Passing on the ‘banana’ – A chat with Eli & Graeme

Monday, 15 April 2024

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Passing on the ‘banana’

I sat down with my friend, mentor and former AD for 30 years of the Unity, Graeme Phillips, to talk about his forthcoming production of Beckett’s, Krapp’s Last Tape, and to take an opportunity to garner some words of wisdom from one AD to another.

I asked Graeme, why he loves the play so much. He told me he first came across it when he was 17 years old, as a member of his local youth theatre, when he at 17 played the role of a 70-year-old man. I didn’t know his love of Beckett started so young.

‘I enjoyed acting and thought I might be an actor’

The second time Graeme staged KLT was when he was in his 20s, working for the Ipswich Arts Theatre in the education department, this time Graeme was the director and decided to stage it in the round.

‘Krapp was set up in centre of space on a high platform, the idea was that the audience would wander round and take a look at him. I made the mistake of thinking general public couldn’t stand so I put chairs in the room and they then instinctively formed rows!’

The next time was many years later in 2015, as his Swansong before leaving an incredible 30 years as Artistic Director. I asked Graeme why he is doing it again now,

‘I wanted to re-visit it and bring my experience of isolation, reflection and living with Parkinson’s Disease to the text. It also gives me an opportunity to engage in something I’ve done for so many years and which stimulates me.’

I asked if there’s anything different this time, how you view or experience a piece of work I’ve found changes with time, depending on where you are in your life, Graeme said,

‘I suppose it’s informed in some way by the fact that dementia is now an everyday matter, whereas it never occurred to me before. When I staged it in Ipswich, it had no relevance with what was going on in the world, it was just a poetic play. As a result of my condition, I will suddenly freeze or stand on the spot and shuffle, I thought (not hoping to upset Mr Beckett) that I would find a moment to put that in.’

I think it is amazing that Graeme is using his personal experiences this time round, and the fact that it is one of the first shows on after my appointment feels very special to me. If it wasn’t for Graeme, and his support I wouldn’t be here now. I asked him for some words of advice,

‘Do your best to make things happen. There was a philosophy behind what I was trying to do, and basically it’s that it was a venue for the people, it allows you to give them a platform whether they want to develop themselves artistically or a political message to get across, and I always thought that if you came to the Unity, you saw a whole variety of theatre forms. I don’t want to sound big headed, but by regularly programming physical theatre in Liverpool, I saw how it impacted on local practitioners and became integrated within the mainstream.’

A big thanks from me to Graeme for that, he brought many shows and companies that inspired me to create physical work. It is that ecology that’s important, seeing work that inspires you and then having a space to take risks, whilst being supported.

I asked if Graeme had a favourite memory of a show he staged

‘When I was at drama school I had high fluting ideas of if I ran a theatre, what would I put on, I would always find reasons why I shouldn’t do it, I found excuses, and then the Unity gave me the opportunity to do things that I personally wanted to do. Angels in America was very special, and a subject that was pertinent, the AIDS epidemic, it brought people together that I had known for years’

I was at University when it was on, and they had 3 parts over 3 weeks, it was an incredible production that has stayed with me to this day.

We then chatted about how I would love to do Happy Days, and laughing as that Beckett play has a female lead!

Finally, I asked Graeme, why people should come and see Krapp’s last Tape,

‘It’s a play that has an ability to contain a whole life of an individual and also it’s a good starter for those who are intrigued about Beckett, as there is a story, a through line, it’s a great piece for an actor’

You may be wondering what the significance of the banana is….

Come and find out

Friday 10th — Saturday 11th May

You can book tickets here