As The Nottingham New Theatre’s 2014 autumn season draws to a close, Impact Arts joins Ben Williamson and James Bentley, director and producer of the penultimate in-house show: ‘The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas’ by Dennis Kelly.
Firstly, what is ‘The Ritual Slaughter..’ about?
Ben: ‘Ritual Slaughter…’ follows the story of Gorge Mastromas, a supposedly ordinary, slightly smarter-than-average guy who has quite a dull, very normal British life. Gorge is offered the keys to the world and the ability to get anything he wants and the play follows this journey as he accepts the offer and ultimately destroys everything around him (including himself).
James: A huge part of the first half is highlighting these temptations, these opportunities Gorge is presented with. Throughout the early years of his life – represented through detailed chorus work – he always opts for the selfless option. The play asks whether this decision is funded by goodness or whether it is an example of Gorge’s cowardice.
Do you agree with the common interpretation of the play as a Faustian story, a morality play, or do you think Dennis Kelly does more than this?
Ben: We would certainly describe it as a modern Faustian story, but it’s not as simple as that. What I love about the play is that it’s so fundamentally British. In my opinion, what Kelly does best is dialogue. The joy of his dialogue comes from two people essentially talking about nothing in a play that holds so much black comedy and reality. The framework of a Faustian tale is certainly there, but Kelly goes off on wonderful tangents to really bring it into a modern setting.
James: If you don’t read it as a morality play, the base story is fascinating and so compelling. There’s never a moment where nothing’s happening.
What made you choose this play for in-house season?
Ben: The main reason we chose this play is because it offers an incredible freedom. Almost half of the show is written as blank text with no characters assigned to the dialogue and there are no stage directions. It’s saying ‘do what you want’, which for us was incredibly exciting. We have been able to create something completely unique.
The play places a strong emphasis on the role of the chorus. Can you describe the role they have within the production, and what you’ve done with them?
James: The chorus is framed around what we’re calling a philosophy seminar, a hook we’ve thrown out for students to grab on to. The chorus represent the play’s narrative. The text is written as an unassigned block, so we’ve used this blank canvas to really experiment with movement, physical theatre and other methods of story-telling.
Ben: The chorus act as an all-knowing entity within Gorge’s mind. Every chorus member represents a part of Gorge; they debate each philosophical question thrown at him, they drive the plot, and they tie each scene together. Each chorus actor also takes on the role of a major character within Gorge’s life in some of the play’s more naturalistic scenes.
If the script gives you no indication of how to set the play, what have you chosen to do in terms of staging?
Ben: Without giving too much away, we wanted a set that was initially striking, and that could evolve as the play went on.
James: We’ve built this throne (see image below) which is not explicit in the text, but which has become a central image to our production. Machines and motorbikes are something Gorge is incredibly passionate about, and by constructing a throne out of these materials which symbolises power and dominance, we have created an image that is Gorge Mastromas.
And finally, if you could summarise your production in one sentence?
Ben: A relentless attack on human nature.
James: Ambitious to the point of insanity.
Charlotte Van Rhee
‘The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas’ is on at 7:30pm at the Nottingham New Theatre from Wednesday 3rd-Saturday 6th December, with a 2:30pm performance on the Saturday. To reserve tickets, click here.