Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Matthew Parker: Lovesong Of The Electric Bear

By | Published on Thursday 29 October 2015


‘Lovesong Of The Electric Bear’ is the last, rarely staged work of well-loved playwright Snoo Wilson. This production, which heads to the Above The Arts studio next week, has already had a much-praised, award nominated run at the Hope Theatre. The play tells the story of code-breaking genius Alan Turing.

To find out more about this fantastical and tragicomic peice, I put some questions Matthew Parker, Hope Theatre artistic director, who helmed this production himself.

CM: The play is about Alan Turing but where does the actual story take us – does it tell the story of his life, or focus on a particular element, or time in it?
MP: It starts on his deathbed and, through the power of theatrical magic and a teddy bear named Porgy, takes us by the hand back to his childhood from age 11, his schooldays, through to Cambridge, his covert military operations, invention of the Turing Machine, code breaking work at Bletchley, his visits to the US, his creation of MADAM at Manchester University, and finally the courtroom, his conviction for ‘gross indecency’ and his death by his own hand. It’s quite a rollercoaster all packed into 2 hours!

CM: Would you say it has any aims, or agenda?
MP: It’s aim is clear – to celebrate the life, loves and remarkable achievements of one of the greatest beings of the 20th century. The man is a hero is so many ways; not just for his work at Bletchley Park, but for the unapologetic way he lived his life as a gay man and the remarkable honesty and dedication to his beliefs, his own moral universe and his continual striving and ability to remain at the head of pack in so many varied fields of science and mathematics.

CM: It’s been described as surreal – would you agree with that assessment?
MP: Within five minutes a giant walking talking teddy bear has grabbed Turing by the hand and flown him into the sky on a replica of his childhood bicycle – it’s certainly not a naturalistic and dry biopic. But I think perhaps fantastical and theatrical are better/more accurate words than surreal. I don’t want people thinking its all hallucinogenic and just weird! It’s a vibrant and electrically charged gallop through the life and loves of a brilliant man.

CM: Can you tell us something about the history of the play? It’s the work of renowned playwright Snoo Wilson, but has it been produced much?
MP: It has never been produced in Engand. In fact, it has only ever been produced once before, and that was in the US some years ago now. Our production is the European premiere and we have been brilliantly lucky to be able to work with Snoo’s estate and family aand friends in bringing this production to life.

Snoo is loved by many and, from my point of view as director, his scripts are bloody brilliant to play with. So full of opportunity for imagination, sexuality, rich language, fast paced multi-roling of characters (6 actors play over 30 roles) and humour – perhaps that’s the thing I love the most about this script. It’s not tragic. It’s tragi-comic, and will make the audience cry or curse (and perhaps even rage at the injustice of Turing’s conviction) but also laugh uproariously (if I can use a loose bear pun).

CM: What inspired this particular production? What attracted you to the play? What made you want to direct it?
MP: All those things i’ve said above. Plus the fact that, as a gay man of 39 (well, 40 now, but I was 39 when first I directed it!), I was the exact age Turing was when he ended his life. The resonance was deep and made me so bloody angry. Like I say, it’s a gift for a director due to the sheer amount of capacity for invention, visual storytelling and deep emotional connection (crying and laughter).
But there was that added element of me feeling that, personally, I needed to get this story out there. To inform more people about what happened to this amazing man.

Do you know that, although Turing was pardoned in 2012, there remains at least another fifty thousand men convicted under the same law as Turing and who have never received a pardon. There’s a petition on highlighting this, and we are dedicating our production to this cause. Here’s a link to it – it’s well worth a look and a signature.

CM: This production has already transferred from the Hope Theatre to Above The Arts, but can you see it continuing further, or touring, perhaps?
MP: Oh absolutely. As always it’s money. The Hope is an unfunded theatre which, despite its limited means, is dedicated to paying a legal wage to all performers. We were the first ever fifty seat venue to open with this agreement in place. However, it does mean we are always strapped for cashflow, so we’d need to secure sponsorship in order to take the show further.

CM: What are your own future plans? Do you have any new projects in the offing?
MP: Well running the Hope Theatre is definitely a full time job. However, I do try to direct at least four times a year. Following this show I have a panto lined up (oh yes I do) and then a new adaptation of ‘Antigone’ with an all-female cast of actor musicians for the Hope’s 2016 season. Plus, I have a couple of other juicy little ideas up my sleeve for The Hope. And, who knows, maybe taking this remarkable story of Alan Turing out to a wider audience.

‘Lovesong Of The Electric Bear’ is on in the Above The Arts studio from 4-21 Nov. See the venue website here for more info.

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