Monday, November 4, 2013

The Question... Ben Power, playwright, A Tender Thing

by Estelle Rosen

Ben Power is a writer and dramaturg. Since 2010 he has been an Associate Director of the National Theatre, London, UK (NT).  Dramaturgy for the NT includes: Earthquakes in London, Greenland, Double Feature, 13, Antigone, The Doctor’s Dilemma, Timon of Athens, This House, The Effect and Strange Interlude.  In 2013, he commissioned and programmed a year of work in the NT’s new temporary theatre, The Shed. His own work in The Shed includes The Hush with Matthew Herbert and an adaptation of Ross Collins’ The Elephantom. From 2006-2010, Mr. Power was the Associate Director of Headlong. Work commissioned and developed includes Lucy Prebble's award-winning ENRON (Chichester/Royal Court/West End/Broadway); King Lear (Young Vic/Liverpool Everyman); Six Characters in Search of an Author (Headlong/Chichester/West End/International Tour); and Stephen Adly Guirgis' The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (Almeida). Other work for the theatre includes: A Tender Thing (RSC); an adaptation of Ibsen’s Emperor and Galilean (National Theatre Olivier); Cinderella (Lyric Hammersmith); dramaturgy on Complicite’s A Disappearing Number (London/New York/International Tour.  Olivier, Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle Awards for Best Play); Faustus (Hampstead/UK tour); and Paradise Lost (Oxford Stage Company/UK tour). Radio includes: A Disappearing Number (BBC Radio 3). TV includes: Screenplays for Richard II (co-adapted with Rupert Goold) and Henry V (BBC/Neal Street). 

CHARPO: When you were commissioned by The Royal Shakespeare Company to craft a new play using Romeo and Juliet as its foundation; what was your reaction; how did you approach this challenge; tell us about your premise.

POWER: The Royal Shakespeare Company and its then Director, Michael Boyd, asked me to consider whether Romeo and Juliet could be transformed into a new play which told the story of a love between two people at the end of their lives, rather than teenagers, and which used Shakespeare’s text to do so. At first I felt understandably daunted! How could this play about young love, be turned into the story of two pensioners?

Then I looked at the text, initially at the scene where Romeo stands over Juliet’s tomb, and I realized that the play is as much about death and the triumph of love over death as it is about anything else and, of course, because of the brilliance of Shakespeare and his poetry, the lines have universal application. So I began to unpick the lines from their original context and stitch together a new play, a kind of remix of Shakespeare’s play.

So we have a new story of a married couple, confronting the truth of their mortality and the possible end of their time together, but using the greatest poetic descriptions of love ever written to express themselves. I hope it acts as both its own thing and a respectful tribute to the brilliance of Shakespeare.

The North American première of A Tender Thing, directed by Peter Hinton, will be presented at the Belfry Theatre  in Victoria, B.C. November 5 to December 8.

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