The Playgoer: New Rickman Interview

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

New Rickman Interview

The Scotsman--in promotion of the Edinburgh Fringe appearance of My Name is Rachel Corrie--gets Alan Rickman on the record about the show for the first time in months.

With a commercial production finally happening Off-Broadway this October, Rickman is naturally playing "above the fray," but still revisits the past a bit and makes an eloquent case for the play.

Most pertinent quotes:

On the morning we meet, the headlines are dominated by the crisis in the Middle East, so the issues raised by this passionate, poignant piece of theatre could not be more timely. "This terrible situation simply proves that the play needs to be seen, and to go on being seen," [Rickman] says quietly, "because it comes from a very human perspective and it's not about taking sides at all."

Does he not find it ironic, then, that the original production, at New York Theater Workshop, was "postponed" by artistic director James Nicola, "because of the edgy situation", citing the fact that the prime minister, Ariel Sharon, had recently slipped into a coma and Hamas had been elected? Surely, ironically, the theatre was taking sides? "I don't think so," replies Rickman, who makes no secret of the fact that he is politically involved, a Labour party supporter.

"The real irony for me was that we had a situation where two independent theatres were in some kind of conflict, which, given the world we are living in, was a great pity. I hope that it's resolved now." Nonetheless, when the play goes back to New York, it will be to another theatre, with new producers.

Rickman was quoted as saying that the cancellation of the production was due to "censorship born out of fear", after Nicola revealed the vehement response of Jewish friends and advisers to the play, some of whom regarded it as "a piece of anti-Israeli agit-prop". "Well, I had to say that about censorship, didn't I?" replies Rickman in measured tones, circumflexing an eyebrow. "We can only guess at the sort of political pressure they were under. I don't feel anything but understanding of their problems. In any case, one of the new producers, Dena Hammerstein, is Jewish herself. Who knows? More rocks may still be thrown in our path, because the subject-matter is a hot potato."

Nicola's decision was condemned by Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard and Vanessa
Redgrave, a longtime supporter of Palestinian rights. Now Rickman only wants the play to be seen by as many people as possible. "There are times when a piece of work attaches itself to you in a very deep way. For this important play to be turned into a personality thing would be inappropriate; that's why it's not about me."


When I saw the production, I veered between wanting to shake Rachel for her naivety and wanting to embrace this "scattered and deviant and loud" young woman for her intelligence, spirit, honesty and courage.

"I'm so glad you felt that, because that's exactly how I hope audiences will feel," responds Rickman. "This isn't a play about Palestine or Israel, it's about being a citizen of the world."


"The crucial thing for me about the play is that it corrects the slanders on the internet about Rachel and the way she has been demonised - such as, 'Did you know she was a member of Hamas?'..."

Indeed, the argument that Corrie needed to be postponed because of the maelstrom of Sharon's coma and Hamas' election, seems quaint, and even more foolish, by the measure of today's crisis. Political theatre that does not sieze the moment is irrelevant theatre.

By the way, I never noticed Stoppard taking a stand on this before. Anyone else? Welcome, yes, but surprising considering this odd diatribe from around that time. (He is a conservative at heart, after all...)


Anonymous said...

This will be off the main track of your post; I apologize for that.

I'm glad you included the link to Stoppard's Guardian piece questioning free speech as a basic right. It is, as Playgoer says, an odd piece, but for me it's odd only because it questions something everyone else takes more or less for granted. Stoppard is only the second writer I've encountered who has thought to ask on what we base this notion of a right. The French thinker Simone Weil (whom I happen to be studying) is the other. Weil remarked that the notion of rights was essentially invented by "the men of 1789" (i.e., during the French Revolution) and added that "The Greeks had no conception of rights.... They were content with the name of justice." One thing I think she meant was that the situation of free people freely inquiring into the truth doesn't require this relatively modern notion of rights. That we have it is probably to the better, except that we sometimes have trouble deciding exactly what it means.

Weil made another remark almost in passing: "Rights are always asserted in a tone of contention." That, it seems to me, is one way of summing up the controversy over the NYTW's cancellation of the Rachel Corrie play: the right of the playwrights to be heard, the right of the theater to change its mind, the right of the audience to see the work, the right of certain members of that audience not to be disturbed: some of these may make more sense than others, but to me it's clear that not all these contending rights can be right at once. This is what happens when you start talking about the concept without anyone being clear what it means. Stoppard's piece was one little effort to banish some of the murk.

PeonInChief said...

I think my comment got lost.

Am I the only person who found the Rickman interview hilarious (unintentionally, of course)? And does the press always treat him with that kind of simpering obsequiousness? I know that this isn't the same as grilling Tony Blair on Lebanon, but really!

Anonymous said...

No, peoninchief, I found that interview monumentally ridiculous as well. It read as if it was written by one of the dizzy hens that circle Alan Rickman whenever he appears in public. It reads like some pre-chewed publicity puff piece that inserts a sentence like "by the by, censorship is icky." NYTW has gone on record, on radio, in front of Katharine Viner, saying the financial deal they got from the Royal Court wasn't sweet enough for a not-for-profit. It's the same kind of "censorship" that lead the Royal Court to refuse to mount "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" because they were afraid of the IRA. If you read other "interviews" by Jackie McGlone, you see a pattern of celebrity ass kissing and smoke blowing. I just thought it was interesting that on the one hand she's going mental about his gal pal, yet the rest of the piece just makes him sound like big gay Al.

PeonInChief said...

Thank you, Anonymous. I read a couple of McClone's interviews and realized that I'd missed nothing--although the one with Spike Lee was less painful than the Rickman interview.

And I hadn't realized that the point of the interview had anything to do with his sexual preference until you mentioned it. All I wondered was whether he had nothing else to talk about.

But having completed my research on the subject, I think this is the most telling:

At the opening-night party, Lindsay Duncan's husband remarked to a Times reporter that he's not worried about wifey being with Rickman all the time because "he's gay"—a crack that got the whole room buzzing. Scores of cognoscenti lined up to tell me, "No, he's straight, married, and devoted..
[from Musto in the Village Voice]

The lesson, of course, is that if you want to stay in the closet, you have to make sure everyone's in the loop.

I have to admit, though, that I was most irritated when he turned Rachel's parents into "human waterfalls". I didn't see any reason to trash their dignity to make his point.