“But you’re not on your own so don’t be sad. Cos if you feel real bad then you’re not on your own tonight.”
– Daniel Dempsey
Truthful. Naturalistic. Raw. Funny.
After seeing their new and an absolutely smasher of a show From Eden (runs until December 5th in Theatre Upstairs), I had a great opportunity to sit down for a chat with Stephen Jones and Seána Kerslake.
From Eden is a story of Alan and Eva, who meet each other in a bathroom on a New Year’s Eve party. Both of them have secrets to hide, both of them need each other; somebody to listen, to understand.
Stephen Jones doesn’t only play the part of Alan, he also wrote the play. So, naturally my first question is about what inspired him to write a story like From Eden.
Stephen tells me that it had been a while since he had created his own piece of theatre and the longing for a written word was brewing inside. He also wanted to work with Seána, as they had never worked on a creative project together before.
The original proposal to write a play came from Karl Shiels himself. Knowing Karl and what kind of a space Theatre Upstairs is, Stephen sat down to create a piece that would suite the atmosphere of the homey intimate auditorium.
Being quite limited in both space and time, Jones thad to think of a story that could unravel in the time frame of one hour and would require only two actors. The final hour just before the clock ticked twelve on a New Year’s Eve sounded like an idea worth exploring.
Seána was part of the project from the very start. Even though she didn’t take part in writing the lines as such, she still used her critic eye when it came to discussing ideas and trying out different scenes and dialogues. “Hearing Seána’s voice just saying some of the lines was very helpful”, says Stephen. It’s one thing seeing your work written down and playing it silently in your head, a completely different one when you actually hear the words being pronounced out loud.
Having worked on a number of commercial projects in the last couple of years, Stephen just wanted to create characters who would be close to ordinary people. Somebody the audience can easily relate to and maybe even recognise themselves in.
Both Seána and Stephen are big fans of John Cassavetes films. And just like him, they wanted to create characters who would help the plot to unravel as opposed to the plot unraveling the characters.
Music in general is crucial to Stephen Jones when he writes. So another source of inspiration was found in the namesake song by Hozier. It’s not so much the lyrics of Holzier’s Eden that Stephen wanted to go for but the mood it created.
No idea is a completely new idea, we are constantly taking and borrowing from other artists who we admire and who inspire us. From Eden is filled with references to different songs, films and books. No piece stands lonesomely by itself, it’s just another fish in a huge pond of art.
Those of you, who had already seen the play, might be wondering about the songs playing in the background during the performance. I personally thought that the idea was perfect. The music made the world Alan and Eva were talking about real. There was no doubt the songs were coming from a party downstairs. It also somehow added intimacy to the situation in which our two characters found themselves.
And the music was far from being random. It well suited what was happening on stage at different moments. It started form a very heavy and dark mood and slowly transferred into more cheering and light tunes; while the action on stage presented quite a contrasting picture. The music helped to balance the story and the characters emotional state in a very subconscious way.
Another thing to look forward to in this play is the set. Stephen based the original idea of the stage design on a bathroom that he had seen before but Katie Davenport (the set designer) brought it on a different level. The bathroom in refurbishment beautifully represents the inner state of both characters.
The mirror on the wall also plays a very important part (and not only visually!). It’s symbolic. As Stephen puts it himself “Sometimes we need another person to be our mirror.” So we can see ourselves and understand that we are not alone on this planet, our problems are not unique and there is always somebody out there who will understand and support us.
Building interesting and multi-dimensional characters is what Stephen was trying to achieve while writing the play. No big plots, no mad scenarios filled with surreal twists; just two human beings with their human stories. During the first readings both Stephen and Seána decided that in order for the play to work they had to raise the stakes for their characters so high that the story wouldn’t only be believable, but also logical. It’s easy to make a character leave the stage, but it’s a much more difficult job to make her/him want to stay.
Being a couple in real life, I suppose it’s not that easy to play your first encounter on stage. At the end of the day, of course, it comes down to how convincing of an actor you are.”You don’t see your partner on stage, you just see another actor”, Stephen says. But he also points out that the biggest difference between Alan and Eva and themselves is that the two fictional characters aren’t involved romantically and it’s not a story about love.
One of Stephen’s personal main desires about this project was to be exclusively an actor once they went into rehearsals, and Karl (an actor, writer and director himself) took good care of it. It’s indeed very challenging not to look at your own writing from a writer’s perspective. A play is like a baby. It’s you own creature and feel responsible for it. It takes patience, skills and experience to let somebody else take over and make the decisions. And from Seána’s point of view, Stephen did a great job.
Seána also revealed to me that for her at the very beginning it was very challenging to flesh out her character – Eva, who is a very complicated human being with loads of going on in her life. It’s challenging, indeed, but also very exciting to create such big and deep character. No doubt, anybody who is going to see the play will agree with me that Seána’s has succeeded.
Just like any good script, From Eden is filled with very elaborate dialogue where every word is said for a reason. Apart from carrying the story forward, it’s also an enormous help for the actors. The arch of the story exists because of something that had been said at the beginning as a joke, later comes back as painful revelation. And only great characterisation can deal with such a rollercoaster.
When you are bringing a production; when you are working hard on making one play happen, nothing is more rewarding than welcoming the audience in and see how they react to your work. And especially when their reaction is the one that you hoped for.
From Seána’s point of view, one of the most enjoyable things in bringing this production was getting the tone of the story right and just seeing the whole thing come in together piece by piece. For any actor dedicated to their craft it’s a true gift to be able to embody a certain character and give him/her a strong distinctive voice.
Coming from films and TV, Seána loved the chance of having one of her first plays being produced in such a small and intimate theatre that has an ambiance and an atmosphere of its own.
I can’t help but ask: what happens to Alan and Eva when the lights go down? What is waiting for them out there in the real world? Not every play gives you all the answers, neither should it. It’s a great tactic to leave the audience wondering and wanting to know more.
It’s good to remind ourselves that From Eden is not so much about the fascinating plot but about the characters and their inner stories. Some of the things they said to each other that night, they said them for the first time. And that is what’s important. It’s a story about a chance and perhaps the importance of being in the right place in the right time. No matter how wrong you think it might be.
As for the future projects, Seána Kerslake has been recently in a film called “A date for mad Mary“, directed by Darren Thoronton, that is due to come out next year. With a predominantly female cast, the film is based on a play written by Yasmine Akram.
Stephen is doing a radio play adaptation of Synge’s masterpiece The Playboy of the Western World, where he will take the role of none the less but Christy Mahon himself.
In the meantime, From Eden runs in Theatre Upstairs until December 5th. Do not miss your chance to see this extraordinary performance created and brought to life by some of Ireland’s most talented young actors and writers. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.theatreupstairs.ie/from-eden