Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Howard Colyer: Adapting Machiavelli’s ‘Mandrake’

By | Published on Saturday 25 May 2013


5pound5 Theatre’s new adaptation of Niccolò Machiavelli’s ‘Mandrake’ heads to Brockley this week, for the play’s first London revival in almost thirty years. It all sounds rather promising, so, eager to find out more about the production, we sent some questions over to playwright Howard Colyer. And here are his answers…

CM: You seem to have done quite a lot of adaptations and translations. What is it that’s so appealing about this kind of work?
HC: Adapting and translating helps me develop as a playwright without forcing my imagination – studying somebody else’s work, and transforming it for a show in London today, teaches me new things; it allows me to step outside my own experience of life; and Machiavelli attracts more interest than Colyer.

CM: What attracted you to ‘Mandrake’ in particular?
HC: ‘Mandrake’ is an excellent comedy with memorable characters; it one of the plays that stand behind the comedies of Shakespeare, and so it is a link in our theatrical history; yet it has been neglected in recent years.

CM: Most people will have heard of ‘The Prince’ but not much about Machiavelli’s other work – did he write many plays?
HC: He wrote three plays. His other two are ‘The Woman from Andros’ – adapted from Terence. And ‘Clizia’ – adapted from Plautus, but inspired by his affair with an actress many years younger than himself. When he died, Machiavelli was more widely known as a playwright than a writer on politics – most of his books were only published after his death.

CM: What is the play about? What themes does it explore?
HC: ‘Mandrake’ is about lust, adultery, corruption and deceit – self-deception above all. It is about the consuming desire of a middle aged man to be a father; and the passion of a young man for somebody else’s wife.

CM: The original play was first staged nearly five hundred years ago. Does it still feel relevant, or is its appeal more historical?
HC: Lust, adultery, corruption and deceit don’t go out of fashion.

CM: The play isn’t often staged – why do you think it’s been overlooked?
HC: I don’t know – the neglect baffles me.

CM: Will the show continue on anywhere after its run in Brockley?
HC: So far we only have plans for a single three week run; but, naturally, we are inviting other theatres to come and see the work – so there are grounds for hope.

CM: What would you say to encourage people to come and see it? Sell the show in less than fifty words.
HC: It’s a short, sharp funny play which will make you laugh and make you think.

‘Mandrake’ is on at The Brockley Jack Theatre until 15 Jun. More info and tickets here.