Ed Harris, who we’ve spoken to before, has one of his plays opening at Brighton Fringe this weekend, playing at The Warren. We wanted to catch up with him, and find out how he’s been in recent months, and what appealed to him about the Brighton Fringe currently playing to audiences until 2nd June 2013.
Last time we spoke to you, you told us how The Cow Play had had a national tour – what encouraged you to set up camp in Brighton with it for a few days?
It was all very unplanned on my part. I’d done some work with the MA students at East 15 earlier last year, and when it came to their showcase performances, Holly Campbell chose to do a section of The Cow Play. We were having a drink afterwards, and she asked what was happening with it, and I said something like ‘nothing, really – it’s just sitting in a drawer’. She asked how things work with getting rights for plays, and I said she could have it for free on the condition that I could, occasionally, wade into their rehearsals and basically be really annoying – workshop parts, rewrite other parts, and increase their workload. Because The Cow Play was one of the first things I wrote, there were lots of tricks I missed, and lots of beats that were a bit limp or aimless or unclear… or long. Often, long.
Are you a fan of Brighton Fringe? What are your favourite memories of the festival, being Brighton based an all?
The Brighton Fringe is getting bigger and better every year. When I first noticed it, it was maybe about 2004, and – to me – it basically consisted of a kids’ parade where all the schoolkids from all the local schools dressed up as Spongebob Squarepants or sometimes lilies, and got shepherded through the Laines by their teachers. And also lots of street performers, essentially being a bit deliberately ‘wacky’ while people tried to shop around them. But then it started to pick up a few years ago. In recent years, things like New World Order, and some of Dream Think Speak’s pieces, like Underground, have been f**king excellent – and had a point, and a bigger voice. They didn’t feel ‘local’.
Tell us a little bit about The Cow Play…
Being one of the first things I wrote, it took ages to write. It was a hideously, tediously prolonged process. No-one had asked me to write it, it hadn’t been commissioned by anyone, and I didn’t really know how to write a play to be honest, except in that innate way we all know how to spin a story.
I’d been in a bit of a f**ked-up, co-dependant relationship with someone who I loved dearly; but whose own struggle with, essentially, depression, had meant our relationship changed into something where I’d become a kind of carer for her. And then, as time went on, I’d become a kind of negligent, slightly alcoholic carer, who was finding it all incredibly hard – and I couldn’t handle the fact that I couldn’t help or save this woman I loved… and that the single-mindedness of her depression meant I sometimes wanted to kill her. I’ve since heard the term ‘compassion fatigue’ to describe it, but at the time I just thought it was me being inadequate as a person.
The play wrote itself, slowly and fairly painfully, but it was true of my experience. I didn’t want to write a play about depression, because that’s dull. But I wanted to write a play about the ‘carer’ aspect of a relationship, and what happens when it becomes out-of-hand. And instead of depression, I simply chose to make it about someone becoming an animal. The cow had introduced herself… in fact, whenever I tried to write anything else at the time, basically cows would start walking onto the pages and crow-barring themselves into the imagery of the play. So I eventually dumped all these other plays and opened a document and called it The Cow Play and started writing the play about a cow, so that I could get it out of my system and move on with other, lighter, and more cow-free dramas.
Why is this a play that Brighton Fringe Festival-goers should come to see?
Because it’s a fun, punchy, unwanky play that talks about the grotty, nasty underbelly of relationships. It’s about how manipulative people can be – whether they’re the person suffering from something, or whether they’re the one trying to save the bugger. And these aren’t horrid people who are manipulative people because they’re horrid; these are nice people, like you and me, who are manipulative people. It’s about what happens when we lose the ability to laugh at ourselves.
What are you hoping your audience will remember most about the play, and your presence at the festival?
For me, I’d like it to be the play that gets stuck in their minds. Sort of naggingly. Almost annoyingly. That hopefully it was a lot of entertainment, but it begins to raise questions. But also, and on a more practical level, I’d like the audience to be full of casting directors and agents, who remember the cast and the director, and the production team, and the set designer, and everyone else in the companies; all of whom are absolutely brilliant, and who’ve made this happen entirely through their own hard graft, manipulation, fundraising and petty-theft.
Petty-theft is a complete guess. I’ve got no evidence for this.
Have you been seeing much at the festival yourself?
This year, miserably little, I’m afraid. I’m not knocking being busy, but I’ve been so stupidly busy meeting deadlines and jumping from project-to-project, and then more deadlines, that I’ve not seen half of what I wanted.
Very recently, you were awarded the Gold Sony Award for a radio drama, how have you been showing off?
I’ve been showing off like a really happy, spoilt twat. The awards ceremony was a lovely drunken farce, and then the next day was my birthday, so I stumbled back to Brighton and moved from champagne onto cider (thereby ‘keeping it real’, obviously), and then the next day woke up, stalked begrudgingly back to my desk, and got back to work.
What are your movements after the festival?
Well, I’ve got a radio play called Billions coming out in mid-June – a sort of dystopian black comedy. And I’m currently writing another radio play, which is a kind of modern fairytale for adults about a tattoo artist who finds pixies living in her skirting boards, and starts killing them for their ‘ink’. For stage I’m doing a couple of things – a big, lively, pacey, slightly-physical comedy called Joy Frog Home Dead about a man packing up his parents house after their deaths – obviously, a traditionally fertile ground to find your ho ho ho’s… And also, very excitingly, for me, I’m writing for Theatre Centre, a play for kids about violence and witnessing violence, called What the Thunder Said. A psychologist and I ran workshops and interviewed a couple of hundred young kids in inner-city areas about their experiences – it was amazing and very funny at points, and heartbreaking and horribly upsetting at other points. And now I’m turning all that research into a play for 6 to 11 year olds. F*ck!