Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Selma Dimitrijevic: Gods Are Fallen And All Safety Gone

By | Published on Thursday 7 May 2015


Created by Selma Dimitrijevic of acclaimed theatre group Greyscale, ‘Gods Are Fallen and All Safety Gone’ is a celebrated play that explores the nature of the changing relationships between children and their parents, and which involves a real-life mother and daughter plucked from the local community in every show.

The latest staging of the show, helmed by Dimitrijevic herself, heads to Camden People’s Theatre next week. I sent some questions over to the director, to find out more about the production, and the company’s creative processes.

CM: What is ‘Gods Are Fallen and All Safety Gone’ about? What happens in it?
SD: ‘Gods’ is a show about love; about the kind of love that is not our choice, but one that is an inescapable biological response to another person. It’s a show about how you can love someone even when you sometimes just want to kill them.

It is also a show about the impossibility of knowing your parent as a fellow human being. The show tries to imagine what it would be like if a parent and a child could meet as two adults, without all the baggage of one actually being created and raised by the other.

CM: How is it structured? Is there a linear narrative?
SD: Family life doesn’t feel linear to me, so I couldn’t imagine this play having a linear narrative. It’s kind of repetitive and circular, just like the play. I sometimes feel like I’ve been having the same conversation with my dad for the last 30 years, so we took the idea of all the conversations this mother and daughter had over their life time, and condensed them into an hour, into four possible versions of the same scenario. We boiled it down to its essence, I guess.

CM: You involve a local mother and daughter in the show for each performance, don’t you? What is their role?
SD: We do, yes. Their role is quite simple really, and it’s one they can’t fail at: they just need to be a mother and a daughter. I have no interest in pretending in theatre, and in pursuit of exorcising pretending from our work, every night we invite two people who genuinely are mother and daughter to bring that relationship to the stage so that actors don’t have to fake it. A critic once described it as a job-share, where actors do the speaking and meaning and guests do being mother and daughter so that actors don’t have to do the pretending.

CM: How did you go about putting this show together? What’s the creative process?
SD: The whole team – Sean Campion, Scott Turnbull, Oliver Townsend and myself – had two weeks before we first opened this show at the Almeida 3 years ago. It basically involved Oli and myself creating an elaborate set and costume and then us slowly getting rid of everything until we were left with just Sean and Scott who were the best part of the whole thing anyway.

Over the next 3 years – in addition to performing the show from time to time – we spent a lot of time together: seeing other people’s work, travelling, doing workshops with international practitioners, developing new work, exchanging books, etc. So when people say how close the relationship seems between the two actors on stage, they are not putting it on, they spent so much time together over the last few years, they are basically a family.

CM: Can you tell us about the cast, and how they came to be involved?
SD: The actors and I were on tour with a couple of other shows which we were playing in rep (Theatre Brothel project) and in those shows the same characters were sometimes performed by male and sometimes by female actors, depending what else the ensemble was doing that night. Subconsciously, this made me not really look at the gender when matching an actor with a part. Sean and Scott were perfect for these two parts, as people, not as men, and it turned out that them being the “wrong” gender makes the audience see things we never imagined they would.

The first two times this play was produced, roles were played by women: Greyscale’s last show had six male parts performed by six women, and a couple of our one person shows are still being performed sometimes by female and sometimes by male actors – the work we make can’t be about the realism of the exterior, that’s the dullest part of a live theatre experience and we are not really interested in it, and once you take that out of equation Sean and Scott were the best people for the parts.

CM: What’s the significance of the title? Are there connections between the show and Steinbeck’s ‘East Of Eden’?
SD: I basically stole the title from East of Eden, its right there at the beginning, in one of the most moving paragraphs I have ever read. I didn’t even have an idea for a play before I saw it, but I read that line, and I thought: a) that’s such a brilliant and succinct way of describing something heart-breaking and huge and b) I think there might be a play in it.

CM: You’re the artistic director of Greyscale, aren’t you? Can you tell us a bit about the company and its direction?
SD: The ensemble was set up five years ago by Lorne Campbell, me, and a group of designers, actors and writers who were interested in finding new ways of working together. Sometimes we do new versions of classics, and sometimes we commission new plays, but the idea behind every show is to make people feel more and think less.

CM: What’s next for you, and Greyscale?
SD: We have just moved into our new rehearsal space in Newcastle which will allow us to spend more time doing things we really want to do, rather than things we have to in order to make money to do things we want to do; which is great.

In June we are opening a new show ‘War Is Boring/War Is Fun’ at the PULSE Festival in Ipswich, based on real life war diaries. In September we are starting work on a show called ‘Shakespeare’s Strangers’, and next year we are starting our big Chekhov Project for which we will do all four major Chekhov plays with the same ensemble of actors.

‘Gods Are Fallen And All Safety Gone’ is on at Camden People’s Theatre from 12 – 31 May. See this page here for more info and tickets. 

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