Here’s a good antidote to all that saccharine, pressurising Valentines rubbish that the media will be no doubt subjecting you to this week: a show about real love, and what it all means. We put some questions to Ramin Grey, acclaimed director of Actors Touring Company, who are bringing ‘Illusions’ to Pushkin House this week, and to Shoreditch Town Hall later this month.
CM: What is ‘Illusions’ all about?
RG: Very simply, Love. There’s a perennial existential question as to the purpose of life, and if and how we may be able to find some sort of permanence in this enormous shifting universe, and Vanya Viripaev’s play proposes that the only thing that can give life its meaning and value might be love.
CM: Can you tell us something about the playwright?
RG: He’s the nearest to what I’d call a Dostoyevskian Holy Fool, a man who has lived and suffered and yes, caused suffering too, but who has gleaned some insight along the way. He’s also a film-maker, actor, director and he now runs a small but very prestigious theatre in Moscow called Praktika. He was born in the far eastern Siberian city of Irkutsk and is now on his third marriage.
CM: What made you choose to stage this particular play?
RG: It’s rare to come across a play that deals so concentratedly and so purely on a theme that resonates with all of humanity. It’s formally very radical in that it doesn’t use a lot of the conventional means of theatre, and yet it goes right to the heart of the act of theatre by using our most basic currency, stories.
CM: What sort of challenges did it present from a directing perspective?
RG: Well, the actors don’t ever really ‘become’ the characters in the narrative, so in one sense they are much more naked and vulnerable than in a ‘normal’ play because they have to be present as themselves as they share the story with us.
CM: This isn’t the first time you’ve staged this. Has your production changed at all since its last outing?
RG: Oh yes, it has changed hugely as we have brought in two new cast members – Amanda Drew and Ony Uhiara – and they bring a new perspective on the themes. The wonderful Caz Liske (who also translated) and who sings a heartbreaking Russian song is still with us, as is Laurence Mitchell.
CM: Do you have plans to stage the play again, beyond the upcoming tour?
RG: At Actors Touring Company we like to keep our productions alive, and we are always ready to bring the work out as long as there seems to be a demand and an interest from audiences.
CM: Can you tell us a bit about ATC? What’s next for the company?
RG: The company has traditionally been focused on exploring the wilder shores of the repertoire, with a great interest in contemporary international work. This summer we will premiere a new play by David Greig which I can’t tell you about yet, but suffice to say it will cause quite a stir, so watch this space. We are also actively scouring the world for great new plays to introduce to audiences here.
Illusions is on at Pushkin House on 11 Feb, and at Shoreditch Town Hall from 20-23 Feb, also calling at Brighton, Enfield and Oxford this month.
Photo: Idil Sukan