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David Leddy - Coriolanus Vanishes

Linking Bridget Jones to Theresa May takes quite a leap, but somehow David Leddy has just done it. The Glasgow-based writer and director has been talking about Coriolanus Vanishes, his new solo show presented by Leddy's own Fire Exit company in co-production with the Tron Theatre, Glasgow. In particular he's been talking about people in powerful jobs who are able to present an unflappable public image even through they might be falling apart inside.

“I remember when the first Bridget Jones came out,” says Leddy, “and thinking it was really funny that all these high-functioning people were crying in the toilets. I was twenty-one years old, and presumed that sort of thing didn't happen when you were an adult in jobs like that. All these years later I know that's not true, and I know these things don't just stop, even for someone like Theresa May. I might disagree with what she stands for, but of course Theresa May cries in toilets.”

Whether anyone cries in the toilet in Coriolanus Vanishes remains to be seen, but Leddy's new show explores the fragility of power in ways which are very much in the public eye right now. It also looks at how hand-me-down dysfunction can influence those in power to commit barbarous acts.

“I was really interested in parenting, and how parents can pass their own destructive behaviour onto their children in a way that is a problem,” says Leddy. “That destructiveness then has an effect on the people around them, and if that person is working at a high level in the political or corporate worlds, then that is going to be a real problem.”

Coriolanus Vanishes is an intense look at one man's reflections on how he ended up in a prison cell awaiting trial following the deaths of three people which he may or may not have been responsible for. Over an hour, the man lets rip some of the things going on in his mind as well as the influences of those who might have helped put them there.

“I've written a few things about problematic relationships between parents and children,” says Leddy, “which is perhaps surprising, because my own relationship with my parents has been really good. Maybe that's it. Maybe because my parents did such a good job, seeing people around me who through no fault of their own are dealing with these destructive character traits that they've learnt, maybe that's why I want to write about it. These people aren't children anymore. They're adults, and there comes a point when you have to tell them to take account of their actions. If you're in a relationship with people, at what point do you accept that they're a bit crazy, and that's just how they are, and at one point is their behaviour no longer acceptable and you no longer want them to be part of your life?”

While the play's title references Shakespeare's play in which a mother's influence on her son's war-mongering had fatal consequences, this isn't some kind of post-modern re-boot.

“It's not a re-telling of Coriolanus,” says Leddy. “I've used it as a theatrical metaphor, and it's also a nod to The Commissar Vanishes, which was about how people were airbrushed out of photographs in Stalinist Russia. The starting point for the play for me was the diplomatic relations between countries, the relationship between humanism and militarism, and between nation states and corporations, and how one person's pre-occupations can have an impact on decisions.

“In this way, diplomatic relations can have the air of the playground. You can take two countries such as Britain and Saudi Arabia,, who say they're friends no matter what, even though Saudi Arabia has executed more people than Isis, and that's fascinating. It's like a dysfunctional family, and that psychology doesn't change whatever scale the situation might be. The fact that I can fall out with someone and behave in a certain way, and then on a much greater scale, someone in charge of a corporation can fall out with another corporation and behave in exactly the same way is frightening, especially if they might be mentally imbalanced.”

In this sense, the looming figure of Donald Trump is hard to avoid here, though it wasn't deliberate.

“I was writing it while Donald Trump was in his ascendency,” says Leddy, “and in that way it was hard to avoid noticing what was going on, but with this piece I'm much more interested in what's going on inside this one person's head rather than his external behaviour.”

With Leddy performing Coriolanus Vanishes himself, his production marks his first appearance onstage for twelve years. While initially carving out a niche for himself with solo works, for the last decade Leddy has directed other actors in the likes of Long Live the Little Knife and the site-specific Sub-Rosa.

“When I first started making work in Scotland, I did three solo shows in a row,” Leddy says. “I had no funding, and no friends to fall back on, and doing that drained the joy out of it for me. It was a great relief to work with actors after that. It got to the stage where I wondered if I'd ever perform again, especially as I get older and the memory slows up. I'm 43 now, and I thought if I don't do this now, it might never happen. In another twelve years I'll have even less energy than I have now.”

Beyond this run of Coriolanus Vanishes, if and when it is revived beyond its initial run, Leddy would like to see a woman play the role.

“I've written genderless characters before,” he says. “I read years ago that Ripley in Alien wasn't written as a woman, and only became a woman when Sigourney Weaver was cast, and that really interested me. People feel very different about a woman behaving aggressively than they do to a man. In the case of Coriolanus Vanishes, you have a character who is seriously messed up, who has addiction problems, and probably has an undiagnosed psychological disorder. In my experience, there's a particular type of behaviour that transcends gender. It's in the programme notes that the play's been written to be played by either a man or a woman, and it will be interesting to find out whether that changes things.”

Whatever happens, Coriolanus Vanishes looks set to explore some pretty dark territory.

“In my mind it's a tragedy,” Leddy says, “but people have said there's a lot of suspense in there, and that it's like a page turner. Foe me, there's something very intra-venal about it. It's very intimate, and there's one person in the company who says it's already given them nightmares.”

Despite this, such a serious study of human behaviour has also helped inspire some much needed levity in rehearsals.

“We laugh a lot,” says Leddy, who quotes American film director John Waters. “He said, I'm already happy. I don't need a movie to show me happiness. I want to see other things.”

Coriolanus Vanishes, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, April 14-22.
www.tron.co.uk

The Herald, April 4th 2017


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