their outward behaviour.  Both characters are after something, yet both are also aware of other people in the play, even if they are trying to deceive them, or fall in love with them.  But Edward/Eddie, unlike say the therapist in my last play, The Secondary Victim, is not someone you would recognise on the street.  They belong to the world of comedy.  So the satisfaction for me is creating a character who functions in comedy and who is human enough to be satisfying to an audience, while also appreciating that I would not use this character in a psychological drama.

Finally, what do you most love about bringing work to pub theatres?

Since I’m someone who flows creatively – even when  I go on holiday I suddenly have to write down a new scene, or the outline of a new play – having fringe/pub theatres to bring these plays to fulfils my on-going creative process.  Ghost About the House is the fourth play written by me that I’ve produced for a London pub/Off West End theatre in the last two years.  What I love most is the feeling that an audience – a collection of separate individuals – is responding to a play that was written by an individual.  Years ago, a highly successful life coach said to me ‘It’s important in one’s work that you have the conversations you love having’.  At the time I was in a job I hated, and I certainly didn’t like talking about the job.  But a couple of weeks ago Scott and I were talking about the play and I suddenly thought ‘I’m loving this conversation’ – and I remembered what I was told nearly 30 years ago – and thought ‘Ah – this is what he was talking about:  I’m having the conversation I love’.

 

 

CamplingHicks Productions presents

GHOST ABOUT THE HOUSE

Written by Matthew Campling

Directed by Scott le Crass

King’s Head Theatre 7 – 30 June 2018

 

Box Office

 

Set in the same grand Islington house, in 1936 and 2016. In 1936, approaching WW2, Ian, the young master, is in love with the butler, Leonard. Eddie, a handsome friend of the family, seduces Ian but also woos fragrant Lady Millicent. Henry, Millicent's jealous and too young suiter, plays a desperate hand.

 

In 2016 Ian has become the ghost, haunting the lives and splitting the relationship of new owners Edward and Alex. Edward introduces into the mix Lenny, a young man he's picked up. The mischievous ghost perceives a great likeness between Lenny and his long gone love, the butler. Nita, Alex's sister, is a manic yummy mummy adding her own anarchy. Meanwhile, the dreaded Referendum looms.

 

Five actors play two time connected roles. A sizzling comedy of ghostly interference and impossible modern relationships with sidelong glances at our political uncertainty.

 

 

 

In the 1936 scenes, same actors playing different but time-connected, characters, I wanted to write light fluffy English period comedy.  Noel Coward/Terence Rattigan.  I slipped in Lady Millicent, fragrant and blooming – while in the 2016 scenes the same actress plays Nita, the manic yummy-mummy.

Image from left to right

Scott Le Crass (director)

Joe Wiltshire Smith

Timothy Blore

Sioned Jones

Joshua Glenister

Matt Gibbs

Matthew Campling (writer/producer)