Back in 2017, The Court's Associate Director, Dan Bain, fell in love with The Arsonists and knew he had to direct this blazing drama. During rehearsals for the show, Bain sat down to discuss what made him want to programme this play and his personal connection to this story of loss and love.
What appealed to you about The Arsonists?
Let me read this quote from the first page - this is the playwright's dedication and it says: "This is a love letter to my father. He is not dead. It’s a shame that some folks hold off ‘til somebody dies to say how much they mean to ‘em. I’m gonna go ahead and do it now."
I found that really beautiful and was already intrigued before I went into it. Then I went into it and found it was really specific: father and daughter, the dad is dead through the show - no spoilers, that's the start! - so it's kind of a long goodbye. It's a coming to terms with things; it's the ability to say things that you wish you said... Personally, my dad died four or five years ago now and so I found it really resonant. That wishing for things that got left unsaid.
So many plays and drama are built on conflict. This is a play, for me, that I see as being built on love. That's the thing that initially drew me to it. Plus, the coolness of the fact that they're a father and daughter who burn down buildings for insurance money! That's their job and I liked that - and the setting. It's really evocative, set in a cabin in a Florida swamp.
I also really liked the musical aspect. My family is quite musical like the characters in this play. They're not musicians, but they're musical; they play and sing together, so it taps into this real Southern American bluegrass tradition, with really great blues songs.
The other thing it does that I am really excited about is it starts off very literal and then slowly becomes more and more poetic and evocative and less literal as it progresses. It's got a real poetry to it, which is not the centre of my wheelhouse. I usually work on more grounded, realistic work, so I really responded to the imagination of it and the trust it places in an audience to go with them on the piece.
I read this not long after it was written, in 2017, and it just sat in the back of my head. I wasn't able to programme it that year, but I thought 'that's definitely on my list' and it worked well for this season.
...I've also got a great cast, so that's why I'm excited about it. That's ALL the reasons I'm excited about it!
Why is this production a good fit for The Forge?
Firstly, for its scale: it's intimate. It's a musical, but if it was miked and if their instruments were plugged in, it would ruin it. It has to be small. It has to be acoustic and feel like two people in a cabin playing songs for each other. It's also very contemporary, which is another great fit for being The Forge, and, as I said, it kind of moves from this very grounded kind of realism and pulls itself apart, becoming more ephemeral and figurative. I think that's a thing theatre does really well, but would probably be lost on our mainstage. It would be very easy to just fall into confusion. The immediacy of the smaller space will really help this.
Who do you think will enjoy this play?
It's a play about loss. It's a play about coming to terms with loss or almost a wish fulfilment of that. So, I think it speaks strongly to that. I also think if you enjoy insight into unusual occupations - which I certainly do - you will enjoy it. I love a peek at an underbelly.
Also, If you love that kind of music, both my performers are really strong musically.
I think it will be beautiful if you appreciate the theatre's ability to capture beauty.
What’s the link between The Arsonists and Greek mythology?
It draws on a bunch of Greek myth stuff... Particularly the ideas of the three fates, who spin your life, weave your life and then snip it off.
Spin, weave, cut. Which kind of runs parallel to the play, but in this, rather than metaphorical thread, we have fuses for lighting fires. What is life, what are the component pieces of it, and how does that map onto both the world of being an arsonist and that mythic quality the Greek Myth influence gives it.
It's the blurring between those two worlds that start pulling the story out into this more poetic, abstract thing - and that's where it becomes bigger than the specifics of its detail.
What kind of music can audiences expect?
The music's all live. The actors accompany themselves, which I love. I love watching actors having to play instruments and accompany themselves - I love a surprise. Like, oh, you can play the guitar! I think that's great. The songs are all traditional, bluegrass, American-South folk songs, arranged for intermediate guitar players. Both Roy and Monique are beautiful singers and I'm really confident they will have a performative richness.
I didn't know any of the songs, but having listened to them all, I thought 'these are cool'. What playwright Jacqueline Goldfinger has done is found already existent songs - really old ones - where the lyrical content says something about the moment in the play. It's not a musical - they're not singing their feelings - it's an expression of their relationship and their shared history. It's about playing songs together.
What do you think the core message of this production is?
I think, at the guts of it, it's about 'say what you need to say to people before it's too late'. That's what it is.
The Arsonists runs at The Forge at The Court Theatre from 17 August - 7 September. You can learn more & book tickets here.