Preview: The Bald Prima Donna

As I walk into the room where I am meeting Matt Robinson, it strikes me how quiet an individual he seems to be, he sits in a daze, not even noticing when I stand next to him, extending my hand in greeting. Eventually it is all sorted out and he remembers what he was supposed to be doing here and is warm and gracious. As he should be, being only a second-year student and having never directed anything in Durham before.

He has this habit of copying my movements: he carries a pad of paper and pen with him and whenever I write he also writes. It is rather strange and rather extraordinary how he manages to predict what you are going to do. But I am here to interview him about his first play and also on the number of theatre companies springing up in Durham.

When wanting to put on a play in Durham the trend seems to be that you start your own theatre company rather than going to one of the more established companies. Why do you think that is the case? And why did you decide to set up a new company?

I think funding is a big issue, it is very difficult to sell your idea to a company when you have nothing to prove your abilities, therefore any first time directors in Durham will struggle to find the backing they need. That is not to say all the companies in Durham are stifling the talents of incoming directors; indeed many of the college theatre companies encourage it. But you have to know the right people and really it is just easier to set up your own company, and fun of course, incredibly fun.

I decided to set up my own theatre company on the spur of the moment. I had been reading a lot of plays and suddenly decided that I would actually would like to see them on stage, so I thought I would produce them.

Your company is called ‘A Tree in a Teacup’; this seems a peculiar name.

It is rather. It was the hardest thing to do, deciding upon a name. But I like tea and I doodle trees when I am bored, and the two sort of came together in one almighty, slightly absurd, mish-mash of a name.

So you are a regular drinker from teacups?

Well… yes… but I don’t really see what that has got to do with anything. Are we not supposed to be discussing plays?

Yes we are, but don’t interrupt… you really are quite dreadful at this interview lark.

How did you come to pick The Bald Prima Donna as your first production? And can you tell me a bit more about it?

I was always a fan of Monty Python, you see.

There is a pause. It is getting rather awkward, frankly. Should I ask another question? Was that his answer?

Could you elaborate?

Oh, I’m sorry. We rather drifted off there didn’t we, we thought too much about the next question and forgot to answer the last one.

I was always a fan of Monty Python and the absurdity in a normal setting that Monty Python shows. The Bald Prima Donna is set in the living room of, what we suppose, is the home of a normal couple called Smith. They are having another couple round to dinner and a firechief also pops round and there is a maid. The problem is that the visiting couple forget that they are married to one another, the firechief has no fires to put out and the maid actually knows what is going on. You see, everyone seems to have lost their grip on reality but wants to carry on regardless. Thus the play is born, as it were.

Do you have a particular idea or philosophy about acting?

I believe actors should concentrate on reacting, and acting should be spontaneous, it should never seem rehearsed. But apart from that I like to see what the actors bring to a scene before I direct them; I do not think I know it all and so am always open to suggestions.

Do you have a particular philosophy on interviewing?

I am supposed to be asking the questions, not you.

Did you know the cocktatoos of Cockaigne have cock-eyed cockscombs?

No, but I am supposed to asking the questions.

Would you like me to tell you the story?

No.

It is a good one, and it’s in the play.

I still don’t want to hear it.

Well what else do you want to know?

Well, nothing really, I think we can wrap it up here.

I think we lost it towards the end.

The Bald Prima Donna is showing at St John’s College Chapel on the 6th, 7th and 8th of December, and may even be weirder than this interview. Tickets are available at http://www.dur.ac.uk/dst/show.php?show=879.

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