not a member? click here to sign up
A Winter’s Tale
Joe Jackson talks to Rachel West, director of the debut Irish production of Jon Fosse’s play Winter, currently running at the Project Arts Centre.
Joe Jackson, 10 Feb 2005
Rachel West was only 14 when she saw a production of a play in Germany that made her go “wow!”, and that moment not only led to her later studying German and drama at Trinity, but also to directing the Irish premiere of Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse’s Winter.
Rachel is fascinated by all things European and expresses missionary zeal for Fosse’s work in particular. And even more specifically this play, which is currently running at the Project Arts Centre. It is, incidentally, a “version” of Winter penned by Irish poet/playwright Vincent Woods and based on a translation by Ann Henning Jocelyn. But what’s so great about Jon Fosse?
“He’s quite young, mid-late 40’s, and wrote an awful lot of books and poetry before he started writing for theatre, but when he started writing for theatre he wrote prolifically,” responds Rachel. “He then got discovered – and this made an impression on me – around 2000 and people started doing his plays the length and breadth of France and Germany. But what really hit me was that his work was very different from what was going on in Europe at the time. Back then there were a lot of huge productions, elaborate and complicated and a little bit wanky, I thought. But his work is stripped of all of that, it’s so simple and there is hardly a story there in the traditional sense.”
This Rachel admits makes Fosse’s plays “provocative” for some, though she’s wary of using that word because of its potentially sensationalist connotations. On the contrary, Fosse’s work provokes thought, feeling and discussion at a more subtle and even gentle level.
“This play, for example, doesn’t really tell you that much about the characters; it really just lives from one moment to the next moment,” observes Rachel. “But what I love about it is that it is gentle, honest and very humane in the sense that it is about people and loneliness and communication working or not working. And this is not actually based on the words in the play, it’s based more on the energy, the set up, mood, tone and movement, so actors have to learn more than their lines which forces them to be very, very precise.”
All of which must surely make the play one hell of a challenge for the two actors involved, Gary Murphy and Ann O’Neill, and for the director herself.
“I know Fosse’s work and I’ve seen it work and not work, and I don’t know if I can make it work, but I hope I can,” says Rachel. “But the actors had to struggle to find a completely new way of acting. They can’t act the emotions, the words have to be delivered very cool-ly. But whereas it was in the beginning very exciting for the actors, they then got really pissed off, yet now, as we do notes, we’re talking about at least five different levels they are working on. And learning the text, the script, is just one of them. But we are all converts now so when it all comes to fruition I know we’ll all feel it was worthwhile! I just hope audiences feel the same way!”
Audiences will also be helped in this sense by the fact that Vincent Woods has contributed the programme notes.
“And even in terms of his version of this play, Vincent works with a certain sense of rhythm and repetition, very sparse which is what I wanted in this play,” says Rachel. “When I read the translation I felt there were certain things I wanted brought to the fore and that’s what he’s done. But he’s also providing the programme notes and they, I hope, will help ease people into Winter. Though maybe people should have a drink before the show too!”
Winter is running at the Project Arts Centre, Dublin.