All rights whatsoever in this play are strictly reserved and application for performance etc. No performance may be given unless a licence has been obtained. Max and Alan are goofing around their flat, sorting laundry, making tea, and watching highlights of the Gulf War on telly. Max is passing his time less than fruitfully as he seethes over the breakdown of a relationship, while Alan is primarily concerned with keeping his teddy bears in order. When their old mate Tadge enters. Tadge has been to war, but has escaped.
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Hardcore playwright Anthony Neilson is back with another dark drama. He talks to Dominic Cavendish. Nasty things tend to happen in the plays of Anthony Neilson.
Nasty, shocking, violent things. Not off-stage somewhere, reported back to you, but right in front of your eyes. His CV reads like a catalogue of abuse: a woman struggles and screams as she's first strangled then battered to death by a serial killer with a hammer Normal, ; a disturbed Gulf war veteran holds a man at knifepoint and threatens him with anal rape Penetrator, ; a squatting woman gratifies a porn-film censor by defecating on the floor The Censor, ; a young couple writhes about in a furious sexual frenzy , the woman confessing to wicked thoughts: "I'd like us to abduct a child and fuck it and burn it and kill it.
We could be like the next Moors Murderers" Stitching, No two ways about it, Neilson is one of British theatre's hardcore extremists, a serial offender. Being a natural-born maverick, however, he also ensures you never quite know what he's going to throw at you next.
The Lying Kind, his first Royal Court commission two years ago, was a black comedy spun round the inability of two kind-hearted coppers to tell an elderly couple of their daughter's demise in a car crash. It was intended to make people laugh. Not everyone did, mind: some critics even seemed nonplussed to the point of outrage to find Neilson in a holiday humour. What should we expect, then, from The Wonderful World of Dissocia, Neilson's latest project, which arrives at Edinburgh's International Festival in September, after opening at the Tron in Glasgow this week?
Something taboo-breaking and headline-grabbing, perhaps, or a less unpleasant surprise? As a Scot raised in Edinburgh, Neilson, now 37, will inevitably carry some small weight of national expectation on his shoulders but, judging by past form, it's clear that, in matters of artistic freedom, he bows to no one. It transpires that, barely a week before the first preview, the script for Dissocia is only finally beginning to come together, and its author and director is reluctant to give too much away about its exact content, beyond the fact that it concerns a woman who goes off in search of a lost hour of her life.
In some ways it's as dark as anything I've ever done, but in its own kind of way. I don't think anyone would be shocked by it, but I'm not the best judge of that. Neilson — thoughtful and talkative — explains that all his best plays have been produced on the hoof with actors working under the pressure of imminent performance. With Dissocia, he's pushed the technique to the point where "it's about as intense as it could be", devising the play only after extensive cast improvisations — or "group-dreaming", as he calls it — during rehearsals.
The reason for this, he explains, is that he's striving to "look at mental illness in a more lateral, subjective way than we're used to. What the piece is trying to illuminate is why people who are mentally ill find it difficult to take their medication, but it's not aiming at depicting a particular mental state. Instead, the play will move in the same way the mind does, through association. Producing something so freeform is a risky business, he admits.
Working round the clock has left him "half-dead. Right now, I think I must be insane to work in this way. Inspired by reading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and watching The Wizard of Oz, Dissocia will run in a far more comical, absurdist vein than most of his other work. But Neilson warns that "it's not for kids", and the connection with past work is easily inferred. The uninhibited and downright deranged behaviour to be found in his most extreme plays suggests a preoccupation with our troubled modern psyches.
Mental ill-health is something the burly controversialist has had "a lot of involvement with. I don't suffer from any clinical condition," he says, "but I've had some strange episodes in my life and people close to me have been ill. The son of theatre director Sandy Neilson and actress Beth Robens, the playwright has in the past alluded to the straitened circumstances of his childhood — "I remember bailiffs and the constant threat of eviction [and] my mother having nervous breakdowns" — but insists: "It'd be wrong to explain my interest entirely through that.
If you've grown up in that situation, you don't have the same reaction to mental illness as other people do — you actually find it quite normal. So you don't run away from it. I feel it's a serious issue that we cannot talk about enough. We need to go much further because I think it touches most people in one way or another.
Though for some reason more media attention came the way of the other enfants terrible of the mid-'90s — Sarah Kane and Mark Ravenhill — Neilson seems only slightly piqued that he continues to be bracketed as "promising".
He ploughs his own furrow, uninterested in mainstream recognition, and proudly affirms that his uncompromising, brutalist approach wasn't just a phase. He's pretty sure that there will be a return to the more overtly visceral, "in-yer-face" brand of theatre for which he's notorious, when he goes on to undertake his first play for the National next year. The crux of the matter is: do we not want to create things that are memorable?
I disagreed with the way Sarah Kane wrote, but we both felt a frustration that theatre was giving people a cerebral experience, rather than a visceral or emotional one. I still stand by that tactic because of what it opens up in the audience.
It scrambles up the intellectual response. It's much more interesting if they think, 'I'm uncomfortable with this but I want to know why. With this, I want people to experience something first and then talk about it afterwards. Terms and Conditions. Style Book.
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Hardcore playwright Anthony Neilson is back with another dark drama. He talks to Dominic Cavendish. Nasty things tend to happen in the plays of Anthony Neilson. Nasty, shocking, violent things. Not off-stage somewhere, reported back to you, but right in front of your eyes.
Edinburgh reports: 'I want to disturb people'
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