Award-winning artist and director Graham Eatough returns to the Edinburgh festival with the playful and provocative How To Act.
Performed by Robert Goodale and Jade Ogugua, the play explores the contemporary realities of personal, cultural and economic exploitation by pitting internationally-renowned theatre director Anthony Nicholls (Goodale) against aspiring young actress Promise (Ogugua) in Nicholl’s masterclass seminar.
Following his celebrated production of Alasdair Gray’s Lanark in 2015, Eatough writes and directs this new play, a drama where the confrontation between the two characters leaves audiences questioning who gets to define power and truth.
Following on from the successes of Lanark in 2015, what sort of pressures do you feel in returning to the festival?
How To Act is a very different show to Lanark. In some ways, it’s a conscious response to that and other large-scale projects I’ve done over the past few year. I wanted to develop something on a much smaller scale that allowed me to re-examine some fundamentals of my theatre making.
I’ve been developing this project with the national theatre of Scotland for a few years now and the festival at Summerhall seemed like the perfect context to show it. It started with workshops with various different performers and then a consolidated writing and drafting process from about 2 years ago. And then finally a four-week rehearsal and production period before opening at Summerhall.
Having worked with a variety of media, why did you decide to use theatre, rather than film or another artform?
I wanted to make a fundamentally theatrical show rather than one that involved other art forms such as visual art and film. I’ve done a lot of that recently so it felt great to get back to basics with two actors, very little set, and just rely on the writing and performance.
The play involves the developing relationship between an esteemed director and an aspiring actress addressing the nature of art, ethics and truth. What prompted you to writ about these issues?
The idea came from two different bits of research. One was an ongoing interest in Greek tragedy and what a contemporary drama might look like that drew on some of those principles. The second was an interest in the West’s reliance on natural resources such as oil, which we depend on for our relatively luxurious lifestyle, and our relationship with the countries from which we take these resources. These two ideas coalesced into How To Act.
How far is the character of Antony Nicholl inspired by your own experiences as a director and artist?
Nicholl is probably a bit more of a purist than me, in terms of his methods. I like to work in lots of different contexts and collaborate with people working in different art forms. Also, he’s much more famous than me.
Given the intention to have audiences’ question their understanding of truth, how far is Nicholl intended as an embodiment of the audience’s reaction to the play?
That’s a big question, but you’re right that the show can be seen as the collision of two different versions of the truth. Both characters have their own incompatible idea of what the truth is and in a way, they are both ‘right’. I wanted the audience to see the validity of both these perspectives, and the inevitability of the conflict that aries from them and feel implicated in that conflict in some way.
The play touches on western relationships to other countries, specifically Nigeria. Was there any deliberate effort to appeal to the current international political climate?
I think we (me included) can be inconveniently blind to the realities of how we get to live the lives we lead. The consequences of oil exploitation in Nigeria really have been horrific in many ways even though it has created great wealth for some. And it is this oil, as well as other resources drawn from different places, that drives our society’s very high levels of consumption and relatively affluent lifestyle. So there’s a question the play asks about whether our ability to lead these kinds of lives depend on the poverty and exploitation of others and what our culpability in that process might be.
In discussions with other press, you’ve discussed a plan to tour How to Act. What shape do you see that tour shaping and what else have you got planned for the forseeable future?
Hopefully we get to show the work more generally in Scotland and the rest of the UK, and then there’s the talk of international touring next year. The festival is a great opportunity to showcase the play and generate future interest.
If you get the chance, are you planning on seeing any specific acts at the festival?
I’ve already seen a bit of the Traverse programme, which I’ve really enjoyed. One of the great thing about being on at Summerhall is that you get to see the other work there. It’s such a vibrant venue with some brilliant work.
How To Act will play at Summerhall (Venue 26) from 3rd – 27th August as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. You can purchase tickets here.