22 November 2010

"It really is worth a watch": Me and Robert McKee

After taking the director’s helm of the nationwide hit comedy sensation Le Sud, Conrad Newport returned to Circa to direct the new Greg McGee play, Me and Robert McKee. He tells drama on the waterfront all about McGee’s newest play, which is “very witty as well as delivering a punch to the gut.”

DOTW: What is the general story of Me and Robert McKee?

CN: This is a story of two mates who have known each other since childhood. One is a successful banker – or Equity Entrepreneur as he calls himself – the other is a writer who survives as a teacher of a Writing Course at some un-named tertiary institution. Neither is enjoying a happy marriage to their un-seen wives. When an opportunity arrives to create a film script and attract some serious money they both readily agree – for very different reasons.

Christopher Brougham in Me and Robert McKee. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
DOTW: What was it about this play that made you want to direct it?

CN: It’s a beautifully realised script that satisfyingly explores the characters of a couple of New Zealand males. Both are identifiable to theatre goers as we’ve all met people like Mac and Billy and this script really gets to the guts of what makes them both tick. Surprisingly, that doesn’t always happen in contemporary NZ theatre writing. Greg really does know how to get under the skin of the male psyche. It’s very witty as well as delivering a punch to the gut.

The fact that it toys with our concepts of reality intrigued me as well. That things aren’t always what they seem is a major theme in the script and Greg has a lot of fun with this – he keeps us guessing. There are also enough twists in the plot to keep the story interesting so that we genuinely care about what happens to both of these men.

DOTW: Greg McGee is renowned for his first play, Foreskin’s Lament, an iconic New Zealand work; how does Me and Robert McGee compare/differ?

CN: When that play exploded onto our stage 30 years ago it was a major event. It was a very important statement about us as NZ’ers through male eyes. It had never been said so potently and provocatively before. Me And Robert McKee has the benefit of 30 years writing experience and Greg leaves no turn unstoned as he relishes mocking the very craft he has made a living at.  It is in many ways a subtler piece than Foreskin’s Lament though Greg hasn’t lost any of his anger or his insightful commentary on the NZ male.

Paul McLaughlin in Me and Robert McKee. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
DOTW: What can you tell us about the cast?

CN: I had never worked with either Chris or Paul before, though of course I had seen and enjoyed their work on stage and film. I had an instinct (an important Director’s tool) that they would be good for this play and I wasn’t wrong. These two deliver such incredibly strong performances and everybody has been commenting how much they enjoyed them both in their roles. It really is worth a watch.

DOTW: Were there any particular challenges in directing this play?

CN: Because it’s never been done before, every new play comes with a built-in degree of difficulty. Even before you start working on how to do things, you have to spend a lot of rehearsal time trying to figure out what the author is getting at – especially in a dense, multi layered piece as this one. Luckily we had the chance to have Greg in the rehearsal room and ask questions of him which proved invaluable. He talked - we listened, and vice versa, so there was some important re-writing going on. It’s a real privilege for this to occur.

DOTW: Finally, what should audiences know about Me and Robert McKee?

CN: It all sounds very serious and worthy on paper but it is actually a very funny play. The opening night audience – and others subsequently – was roaring with laughter at all the witty lines and the clever references so if you want to experience an intelligent new New Zealand play by one of its best writers then take a punt and have a go.

Photo by Stephen A'Court.
Me and Robert McKee is on in Circa Two until December 4. Book your tickets by calling the Circa Box Office at 801-7992 or going online at www.circa.co.nz.

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