Author Interview: Patrick Marmion

Aurora Metro has published two playtexts by Patrick: The Divided Laing and Keith? Or Moliere Rewired.

Tell us a bit about yourself? Where were you born? Grow up? What job do you do now? Before?

I was born in Liverpool, the East End of Dublin, to parents who’d emigrated from Belfast in the 1960s because career prospects for Catholic doctors were limited. But I grew up in Bristol which I regard as home even though I went to school in Yorkshire and university in Edinburgh.

How did you get into theatre?

I remember my mother saying we were going to the Hippodrome in Bristol to see something. It could have been a pantomime, but I think it was Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado. Anyway I was dead against it and had to be talked into it. All I remember of it is that somehow I knew another world was possible and I started staging shows with my siblings for my grandmother and other family victims using a wardrobe as the wings. I did some acting at school and a lot of acting and directing at university before trying to make a living by being a theatre critic. The idea of making money as a theatre critic I now know to be quite funny, but not as funny as trying to make money as a playwright. Many are called but few are foolish enough to carry on.

What is the name of your latest play and what inspired it?

Keith? is my latest play. I wanted to write a straight comedy and I wanted it to be about how mad the world seems to have become. I’m sure people didn’t used to hate each other as much as they seem to now. Most of us thought that multiculturalism and gender politics and liberal democracy and all the rest of it was an emancipatory project, but it seems to have mutated into a kind of mutual assured loathing. It has lost touch with its emancipatory roots and turned into a form of discipline. But I didn’t want Keith? to be didactic. It was an attempt to break the shackles of this po-faced moralism that we appear to be immersed in so that we could see our social arrangements for what they are: transitory (no pun intended). In this Kafkaesque world everyone is guilty until proven innocent.

What’s the first hook that gets a new play started for you? Is it an image, a theme, a character?

This question always frightens me perhaps because I don’t know the answer and I think you’re supposed to know. I can only call it an urge to explore something. With Keith I wanted just to get something out and – hilariously – at the time of writing it last year Moliere seemed to be a bit neglected so I thought I’d plagiarise and hybridise his plots for the Misanthrope and Tartuffe. With Tartuffe I was particularly interested in the Deus Ex Machina device where an agent of the King saves the day. People now think of this as an embarrassing attempt to cover up the fact that Moliere wasn’t sure how to end the play. I think it’s the core meaning of the play: that ideology is a form of magical thinking and the same is as true for monarchism as it is for liberal democracy and its hand maiden political correctness.

Tell us about your lead characters?

Keith is the shape-shifting maverick spawn of Dionysus masquerading as a former South African gunrunner turned Buddhist monk. As in Euripides’s Bacchae he’s come down to Earth to remind us we not in charge of our destiny however much we might like to think we are. The people he picks on are a start up millionaire Morgan who thinks he’s had a heart attack and his ex-wife who’s an Emeritus Professor of Misanthropy at the London School of Economics. Their millennial daughter Roxy is a doctor for Medecins Sans Frontiers and she puts the cat among the pigeons when she threatens to marry a Young British Muslim she met in Syria who her mother suspects of being a jihadist. And just for good measure there’s an extreme right-wing Brazilian cleaner.

What else have you written? Is this play a departure from your other work?

Two of my previous plays The Divided Laing and Great Apes have focused on psychiatry. The first was about the radical Scottish psychiatrist RD Laing and Will Self’s Great Apes is about an artist who has a breakdown and is under the psychotic delusion that he’s a human being in a world of chimpanzees. What interests me most is altered consciousness and other dimensions. The one we find ourselves in seems very unsatisfactory and flawed. On the face of it, Keith is a departure as a straight comedy, but it’s also very surreal and, I hope, is a radical displacement of the vexatious illusion we take for normality.

Why a play? Rather than fiction.

I love writing for actors to say and do things they would never get away with in public.

How do you write? Do you have a special place or routine?

I tend to binge write. Not in the sense of escaping to Fair Isle and becoming a hermit but in the sense of being mentally absorbed by an idea over a period of up to about six months or something splurging it out and hacking it back, or scaling it up from a sentence to a paragraph to a page and evolving that into scenes and acts. I find I write best when I trick myself into thinking I’m not really writing at all. Just planning. But not writing is as important as writing – forgetting what you’ve been doing so you can judge and edit it later.

What were you like at school? Were you good at English?

I wasn’t as naughty as I wanted to be but I was a bit naughty. I was better at History than English but OK at both which always mystified me because I always found reading hard. I think I’m a bit dyslexic or have some attention deficit. God knows. All excuses perhaps. Unless a book completely grips me with its story or its ideas I find it hard to read. I prefer speaking and performing which is also why I like writing for actors.

What are you working on now?

I’ve been immersed in Keith? but what I really want to do next is write a domestic apocalypse about the photographer Lee Miller being taken to hell by the Hungarian Nazi Prime Minister Laszlo Bardossy whose execution she photographed in 1946. I am also hoping to get stuck into a possibly verbatim account of the Mad Pride movement started by Mental Health Service Users at the end of the 1990s.

What are you reading now?

The Vulture by Gill Scott Heron I think it would make an amazing jazz musical although one that I’d like to produce not write. And I’m itching to get onto Slavoj Zizek’s new book Like A Thief In Broad Daylight. I’ve read a lot of his books and I’m delighted to say I’m still trying to work them out. What I love about him is that he’s always trying to get his head round the ways we are all parasitised by ideology and how he looks for a way out.

What is your favourite play of all time?

Not sure I have one. I love so many and am just as often disappointed by them in performance. All the usual stuff otherwise. The Baccahae. The Oresteia. Hamlet. Steven Berkoff’s Greek. Sarah Kane’s Blasted (to read). And anything by Anthony Neilson. Plus Robert Lepage and Simon McBurney who are more performers than writers.

Who are some current playwrights you follow and think should get more attention?

None really, although I can think of quite a few who should get less attention.

What advice would you give to aspiring playwrights?

Figure out how you work. Get connected. Don’t give up.