This Much tells the story of Gar as he struggles through the decisions he has made in his life; his long-term relationship with Anthony and an exciting introduction to a young man called Albert who likes to play games. It is a play about how we define ourselves; through objects, clothes, traditions and other people.
We caught up with John Fitzpatrick to talk about his new play and delve deeper into what critics have called ‘innovate and brave’ and find out a little bit more about one of London’s most exciting new playwrights.
What inspired you to write This Much?
I was in the writers’ programme at the Royal Court and we had a deadline to write a play and I was really at a loss as to what to write. Then I realised that I had never written a personal diary before so I thought I would write a retrospective diary. So I started this endless Sisyphean task of writing down everything I could remember from my life and I did that for ages and I would bring it in to the writers group and share it with everybody else and they would be like ‘this is too personal – this can’t be a play. This is weird dude.’
At the same time I had just finished a relationship and I was interested in finding some meaning in that, finding some wider meaning in relationships – like what should you expect from someone and is there a difference between what you need and what you want? Then I thought about this thing I’d heard of earlier, an attack that happened in a gay bar years ago. Not a homophobic attack but an attack between people in an established relationship where a man stabbed his own boyfriend and I thought what would you have to do to someone who loved you to make them act like that? So I started knitting together my memoirs using the stories of these sorts of relationships for the scenes. Eventually a lot of things sort of fell away because they were unnecessary – like any violence really – and then the memoirs sort of fell away and left the play behind.
“This is too personal – this can’t be a play.”
This Much exposes the fragility of the idealism that we feel towards the institution of marriage and exposes some of its inherent falsities. How accurately does this reflect your own feelings towards marriage?
I don’t know really because there is still that 13-year-old poet in me who wants a very tasteful grandiose commitment ceremony in the south of France or something. It’s definitely there!
I think that part of the appeal of marriage for gay people and myself really is the idea that you can have one glorious day where you would stand up in front of everyone who you were afraid of rejecting you your whole life and feel like you belong and have them see that you belong. Like sort of being crowned princess at the end of Shrek! This idea that you could have a one day fix all for all of the structural inequalities that you’ve faced from growing up gay. And I think that it could be very easy for people to use a marriage ceremony for that, to try to use it as ‘fix all’ because it is a very shiny event. And it is a shiny event; but it wont fix the structural inequality in our society; which is there and the only thing that is going to fix that is people working against it every day.
“Hopefully with my play I am sort of deflating those penises and showing them to be normal body parts.”
What impact do you think the legal right to marry has had on the gay community?
The only thing as far as I am concerned that makes a difference is that it is a civil rights issue. You had one section of society that didn’t have access to something that the rest did and that was the law directly discriminating against a section of society. It was a legal status that somebody had access to and some people didn’t. But I don’t think that marriage is actually that important – or rather any more important to the gay community than it is to the straight. I don’t think that the gay community is any different to the straight community really. I am idealistic about an equal world and can see how similar we all are.
Throughout the play there is a notable amount of nudity that is presented in a way this isn’t sexual or voyeuristic but is both exposing and humorous. What was the intention behind this?
I think it is symbolic of when you really fall for someone and you have to say for the first time that you like them and you’ve literally got nothing to hide. That’s to me how it feels to fall in love with someone is to feel that exposed, because it is scary, but it is also quite freeing an empowering. That’s the first reason for where that comes from but I also wanted to sort of deconstruct masculinity as well. I have hated as an actor being thought of as masculine, or told to be masculine because I hate the baggage that goes with that. Grayson Perry has spoken about how all the buildings in the city are like giant penises and, well hopefully with my play, I am sort of deflating those penises and showing them to just be normal body parts. Demystifying the cock; which was the first title.
“Game playing is so interesting to us and so much a part of our real relationships”
At the start of your play one of the characters is encouraged to shoplift from a corner shop, have you ever shoplifted anything and if so what was it?
Yes. In school there was a whole trend of everyone shoplifting and it was like a dare – you weren’t cool unless you shoplifted. So yeah…I stole a packet of Tic Tacs. The strange thing is the I didn’t even like Tic Tacs, I don’t know why I stole them. It wasn’t even for the thrill of it. It was just like if I don’t do this I am going to be outcast! I just wanted to be cool.
How much did you draw from people in your own life or personal experience to create the characters in This Much?
There’s definitely some real life in it. I feel like if you are writing for a while you have to really like the characters that you are writing, so it helps for them to be based on someone you know and like, but they’ll only ever be like 30% of that person. Like the Albert character, the thing about him being exciting, came from a flirtation that I had with someone and it was the best flirtation ever because we never spoke a sincere word to each other. It was all just like roleplaying and games, literally someone who was just great at playing games and I feel that that is where the real life truth and the theatricality come together in this play, because game playing is so interesting to us and so much part of our real relationships.
“There is something rotten in there; that both of them know about but neither wants to say out loud”
For groups that may look to performing This Much in the future – what do you see as the main challenges of the piece?
The main challenge is to get the subtext of the piece and to identify the game playing. So with Gar and Anthony the subtext is that there is an underlying sort of turmoil or disconnect that both of them go towards but can never quite reach and as much as they love each other’s company there is something rotten in there that both of them know about but neither wants to say out loud. If you can get that dynamic working between them it makes the play work really well. The Albert and Gar stuff is easier to do but it is also the start of the relationship, where things are like a poker game – ‘what are you going to show me and what am I going to show you?’. If you can get to the heart of the Anthony/Gar relationship that makes the play work and it gives you the journey of the play. But this has only been the first production so it’s a learning curve and I am excited to see if someone does a different production of it or makes it in a different way. I am excited to see what comes through as the real bones of the piece; you know?