Interview with Simon Farley

Kate Weston sat down with her co-director and emerging playwright Simon Farley to talk about their upcoming production The Nun and The Highwayman. First presented by FLW Theatre at Mudfest, the play won a place in La Mama’s 2015 Explorations season, and opens this Thursday 26 November, running until Saturday at La Mama Theatre. Kate and Simon have known each other for entirely too long, and have collaborated on many creative projects in the past, so this was kind of an odd interview to conduct. Even more bizarre was writing an introduction in third person.

Kate: So. What is it about antlers?

Simon: Is that really the question?

Kate: That is the first question, yes.

Simon: Antlers are cool. I wish I had some. Deer are great animals.

Kate: I just think they’re really visually striking. Particularly on a human.

Simon: I would say they’re much more striking on a human than on a deer.

Kate: For those who missed it at Mudfest, what on earth is this play about?

Simon: So there’s this notorious outlaw. He’s on the run from the authorities, and he finds an abbey. He’s wounded, he’s exhausted, and he just crashes there. When he wakes up in the morning there’s a nun with a big-ass gun sitting at the foot of his bed. That’s the beginning of the play. And a conversation between the two of them ensues, in simple terms.

Kate: What are the stakes?

Simon: Well. The nun has a gun. And the highwayman, Dara, is a highwayman. So they could kill each other at any time.

Kate: The production has been using the hashtag #nunvshighwayman. Does that mean they fight?

Simon: Sort of. They verbally spar.

Kate: We were talking the other day in rehearsal about how they both have their various tactics to get what they want.

Simon: Yeah, I mean a lot of the play is just a dance between the two of them where they’re trying to charm each other, or intimidate each other, or threaten each other into giving what they want.

Kate: So we’ve outlined the premise of the show…

Simon: Are you gonna ask me about themes?

Kate: Oh no.

Simon: I love themes! Lay it on me.

Kate: You look so happy right now. So what sort of ideas were you exploring?

Simon: Well I just started out with the premise. It wasn’t, you know, a soap box thing. I read a bio the other day of an emerging writer and it said, “so-and-so tackles big issues in her writing”, and I just thought if I ever get described that way I’m just gonna quit.

But there’s some stuff going on. Politically speaking there’s a lot about privilege and racial hierarchies and indigeneity. It’s set in a fantasy world, and Dara is a hill-man – also known as a zoanthrop – and they’re the indigenous people of the area in which it’s set. And Jasna is just your garden variety human. She belongs to a race called the Visoki, who are the socially dominant group. So there’s a power imbalance there, and that’s something that comes up in their discussion.

Kate: But at the same time, he’s a man and she’s a woman. And her having the gun despite him being the dangerous criminal is an interesting contrast as well.

Simon: For sure. I guess broadly speaking there’s also a lot about love. I think love’s a really important theme in probably everything I write, but particularly this. Another would be fear. And guns, actually.

Kate: The symbol of a gun and what that means.

Simon: Yeah, what it means to be pointing a loaded gun at someone, what it means to have a loaded gun pointed at you. The fear that invokes and the power that fear gives its wielder.

Kate: The Mudfest show was your first experience directing. What was that like?

Simon: I really like it! I would like to do more of it. In some ways it’s just handy because the play’s set in a fantasy world, and this is a world I come back to in a lot of my writing so I know it very well, and being able to keep that vision coherent is really important to me. So just sort of having some creative control was really nice.

And it’s just cool, I guess. Before Mudfest I’d been seeing friends’ plays at uni all the time and thinking “I should get involved in this one day”. Or you know, just wondering what it was like in the rehearsal process and behind the scenes and all that, so now to get a taste of that is gratifying.

Kate: So your co-director is the highly regarded, much esteemed Kate Weston-

Simon: Fuck ooooff.

Kate: How has it been working with her?

Simon: Oh she’s such a shit. She’s impossible. I’ll probably never work with her again to be honest.

No, I’ve known you for a really long time, and that means a lot of things for a co-director relationship, good and bad, but above all we understand each other. Particularly creatively, I think. And that’s invaluable. If you have to co-direct with someone you’d wanna co-direct with someone who really gets what you’re trying to do. And you get what I’m trying to do.

Kate: I think you and I are both just interested in good stories. Just being able to connect for a little bit of time to a character. And this show is a perfect example of that really simple element of theatre.

Simon: Yeah. When it comes to theatre I think we’re fairly on the same page.

Kate: I know I’m interviewing you, but it’s been really nice to have a co-director. Particularly, as you say, because you created this world, so to have your voice in the room making sure that it’s true to what you imagined and feels authentic is great. And then I’ve been able to bring in my own theatre experience to make sure that it’s not just a strong story but that it also works for the medium.

Simon: Yeah. And if I were to have done it by myself I probably would’ve struggled with that sort of stuff just because I don’t have the experience.

Kate: Basically, you’re tops.

Simon: You too, mate.

Kate: All right. Tell me why people should care about coming to see The Nun and The Highwayman.

Simon: Because it’s a really good play. And it’s fun.  And it’s only half an hour. And it’s not that much money to come see it. So just come see it.

And this is no diss on people who wanna make theatre that’s hard and challenging, because that’s fucking awesome. But a lot of people think all theatre is that, and that all theatre has to be confronting and incomprehensible to the average person, and this…isn’t. It’s just an exciting, hopefully thought-provoking, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant experience. Hopefully it makes you think stuff and feel stuff but most of all it hopefully just distracts you from the ball-crushing ennui of your everyday existence.

Kate: Many of your most recent short stories share the same fantasy setting as this play. Are you going to write more in this world?

Simon: Yep, definitely. Hopefully more plays set in this world as well as short stories. Because I’m not really capable of writing stories set in the real world at the moment for some reason.

Kate: It’s because you’re a weirdo.

Simon: I am a weirdo. But yeah, I like fantasy. I guess what I do with fantasy is not very conventional because I don’t really write about big quests. I sometimes write about wizards but the stories are more like “I’m a wizard who has feelings about another wizard” than “I’m a wizard, I have to defeat this dark lord and his minions”.

Kate: Yeah. You tend to use the fantasy setting as like, interesting fuel for very human conflicts.

Simon: Thank you for saying so. Yeah, I guess that’s what I’m trying to do.

Kate: So what is your next project gonna be?

Simon: FLW Theatre has commissioned me to write another half hour play to be part of a triple bill of original work at the end of first semester next year.

Kate: Currently you’ve told me about the first ten seconds.

Simon: It’s got a train in it!

Kate: Yup, that’s the strongest part, so far.

Simon: It’s early days.

Kate: Let’s do the plug thing. The Nun and The Highwayman, La Mama Theatre, 26-28th November.

Simon: It’s a good play, come see it. If you hate it, it’s only half an hour.

Kate: I’m not putting that in.

Tickets for The Nun and The Highwayman are available here.

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Pictured: Kate Weston and Simon Farley, immediately after this interview.

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