Emily Mahon talks to actress Susan Stanley about Ireland, nude scenes and first date conversations.
Theatre 503 is a lovely gem of a venue tucked away in the upstairs of The Latchmere pub in Clapham. Here you will find some of London’s best fringe theatre, playwrights and directors, including the likes of Dennis Kelly, co-writer of Channel 4’s Utopia and Matilda the Musical. It was here that I caught up with female lead and co-producer of Richard Molloy’s intimate play The Separation, Susan Stanley. The play is centred on Ireland’s 1994 divorce referendum and its consequences on a family’s love triangle, in which two intensely dramatic narratives unfold.
Yes, well definitely more intense, because it’s more exposing so you immediately feel the audience’s presence.
There’s pros and cons, you can feel really quite vulnerable as it’s scary having someone sit two-feet away from you, but there’s also a real energy that comes with that and it can really spur you on.
Q2. In your case, you had to do some intimate, partially nude scenes, was that awkward to do so close to an audience?
Awful, absolutely awful… because when we did the show first in Dublin the stage was four sided, and the audience were just surrounding us. The first day I had to come out on stage in my underwear during a tech rehearsal and I was almost crying.
But now I just do it without thinking and I just don’t care. I’m just like; be the character, get on with it. It’s quite an interesting thing to over come because you feel extremely self conscious, but then once your in the story it becomes second nature.
Q3. What did you think of the scripted talk, considering the play is largely a close-relationship dialogue between you and Stephen (lead male)? How do you think it flowed as a staged conversation?
That’s quite interesting, as some parts of it felt so natural and I’ve been in situations like that with men, and its your first night back in their house and you really like them and there’s that energy between you. But then there are other things like quite a lot of literary references; Joyce, and she talks a lot about Ulysses, and that for me didn’t feel completely natural, because I wouldn’t talk about those novels on a first date.
Q4. Personally, I liked all the odd references in their conversation – Queen of Denmark jokes, Brian Adams lyrics: do you have any favourite lines or parts of the play?
I LOVE the Brian Adams stuff towards the end of the second scene where she talks about the lyrics just being about a dirty sex act. (Summer of 69’) And I love how much fun they’re having with each other as characters. What I love about Richard’s writing is that it is so natural. Theres loads of ‘ummmms’ and unfinished sentences.
And that kind of style of writing that’s very true to life, I really am drawn to.
Q5. How important did you feel it was for your character to be American?
In the story it was nice to have this outsider come and view this country that’s seeped in this cultural sort of repression. And Ireland is quite behind the rest of the world in terms of things like abortion, and gay marriage is still illegal and divorce was only legalised 20 years ago, so I love the fact that she’s come in and gone, ‘What is this country?!’ And, not to be stereotypical to Irish women, but in the context of the story where Stephen turns out to be an alcoholic, there’s a lot of Irish women that would’ve stayed with him even though he was vicious, but she decides to leave and she calls him pathetic. I think it’s good, she’s strong, she’s American, she comes from the verity background – she’s figured out her feelings and she knows what she wants. She’s not going to be with a guy that’s a bit messed up.
Q6. The play is really culturally reflective; its synopsis uses the Irish divorce referendum as a context.
Yes the play’s title ‘The Separation’ is actually the term for couples in Ireland that, before this referendum, ‘separated’ rather than got divorced. At the time there was a lot of shame attached to [separation], which is what guides the story.
Keep your eyes peeled for more from Richard Molloy!
Photos: Theatre 503