Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
Sheffield Telegraph interview
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Writer's block

Interview with Peter Gill, Sheffield Telegraph, 31 May 2002

Writer-director Peter Gill, whose latest play Original Sin is being premiered at the Crucible Theatre as the centrepiece in a month-long festival devoted to the influential man of the theatre, prefers to separate his two responsibilities.

Thus Peter Gill the playwright long ago handed over his work to Peter Gill the director and has no presence in the rehearsal room. There is no scope for last-minute tinkering.

"This is a fairly difficult play to direct with 15 actors and seven scenes and period setting, and all that kind of thing," he says. "My head would go if I started to change things. The whole thing would begin to unravel.

"All plays have flaws, so I tend personally as a director to take on board what has been written. Getting it right interests me, rather than restructuring it.

"A unique British talent is to say, let's do it and get on with it and in that moment you try and achieve perfection.

"I believe if Shakespeare had tried to get the last act of Measure for Measure right he would never have written Hamlet. I would rather have Hamlet than a perfect Measure for Measure."

Original Sin follows the fortunes of Angel, a street boy turned socialite flitting between the extremes of privilege and poverty in 1890s Paris and London.

Plucked from the streets to be playboy of a newspaper magnate, his rapid success is overcome by self-destruction as he is caught up in money grabbing, murder, suicide and white slavery.

It is an all-male version of the Lulu legend, taking inspiration from German dramatist Frank Wedekind's Earth Spirit and Pandora's Box.

Gill says his interest in Wedekind dates back to being assistant director on a former production of Spring Awakening in the days of the Lord Chamberlain when it suffered cuts.

"I discovered how he was influential on Brecht and wrote tragedies of sex," he says. "So he was rattling around in my mind for a long time and I decided to use the story of Pandora's Box and Earth Spirit.

"They are very German in a curious way and not at all like the Pabst film with Louise Brooks. They are longer and more dense and German in the sense of long philosophical discussions. The Lulu plays are not Blue Angel.

"The idea was to take the story and set it in England in the 1890s. I decided I wanted to a play set in a different period, which I did with the York Realist set in the Sixties.

"I wanted to take a more curious look at the Nineties, not at all E M Forster, or nothing about Bosie, no flannels or boating. This is completely unboating.

"It's the double life of the Victorian world that fascinates me - the notion of that side of the Victorian world we don't like to go to," he says, referring to the twilight, decadent world where the very rich mingled with the very poor.

"Of course, one of the most striking things about Original Sin is the absence of female characters in a story whose origins are about a young woman. "If it was about a girl it would be so misogynistic and I would not want to do that," he says.

"There would be something pornographic about using her as an image. If it's about a man they are all slightly more taking part in their own lives.

"It's an old story of the destroyed and the destroyer and with a woman you find yourself asking if they are creator or victim.

"It's the question people have asked about tragic figures such as Judy Garland or Princess Diana or Marilyn Monroe, it's an endless thing. You can go back as far as Clarissa. I just thought, let's not do it like that because it has become dodgy."

  • Original Sin is now previewing at the Crucible and runs until June 21.


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