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An Interview with Ian Grant

13 February 2018 Suzanne Frost

The writer, actor and publisher talked to London Calling about his play After The Ball, votes for women and a mysterious find in his grandparents’ house…

London Calling: Tell us a little bit about your play After the Ball
Ian Grant: It is a play about the effects of our moral acts and the reverberations of them down the generations. It covers a substantial period of time from 1914 to 1971, it covers three generations of a family and it is prompted by an act of betrayal that occurs during the First World War and we follow the effects of that act on that family over the next generations.
 
LC: The storyline is jumping through time
IG: Yes, the arc of the play is an emotional arc not a chronological arc so the actors are reflecting back and imagining back as they go through time but these are not scenes of memory, the scenes themselves are played as the actual direct act itself.
 
LC: And the actors are playing their young selves and their older selves?
IG: Correct, and I hope that what I’ve written is both a challenge for the actors but also gives them quite a lot of meat for their imagination of how they construct the characters.
 
LC: The story is based on a true event, where did you find this material?
IG: I found it in a wallet that my grandfather carried during the First World War. It is a little piece of a puzzle that I’ve never been able to solve. I remember my grandfather very well, I used to sit on his knee and he would sing me songs from the First World War. But long after he died I found his wallet when I was clearing my grandparent’s house and in the wallet, there are little notes of addresses of people that he stayed with when he was in France and in Belgium. He didn’t come back from the First World War till more than a year after it ended. There are one or two little documents in the wallet which show that he had passes from his military base to go out and about. And I’ve never known really what he was doing for that year or so after the end of the First World War. So I used this little puzzle to invent a story. The play is not about my grandmother and grandfather or my family but I used those tiny little documents that still exist as the inciting moment, if you like, for my imaginations.
 
LC: All over Europe people have these stories of the war and the effects it had on their families.
IG: In a way, it is a very European story because this family goes through two enormous cataclysmic wars within the period of thirty years and my generation has had 70 years of peace since the end of the Second World War, so we don’t know what that feels like to have those colossal catastrophic effects in domestic and political life. But as you rightly say, this was an experience that happened all over Europe and indeed further afield but I feel particularly about the European circumstances because of all the stresses and strains we feel in the European Union at the moment.
 
LC: After the Ball especially explores the effects war has on women
IG: My female characters, I hope, are very strong and have full agency over their lives. The characters from the late Victorian era emerge from quite a constrained background and so part of what I’m covering in the play is that period of time in the early 20th century when women were fighting for the vote, for equal opportunities, when a lot of men particularly in the socialist societies of the time were also very involved in the feminist cause. In my work, I try to write plays that have equal opportunities for women and men so, out of principal, there are always an equal number of women on the stage as there are male characters. The same backstage, in our production company we try to make sure that we have at least the same number of women as men working in the creative and technical department. I am interested to write for older actors generally, but also older female actors because there’s a lot of discussion in the industry about how few new parts, particularly leading parts, there are for older female actors and although I try to write stories that are completely genuine in themselves, I do have in the back of my mind that it’s actually very interesting to try to imagine those long lives that older people have and what compost and what fructifying substance that gives to characters in middle and later life.


Nadia Papachronopoulou and Ian Grant, (c) Mitzi de Margary
 
LC: After writing the play you now hand it over to a director, a female director actually, who will interpret your text in her own way, how does that feel?
IG: It feels great! I would describe that a little bit as me being the composer and Nadia Papachronopoulou as the conductor of the creative team. I found in the past, that’s it’s a huge advantage for me as a writer to have someone else interpret the text live on stage because they bring their own ideas which enriches the play and they discover things in the text that I didn’t know were there.  Because the things that one writes often emerge from ones subconscious so someone else might pick up on an emotional moment or a character or a characteristic that exists in the text without me knowing and I find that fascinating. It’s very exciting.
 
LC: Some writers are very protective of their text and find it difficult to let someone else play with it.
IG: I hope I don’t fall into that category. I’m keen for the text to be played as written but also to be discovered in the rehearsal process. It is a collaborative industry and a collaborative artistic form and so I hope to offer something people can collaborate around.
 
After The Ball is Upstairs at the Gatehouse 7 – 24 March
 
 
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