Last week John Fitzpatrick and I met up in Yum Chaa (brilliant place for tea lovers) in Soho, and had a chat about his show ‘This Much [Or an Act of Violence Against The Institution of Marriage]’ on at The Edinburgh Fringe in August, amongst many other things such as the commodification of relationships, privilege, equality, all sorts.
You can listen to our 20 minute ramble on Sound Cloud here: https://soundcloud.com/amie-taylor/john-interview
Or read a shortened version of the transcript below.
AT: Hi John, thanks for talking to us today. So tell us, first of all, the name of the show you’ve written and we’ll take it from there.
JF: Okay, the name of the show is ‘This Much’ or ‘An Act of Violence towards the Institution of Marriage.’ It’s about a guy called Gar and he is in a very stable relationship, but then he meets someone else in the corner shop while trying to choose a pack of biscuits. And it starts to challenge his sense of self and his identity, so he starts to have an affair. He can’t decide between the stable relationship or this new person, which is exciting and so it just ends up causing havoc in everyones lives and brings out the worst in everybody. So he realises that the identity that he has, has stopped him being the person he wants to be, so he has to do something drastic in order to become himself. Which he does, and that continues to cause havoc. So I suppose, he wants to be himself, but what’s stopping him is everything, so he tries to give up everything, and then he has nothing.
AT: Wow. So where did the seed of that idea come from?
JF: The seed of that idea came from having a deadline to write a play. And I didn’t know what to write, the only thing that was enjoyable was trying to remember back as far as I could and writing everything I could remember since I was born. So I wrote pages and pages…
AT: From your life?
JF: Yes, literally going ‘Okay, what’s my first memory? Great, what’s next?’ And having a look at what was standing out. And that created this block of text, and then within that I was thinking about relationships and how people affect each other in relationships. There had been this incident in a gay bar in Dublin years ago, which my boyfriend at the time had witnessed, where a guy came in and stabbed his boyfriend and I was thinking ‘What do you do to someone you love to make them hate you that much?’ So I started writing these scenes, working towards that. And then it developed and I took out the dramatic ending because it didn’t need it. And I took out all of the memory stuff because it had infiltrated the scenes, but it didn’t need to be there anymore. And what was left was a very subtle relationship. The feeling that if your identity is forged through fear, about gender and about sexuality, you end up being an adult with an identity that you’re not very happy with, because it’s not your true instinct. And relationships are like someone mirroring yourself back to you in a way, and when what you see doesn’t make you happy, you go – what the fuck’s wrong with me? So it’s about someone trying to escape that trap and be themselves. And express that instinct that was quite pure as a child but has got suppressed through masculinity and sexual norms.
AT: Is that a key theme for the show, how we adhere to sexual norms?
JF: It’s taken the starting point of equal marriage, looking at the idea of assimilation of that. I’m not sure where I stand on the whole thing. It’s quite personal. I think the most important thing is that I can say about equal marriage is that it’s important to have it because it’s a civil rights issue.
JF: The next thing, is in Ireland, where there’s a vote about it, it’s important people voted ‘Yes’ , even though they shouldn’t have been allowed to, because it’s not up to me to tell you whether you have civil rights or not, we’re equal citizens surely? But the important thing is that two to one the country came out with acceptance and said, we accept you. So that, I think goes a long way to healing hundreds of years of criminalisation and shame and oppression. So reverting back to your question, the play is not really about sex. Like, there is a scene where people get their cock out, but it is in the most non-sexual way and I’m quite proud of that, I’m just like no, for me this show is about the emancipation of the individual, so the process of this play – the emancipation of each character is that they get their cock out and they put on a dress.
JF: So that’s the disarming process of all the baggage of masculinity. It’s going look at me naked, there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
AT; And I think there is something powerful in that isn’t there?
