Director and adaptor of When You Pass Over My Tomb Daniel Goldman tells us about this exciting and unusual English language debut of Sergio Blanco‘s play, opening next week at Arcola Theatre.
What is When You Pass Over My Tomb about?
When you pass over my tomb tells the story of a Franco-Uruguayan playwright who decides to end his life at an assisted suicide clinic in Geneva. As he travels to the clinic for the first time, he picks up a newspaper and sees a headline about Khaled, a young Iranian necrophiliac who has been interned at Bethlem Hospital in London. In that moment, he decides to explore the possibility of giving his body to Khaled, and writing one final play about doing so.
This is the third of Sergio Blanco’s plays you have worked on, what is it that appeals to you about his writing?
This is actually my fifth translation of a Sergio Blanco play but only the third production so far with a couple more coming soon. In terms of appeal, it’s very simple. I believe him to be one of the world’s most exciting playwrights. His plays are deeply intelligent, funny, and moving. He is a brilliant craftsman – his plays are perfectly engineered. The more I work on them, the more layers they reveal. They are also unashamedly intellectual – which I love about them. They delight in their cleverness and cultural richness and invite us to elevate our senses. Finally, he writes in such an open way that the audience get to decide what is true and what isn’t, what they believe is happening and what is fantasy. I love that. With Thebes Land, the audience could decide if they were watching actual scenes between Sergio and Martin… or rehearsals of those scenes performed by Sergio and Freddie. In the Rage of Narcissus, the question was what was in Sergio’s head and what wasn’t, and who was writing the play. And in this play, the question is whether Khaled and Dr Godwin are inventions of Sergio’s or real flesh and bone human being. The fact that it doesn’t matter which version is true – because the story is so moving – is half the fun.
How does directing meta theatre differ from other forms of theatre?
In terms of directing meta theatre* as opposed to any other form, there’s actually very little difference. Even if the play folds in on itself and blurs the boundary between the actors, characters and audience, my job is exactly the same – I have to help the cast find the truth in every moment, and keep all the various levels of play, meta, and reality in play. For example, sometimes we realise that there are, say, three or four different possible realities in which the scene exists and the key is to keep all of them open, rather than choose the one we like the best, and then find a truth that supports all those versions and allows the actors to play the scene truthfully. Obviously, one difference with meta theatre is the way the audience experience the play, and this play knows that and has fun with it. *Sergio would say he writes autofictions, rather than meta theatre, and in terms of autofiction, he describes it as combining facts from his real life with facts he makes up. Of course… a made up fact isn’t a “fact”… and so the fun begins.
Who’s in your team and how are rehearsals going?
We have a great cast and team on this show. Allel Nedjari is playing Sergio, Danny Scheinmann is playing Dr Godwin and Charlie MacGechan is playing Khaled. They’re all very different kinds of actor and it’s been a joy to see them bring completely different qualities to their characters. Charlie is all brooding physicality in one of his roles and puppyish enthusiasm in the other. Danny is the beating heart of the play and bring incredible warmth and storytelling skills to his two characters. And Allel is a wonderfully intelligent and sophisticated centre of the play as himself and Sergio. In terms of the team, I’m working with Richard Williamson again on lighting and video design. Argentine artist Male Arcucci who was the assistant designer on Thebes Land is designing set and costumes. Hugh Sheehan joins as sound designer and he’s doing amazing things already. Alex Jaouen, our Stage Manager is brilliant beyond his years. And Anglo-Chilean director Francesca Murray-Fuentes, our associate director, is the best support ever and her insights have been invaluable and you can see her influence all through the play.
What’s next for you?
What’s next? I’ve just become a dad to beautiful daughter, and being away rehearsing full time has been a lot for all of us! So firstly, home. Work-wise, I have a play I’ve written about the UK’s slaughterhouse industry on at Guildford School of Acting. I’m meant to be writing a play for the National Theatre so I should get back to that. I should work on the second draft of a feature length action film that I’m writing… basically, being at home and lots of writing… and maybe, just maybe, performing another Sergio Blanco text myself at Edinburgh Fringe…
When You Pass Over My Tomb is at Arcola Theatre 7 February – 2 March 2024, more info and tickets here