Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fringe Talk: Nick Lee

Nick Lee, author of 'Luca and the Sunshine'
If you’re a geek like me, sometimes you can see a show in the listings that can excite you not only by the concept of the play but also by those involved in the production of it.Pineapple earlier this year is a good example, a show which starred amongst a terrific cast the charming Nick Lee. Delightfully surprised I was to hear that Lee had written a play in ABSOLUT Fringe – Luca and the Sunshine – and further thrilled was I to hear that Matt Torney (Plaza SuiteThe Walworth Farce) was directing and John Cronin (The End of the RoadThe Sit) was performing. Lee talked to me about the play and the story of friendship, weather, and skype that brought it together.

What initially excited me when I saw Luca in the programme was the creative team attached. Yourself, Matt Torney, John Cronin, Lara Hickey. Could you talk about how that whole team came together?
Basically, Matt and I are old friends from youth theatre years ago and we met up in Trinity College together. We’ve always wanted to work together but never quite hit it. And we ended up starting at the Abbey on the same day. He was the resident Assistant Director there and I did my first play there, Three Sisters, and he was working on it. So, by complete fluke we ended up working together, making faces across the room at each other, it was good fun.
Because we were in the same country at the same time – Matt had gone off to do a Masters in Columbia in New York and I was living in London – we decided that it was a good opportunity to do something together. And I had written a couple of short stories and sorta tinkered out a few plays. I did the Royal Court Young Writers Programme. But they were quite these domestic dramas sorta plays I had seen growing up but wasn’t actually that interested in seeing now and not that interested in developing. So I had written two plays like that because I thought it was kinda expected of me and whatever. And the short stories I was more interested in. They had a magical realism.
John Cronin in 'Luca and the Sunshine'
Matt was interested in the short stories and seemed to think that he could stage one of them, which I thought was ludicrous because of the kind of things that went on in them. We decided that the challenge was that I would rewrite Luca if Matt would stage it at Project Brand New in 2008. We decided to get John. I had seen him in a couple of things and Matt had just seen him in a play in Cork. So we approached him and asked him if he would be interested and he got onboard, and incredibly, in two weeks, learnt this … at the time it was about a thirty minute monologue. He performed it for Project Brand New and they did all this work together, and ironically I never got to see it because it was on while Three Sisters was on. I sort of ran over afterwards. People were really up for it and people just really responded to it. Colin Murphy very kindly wrote about it in the Sunday Tribune. So we kinda felt that we really should do something with it.
So, we met with Cian O’Brien who works with Rough Magic, and Cian very wisely suggested we do it in the Fringe. And then Lara, I met Lara around at shows and stuff and eventually just said “would you like to produce this thing, I hear you’re the go-to person (laughs) for young writers and young production companies”. And she immediately said yes. And then we went looking for a composer because I felt, Lucabeing a monologue, it’s not entirely vogue and if you’re going to do something that’s a one-person show it has to be a really interesting angle. Like with Man of Valour there’s hardly any words, it’s so physically incredible. And the honesty of The Year of Magical Wanking. I was looking at Luca and was wondering what made it an interesting one-person show. And I wanted to challenge the ‘one-personess’ of it and I wanted to give the other character in it a little bit of voice: Mia, Luca’s love interest if you will. So the cello sort of represents that. We were certainly working with that idea to begin with. That might change, it might become other things as we go. Matt went looking. He had a musician friend that recommended Lioba Petrie. So that’s the team in the room: Matt, Lioba and John.
Lioba Petrie in 'Luca and the Sunshine'
One thing I was interested in from reading the copy is who is Luca? What has him down?
One of my favourite contemporary plays is The Pillowman. I’ve never seen it. Matt and I actually did a rehearsed reading of it a couple of years ago in Belfast. I was really interested in that transformative experience where something happens onstage because a character says it does and believes that to happen. Then, there was also the idea of fairytales and fables. I was always interested in them when I was younger. Lucacame about one summer. It was 2006. I was doing The Year of the Hiker with Druid at the Gaiety and I was writing this short story as I went. I just remember it being really really hot and people complaining about the heat, and I was like “I’d much rather swelter than be freezing cold”. And the idea for Luca came about just then.
'Luca and the Sunshine' by Nick Lee at ABSOLUT Fringe 2011
Luca is at school, he’s nineteen, he’s unhappy with most of the things in his life and he lives in a small town where he’s very much on the edge of things. He’s not getting on well in school, he has to go to these counselling sessions every week to deal with this cloud that hangs over his head literally and metaphorically. He has rapports with certain people, like this girl Mia. And he basically decides one night “that’s it, something needs to be done”. In fury he says a prayer, not that he has any particular God, he prays to whoever’s out there for sun and wakes up the next day and the sun start to shines.
I had to laugh when I read that when John went out to New York to work with Matt they had to endure the earthquake and the hurricane. It sounded like all the elements had converged in perhaps a similar way to in the story.
It’s incredible. And now it’s really sunny and we’re all together. It’s very strange. There’s this line in Luca at the very start where he’s reading the newspaper and he says they’re thinking of building another arc, one for each race and creed. This is weather we’ve never seen the like of before.
So, I heard it was a very unusual rehearsal process. How did they manage the literal degrees of separation?
It was all about practicality really. Over the three years since Project Brand New I go back to Luca every couple of months and I’d read it and something new would come along. Early in the summer Matt was back directing for Rough Magic on Plaza Suite, and while he was rehearsing that John and I and Matt would work. That was more of a development period. Then the last couple of weeks have been a little bit about John and Matt developing a stage language to tell the story: “are we physicalizing everything or are we telling the story? When is Luca a narrator and when is he a participant”? That was when they were in New York. And then the skype stuff has been mostly about amalgamating or finding out what the music is. Certainly for myself and Matt it’s been about finding out about how the music talks to the piece, so that the music isn’t just incidental or telling the same story twice. So that it’s actually a feeling. You’re musicalizing a feeling maybe that Luca has or doesn’t want to feel and that makes him speak and say something. So there’s real drama going on between the music and the text. And as well as that Lioba was composing so she needed to hear John speak and respond to it. So, the skype sessions have been mostly about that.
Working on 'Luca and the Sunshine' via skype
Do you think the group of ye will work again?
Absolutely hope so, yeah. I think so. I’ve been kinda racking my brain for a new play (laughs). I definitely think we will. I think we’ll see what it is and how it comes about. I’ve had a brilliant time working with Lara. Like, Lara is just such a good producer. And it just made me realise that all of this is possible. Even if it was a case of doing a play I hadn’t written, maybe we could do that either. But it’s certainly given me the confidence to go “there’s no reason for me to just be an actor. I could do more than that whether it’s writing or developing work”. Who knows? Watch this space.
Luca & the Sunshine by Nick Lee at ABSOLUT Fringe 2011
 Luca and the Sunshine runs Sept 14-18 at Smock Alley Theatre

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