JF: It’s not selling it as sexual…
AT: And that’s kind of the problem in our society isn’t it? There are so many issues, like even down to the breastfeeding thing, everything’s been sexualised and naked bodies have become only a sexual thing, which actually…
JF: And that feeds in to the shame…
AT: Yes. And it’s actually saying that your body is only there for somebody else, where as actually, most importantly it should be there for you…
JF: Yes, it’s that thing that you use to get through the world.
AT: It’s a vehicle.
JF: Well that’s the other aspect of the play, it’s about how we express ourselves through objects and through people. And in the play there’s no real set, but there are objects, household objects, and they’re all functioning. So the hoover’s a real highlight. It’s about the idea of the commercialisation of our bodies and of our relationships, about how we can commodify our natural selves. It’s also about commodification through fear and that idea that you can only relax once you’re in a relationship.
AT: Ah, yes, because there is a pressure, isn’t there in society, to be in a relationship? In many ways it seems that you aren’t as validated in so many ways if you’re single…
JF: Well the idea of a relationship is that you have a deep connection with someone, and showing up in public with a partner and saying – ‘Look, I’ve got this deep connection with someone AND they don’t think I’m a psychopath’ – suddenly you feel so emancipated, don’t you? Like – ‘I can act however I want, because this person says I’m okay.’
AT: It’s interesting as well, isn’t it, if you have same-sex relationships. When you’re in one, it makes it much easier to ‘come-out’, if you’ve got that person saying that you’re okay?
JF: Well it’s legitimised, saying, I’m gay, but I’m in a stable relationship…
AT: Yes, and it’s saying it’s not a phase…
JF: And it’s not about fitting in through fear, but what we need to stop doing is telling children to try and fit in and go against their instincts, to allow children to follow their instincts. And that is what was interesting in the Louis Theroux documentary on trans-children, people were like ‘what if this child, who is eight years old, what if they grow up and decide ‘well actually, I shouldn’t have had those operations, I don’t really want this.’ And another person turned around and said, ‘well, at least they can have an operation to reverse it and nothing worse happened.’ But the other option is that they grow up hating themselves…
AT: And that’s worse… It’s scary, when you start thinking about it – I wonder how much of our ‘true-selves’ we really are, and how much we have been influenced by everything and everyone…
JF: And the fears of not fitting in, that our parents put on to us, the fears parents have of their child not surviving in the right way, or getting the right career. A tacit fear of sexuality is passed on, so you grow up with adults being absolutely terrified of sex, so everyone grows up being afraid of sex, and feeling guilty when they do it, you know?
AT: And that brings it back to shame, doesn’t it, which is just sad really. I’m sure some parents have found an open way of talking about it, but it’s not a thing done in our society.
JF: Well there was a brilliant blog last year, I can’t remember who by, but she’d developed a way of talking to her children about sex, and she realised that in sex education schools never tell children that 90% of the time adults have sex for pleasure and not for procreation.
AT: So linking back your piece is on at The Oval House, prior to Edinburgh…
JF: Yes, then we’re in Edinburgh at Zoo Venues, Monkey House, on the Pleasance, and we’re running from the 7th to the 31st August.
AT: Long run. How’s all your prep going for the festival?
JF: Good. We have spent the last six months coming together every so often and working a lot. And working because myself and the company, who are called Moving Dust, and it’s Kate Sagovsky who’s directing it, then it’s being exec produced by Nik Holttum, and we have just worked our socks off to make it the kind of production we want it to be, because we felt that Edinburgh is a really great place where you have the whole industry there from all around the world for one month, and we really proud of the work we’ve done so far, we’ve worked our arses off and we’re going to work our arses off in Edinburgh every day, and we want to get an audience for the play because we think it says something interesting. I just also want to add, that I have also written it to be funny. I think it’s important to say that.
AT: Brilliant, thanks so much for speaking to The LGBTQ Arts and Culture Review today, and all the best for you shows in London and Edinburgh.
Book for their show in Edinburgh here: https://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/event/493058-this-much-or-an-act-of-violence-towards-the-institution-of-marriage/
Interview (C) Amie Taylor (@spoonsparkle) and John Fitzpatrick 2015