Canadian playwright Brad Fraser has forged a hugely successful relationship with the Royal Exchange over the last 13 years. Previous RET productions of his work include Unidentified Human Remains And The True Nature Of Love, Martin Yesterday, Snake In Fridge and Cold Meat Party. The author’s explicit style has attracted acclaim and controversy in equal measure.
His new play True Love Lies has it’s world Premiere at The Exchange later this month. We caught up with Brad on his recent trip to Manchester to find out about the play and his future plans.
Place Of Birth
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Lives now in
A permanent state of unrest. (Also Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
When did you first realise that you wanted write?
In the third grade, as the librarian at my school explained where books came from and that there were actually people somewhere who wrote them, I was instantly smitten. Writing of some sort was my destiny from the moment.
What would you have done professionally if you weren’t writing?
I’ve worked a lot of other jobs in my life including, telephone operator, art supply salesman, waiter, maitre’d, waiter etc. I’ve enjoyed every one of them although I suspect I’d be in commercial art or advertising of some sort. Or medicine. I’ve always been very interested in the workings of the body and especially the brain.
Is there anyone you would still like to meet and why?
I’ve met a lot of very talented and interesting people in my work although I do have to admit meeting one’s heroes can be very disappointing and it’s put me off seeking out certain people I’ve always admired. I regret never having met William Burroughs or Tennessee Williams although I am very pleased I did have a chance to meet and speak with Quentin Crisp and Michael Christopher at various times of my life. I wouldn’t say no to an introduction to Lou Reed. I’d also like to meet Robbie Williams as I think he’s quite fuckable. And Colin Farrell. Mmmmm, Colin Farrell…
What do you enjoy about bringing your plays over to the UK. Do audiences here react differently? If so, how?
I love bringing my plays to the UK and find they are met with much less hostility in England than in North America because I think certain people in the UK are more open minded or, at least, accustomed to a sexual plasticity that sometimes moves beyond the straight/gay/bi paradigm. I should also add that, unlike in Canada, I haven’t said or done anything to alienate the people who review plays in this country. And- Manchester audiences are smart and not easily fooled which is a gift to any playwright.
Cold Meat Party was well reviewed in Manchester. Does that put pressure on you?
Not really when one considers that the same play using the same director was a huge flop in Toronto. Really, one can never gauge or predict audience or critical reaction to a show so I don’t allow myself to spend a lot of time thinking about something I can’t control and rarely understand. (Also I don’t read reviews until months, if not years, after the production has closed.)
What was the last thing you saw on stage that you really enjoyed and why?
I just saw a workshop of Daniel MacIvor’s new one man show This Is What Happens Next- which was wonderful. I also enjoyed Wicked on Broadway. I’m looking forward to Ronnie Burkett’s new marionette show Billie Twinkle, Requiem For A Golden Boy just opened out west and I’m looking forward to finally seeing that. I don’t generally see a lot of theatre because it’s usually so slow and irrelevant.
And the first?
The first play I ever saw was a very well produced student production of a Tom Jones and a Harvey Schmidt musical called Philemon. The first professional show I saw was Equus. Both shows are extremely theatrical and were responsible for exciting me in a way that made me want to write for the theatre. In fact, I’ve come to believe the theatre needs a lot more shows with this kind of theatricality and much fewer that seem like slightly ambitious television episodes.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead) for a day, who would it be?
I would have loved to be Andy Warhol for a day at the height of his power and fame (probably prior to his being shot.) Not only was he the most influential artist of the 20th century but he met a lot of interesting people. I’d also like to swap places with George Bush for one day just to discover if he’s actually stupid or evil.
At Swim Two Boys. The Amazing Adventures Of Cavalier And Clay, London Fields, The Yearling, The Alexandrian Quartet, and The Lure. Any of the “beat” writers- Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Holmes etc. MANY books and an endless number of comics and graphic novels including Watchmen, Stuck Rubber Baby and Black Hole.
Favourite after show haunts in Manchester
While I have been to many clubs and pubs in Manchester I don’t recall any of their names. I do remember (vaguely) some very good times at the Press Club until all hours of the morning.
What can people expect from True Love Lies?
Theatre that shakes you up and moves you around, sharp transitions, original characters, sharp dialogue, many laughs, a smattering of devastating truths and hopefully some catharsis and transformation for everyone.
What inspired you to write it?
A few years ago a former partner contacted me to say hi after twenty years and we talked a lot about his wife and his teen-age children. As is always the case with the best stories and situations this one made me go “what if…?” and the play grew from there. Having a parent who’s had a same sex relationship in their past isn’t nearly as rare as it sounds but I find it’s something that hasn’t been explored much and given the sexual free-for-all that the internet has created I felt the notion was more timely than ever. I’m also fascinated by how different the sexual knowledge of contemporary young people is compared with the pre-computer generations.
You have staged plays at the Exchange before. What keeps you coming back?
The Royal Exchange is a beautiful theatre inhabited by some really excellent people, particularly my greatest supporter and favourite director Braham Murray. Manchester is a lovely, cultured city that’s offered me support and a kind of artistic second home. How could I not come back?
Is there a project that you have enjoyed working on the most and why?
I loved directing my own version of Poor Super Man as the film Leaving Metropolis. The people I worked with were amazing and the entire process both humbled and changed me. Directing (and editing) film is an amazing challenge and something I plan to do again some day soon.
What’s your favourite line from True Love Lies and why?
The main character, David, when asked about his family says, “I’m the illegitimate off-spring of Wonder Woman and the Empire State Building.” I think the line sums the character up quite nicely.
Do you think gay representation has moved on in plays and cinema? Or do we see the same stereotypes?
It’s a bit of both unfortunately. People like to cite Brokeback Mountain as groundbreaking but it still had to doom the love between the two men and kill one of them in order to get mainstream acceptance. However Milk, and particularly Sean Penn’s performance, finally allows a gay character to be human, flawed and multi-faceted. It’s a bit odd and sad to think about this movie coming out of America at a time when a slight majority of its citizens seem very much like the Taliban in their treatment of their fellow taxpaying homosexuals. Unfortunately, in the theatre these days, having even one homosexual or lesbian character in a show causes many artistic directors to brand it a “gay” play which often leads to a multitude of excuses for why it “wouldn’t work for their audience despite being an excellent play”. That’s stereotypically straight behaviour and, like stereotypical gay behaviour, there’s still far too much of it going on in far too many places.
Are there any plays that you wish you had written and why?
No. While I have great appreciation for many plays I’m quite happy with the ones I’ve written.
What are your plans when the play finishes its run?
I’m speaking to a theatre in Toronto and a couple of other Canadian and American theatres about productions as well as working on the graphic novel version (script and illustration) of my play Snake In Fridge and a reinvention of the musical Outrageous which I’m writing with composer Joe Miller. I hope to get some sleep as well.
Brad Fraser was talking to Glenn Meads.
An exhibition of Brad’s photographs also takes place during the play’s run in the lobby and admission is free.