Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Michael Toumey: The Local Stigmatic

By | Published on Thursday 28 April 2016


You can be forgiven for not having heard of Heathcote Williams’ mid-sixties play ‘The Local Stigmatic’, because over the years it hasn’t been produced anywhere near as much as it should have been; those of you who think the name sounds familiar might remember the 1990 film starring Al Pacino.
Luckily for London theatre-goers, you’ll soon get the chance to see it on stage, when a new production of the play goes up next week at the Old Red Lion Theatre. I spoke to director Michael Toumey, to find out more about the play, and why he wanted to revive it.

CM: Can you tell us what ‘The Local Stigmatic’ is all about – what’s the story?
MT: It’s about two sociopaths with nihilistic tendencies, who are obsessed with celebrity. Their obsession leads them to a chance encounter with an actor they have been stalking for a while; without giving anything away, this encounter leads to a terrifying and violent conclusion.

CM: What themes does the show explore?
MT: The theme of envy and the celebrity obsession seen through 1960s subculture of criminality and violence. Hatred, violence, torture, and the class system. The idea of 1960s anarchy and revolution. These themes are there to make people think and look at the play and question it.

CM: Given that it’s a sixties play, how relevant do you think it is to today’s audiences?
MT: Even more relevant today than it was back then, because now we have a celebrity culture which is surrounded by modern technology such as social media, making it far more accessible to more people. As Andy Warhol said, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes, but it’s like now, everyone will be famous for two minutes, and that’s all they want. People want to be famous now for the sake of being famous. Therefore, people are even more envious of celebrities, and more obsessed. In the 60s, celebrities were celebrated, now, celebrities are despised.

CM: It’s not been produced for quite a while, has it? Why do you think that is?
MT: Well for a start, it’s out of print in England, which is a shocking disgrace, and it should be reissued immediately. It’s as classic a play and piece of work as any Pinter or Beckett plays, in my opinion. I am absolutely delighted that we are getting the opportunity to introduce people to this forgotten masterpiece.

CM: What made you want to direct it? Why were you attracted to the piece?
MT: For the reasons I just said, and because Al Pacino said he wouldn’t like to direct it himself, ha ha. I don’t want Al getting the ‘ump with me. I love you Al. In all seriousness, there’s so much mystery and suspense hidden in the text, and it’s open to so much diverse interpretation, it’s therefore a real treat for actors and directors alike.

CM: Who are your cast and how did you choose them?
MT: The cast consists of Wilson James, who’s playing Graham, Will Frazer who’s playing Ray, and Tom Sawyer, who doubles up, playing David and the Man in the Street. Wilson James was a student at the Guilford School of Acting (where I am an associate acting tutor and director), who I had the pleasure to teach and direct in 2013. Will Frazer we auditioned through the casting director Ben Newsome. Tom Sawyer I was fortunate to direct back in 2005 in my own play ‘Dancing With The Angels’, so I knew he would be perfect. The reason for choosing Wilson and Will is that we wanted to cast young, unknown actors in the roles, and go for an early Beatles look. They are both extremely talented, and lovely boys. Tom in the dual roles has the qualities to make those two characters completely different, and give it depth.

CM: As you just touched on, you’ve written your own work in the past. Any plans to do more writing?
MT: Yes, most definitely. I have a couple of ideas which I am going to try to find time to work on later this year.

CM: What’s next for you?
MT: I am directing a showcase for the Identity School of Acting (‘Star Wars’ star John Boyega’s drama school). In the summer I’m planning to go to Ireland to write an educational textbook on acting, and have some sort of holiday – it’s been a hectic year!

‘The Local Stigmatic’ is on at the Old Red Lion Theatre from 3-28 May. See the venue website here for info and tickets.