Max Elton and Matthew Blaney talk Not Now
Finborough Theatre 1 – 26 November.
In advance of David Ireland’s Not Now opening at Finborough Theatre in November, we chatted with Director Max Elton and actor Matthew Blaney about the play, playwright and bringing the show to London audiences.
What can you tell us about the show.
Max: The show is about a young man, Matthew, who is about to travel to London for an audition at RADA. The timing is not good, his father has just died, and in his place, his Uncle Ray emerges as confidant. The question is, is Ray able to help him navigate this difficult time, or is he a bit useless? David Ireland writes two types of plays. In one type babies are brutally murdered and dogs are romanced. This is the other type – though I think giving away anything more at this stage would be a bit of a spoiler and we wouldn’t be caught dead doing that. I think people will laugh a lot and feel like they’ve been treated to a deeply satisfying evening at the theatre – all in about 50 minutes.
Matthew: The play takes place in real time, in Ballybeen, East Belfast, where my character Matthew (an aspiring actor) prepares for his RADA audition that afternoon in London. It’s the day after his father’s funeral. He’s rehearsing the opening soliloquy from Richard III when his Uncle Ray interrupts him. Matthew is naturally feeling underprepared and is having second thoughts about going at all, and what unfolds is an examination on grief, identity, loyalty and love between the two men. It’s also feckin hilarious.
Ballybeen is where David’s from originally and listening to interviews he’s done in the past, and discussions in rehearsal, Matthew feels alot like how he may have been as a youngster; Matthew’s a very sweet kid: angry and awkward, but also very sincere. There’s a decency that slowly reveals itself in him I also find very touching.
Max, you directed the very successful Yes So I Said Yes at Finborough last year, what was your first exposure to David Ireland and what made you want to direct his plays?
Before Yes So I Said Yes, I’d directed The End of Hope at Soho Theatre which was a lovely show. I had come across it after seeing Cyprus Avenue at the Royal Court Upstairs. My response to David’s writing was completely different to anything else I’d ever seen. His characters get pissed off about the same sort of things that I get angry about. I don’t come from Northern Ireland and I don’t share the same history as many of David’s characters but on some level I strongly identify with them.
He’s the best! I’m delighted he’s known now in London and that his work has travelled successfully. He was writing for the Lyric Theatre in Belfast when I was taking classes at the Drama Studio nearly ten years ago. I was hooked right away – I distinctly remember Can’t Forget About You was a breath of fresh air.
David Ireland has previously said that he thinks he is only ever writing for a Belfast audience but his work clearly has wider resonance and success. In London, Not Now will be his third play at Finborough and the Royal Court staged Cyprus Avenue to great success. What do you think is behind his success?
Max: David’s flair and insight are on a different level to the vast majority of playwrights working today. He’s a one off and that quality resonates with people, wherever they’re from.
Matthew: He doesn’t shy away from the darkness. Certainly with Cyprus Avenue. I think audiences everywhere crave a safe space to be challenged, and seeing the horrors we are capable of doing to each other. Not Now is a quieter piece, but the anger is similar.
Did you know each other before coming together for Not Now, had you crossed paths socially or worked together previously?
Max: They had not but I was aware of both Matthew and Stephen. I’m thrilled to be working with both of them.
Matthew: Unfortunately not. Stephen’s brilliant to watch and learn from, and I’m excited for audiences to see what he’ll bring to Uncle Ray.
How has the first week of rehearsals gone, are you discovering anything new about the text or characters now that you are together in the room?
Max: Rehearsals have been very exciting. Reading Not Now only gives you a glimpse of the iceberg with regards to its depth. We’re several feet under sea level now.
Matthew: It stops being funny very quickly! For us I mean – the jokes are class but it’s all coming from a painful place. You’ve got to really go there a little to find the truth behind the words, which Max has been encouraging us to do. By the time we get it up and running, the audiences should be reminding us we’re in a comedy again.
Matthew, as a Northern Irish actor and given some of the plays themes of identity, how does it feel to bring this to London? Is there a little extra joy or satisfaction in taking on a role where you are playing a Northern Irish character in a play by a Northern Irish playwright?
I think it’d be difficult to tackle this without the lived experience, which David obviously has. I’m excited for people’s response to the play. The identity question is clearly a frustrating one (as the text explores) which hit me hard personally at Drama School. I’m delighted to bring some of that into my performance, and for audiences to see the complexities unfold in a very immediate and intimate way.
Many of our ET team list The Finborough as one of our favourite London venues, tell us a little about working with the team? Max, we believe this is your third production here, you must enjoy working with Finborough?
Max: I think Neil (McPherson – Artistic Director, Finborough Theatre) is brave enough to program work that other Artistic Directors shy away from. It is heartening to know that Neil prioritises excellent writing above all other factors when programming the space.
Matthew: Everyone’s been fantastic. I’m very chuffed to be a part of the team, and to get onto the stage pronto.
Max, originally you were due to bring back Yes So I Said Yes after its successful run last year but some scheduling issues got in the way. Was there a sudden ‘oh s**t’ moment when you realised you won’t be able to go ahead?
There are many good days working in theatre and those of us able to do it should consider ourselves very lucky but the bad days can be really very miserable. That said, out of the ashes has come the opportunity to work on a play that I loved the first time I read it so the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will have to wait until at least the new year.
Tell us what you each have coming up after Not Now finishes?
Max: I’m directing a version of The Government Inspector by Nikolai Gogol at St Mary’s University, which I’m very excited about. Gogol characters can be truly repulsive but there’s something very clear and true about the way they act that I find very funny.
Beyond this I’ll be returning to my day job of repeatedly emailing Artistic Directors and Producers to assure them that I do indeed “hope they’re well” and am available for coffee at 1 hours notice.
Matthew: I’m going to be doing a few nights at The Hope Theatre next year in January with a new play called The Best Pints by Jack Gallagher. He’s also a brilliant writer from back home and that’ll be nice to kick start the new year for sure.
You can follow Not Now Play on Twitter. Our thanks to Max and Matt for taking the time to talk to us. Our thanks also to 19th Street Productions and credit to Lidia Crisafulli for the rehearsal photos.
Not Now plays at Finborough Theatre from 1 November to 26 November. Tickets and further information can be found here.