In 2017 I was commissioned to write a play for the graduating acting students of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA), working with director Kirstie Davis. It was an intriguing invitation: What kind of performance text could I write which showcased eight young actors, but which avoided the entrenched hierarchies of ‘principal’ and ‘supporting’ actors? What kind of script would enable parity of time on stage for a large cast, while also showcasing individual talent?
The answer came through Arthur Schnitzler’s Reigen, more widely known as La Ronde, a controversial play written in 1897 critiquing sexual mores and class ideology through a ‘round dance’ of encounters between eight figures from all sections of society. Banned in its time and not produced until 1920 in Berlin, the play has continued to be a useful vehicle for generations of theatre makers to explore the moralities and sexual/social issues of their age.
My version borrows heavily from the dramaturgy of the original – this ‘daisy chain’ of encounters – but I was interested in more diverse interactions other than the solely sexual exchanges, as in Schnitzler’s work. Although some of the figures’ status at times deliberately echoes those in La Ronde, the content, references, exchanges, settings and outcomes are completely different and original.
This production for Intercultural Theatre Institute is an exploration of the connections and degrees of separation between individuals in post-truth, contemporary urban life. What lies do we tell each other – and ourselves – in order to survive in an increasingly ‘throw-away’ consumerist society? How do we package ourselves to be attractive both to the work market and potential partners? What are the evolving ‘rules’ of sexual encounter in a ‘swipe right’ culture?
We wanted this text to have resonance for the ITI 2019 cohort – it was important they had ownership of the content, the explorations of relationships and dynamics, and that the script reflected a city they recognised. With this in mind, we began a revision of the text weeks before rehearsals began, via skype, setting the actors research tasks which stimulated me while also informing me of the politics, attitudes and practice in Singapore of everything from online ‘influencers’ to funeral rites, migrant workers to gay marriage. When director Phillip Zarrilli and I arrived in Singapore and began our intensive rehearsals, we invited the actors’ involvement in adjusting the language of the text and its specific cultural references, so it would be familiar and recognisable to them as contemporary Singapore.
But this is not meant to be a snapshot of Singapore – what this exercise has revealed, and whatSchnitzler’s original shows, is the ever-changing, multi-layered nature of our cities and the shape-shifting nature of the self. A city is experienced through many lenses, situations, and personal, economic and political perspectives – it is folly to try and encapsulate ‘all’. But I hope we have caught something of the present, captured a sense of the precarious times we inhabit, and the challenging future our young people face.
I am indebted to the actors for their knowledge, generosity and enthusiasm during this exhilarating adaptation process, grateful to the excellent company and crew and the always surprising, ever-steady guidance of our director. It is a privilege and delight to work in Singapore, especially with the unique and essential ITI, who I have been fortunate to be associated with as part of their international faculty (intercultural dramaturgy) for many years. Long may you continue! Good luck to the graduating cohort as they take on the world!
Lie With Me
Presented by Intercultural Theatre Institute
In Collaboration with Esplanade — Theatres on the Bay
Written by Kaite O’Reilly
Directed by Phillip Zarrilli
Performed by ITI’s 2019 graduating cohort
What are the evolving ‘rules’ of sexual encounters in a ‘swipe right’ culture?
What lies do we tell each other and ourselves in order to survive in an increasingly ‘throw-away’ consumerist society?
How do we form genuine relationships in this post-truth unstable world?
ITI presents the Asian premiere of Lie With Me, led by the award-winning team of playwright Kaite O’Reilly (“a writer to cherish” – The Guardian; “thought-provoking and entertaining” – The Stage) and director Phillip Zarrilli (“masterful artistry” – Disability Arts Online; “intellectual audacity coupled with sophisticated storytelling” – Wales Arts Review).
Performed by the international cast of ITI’s graduating cohort, Lie With Me takes a clear-eyed look at contemporary urban life in Singapore, through glimpses into the lives of eight young people trying to find their way in the world.
Performances will be live-captioned.