Simon David Eden can do it all. One of those rare talents who can write a play, design the set and then direct the show. With his most recent play, Albatross 3rd and Main, Eden was able to transport a richly observed slice of Americana to Brighton and then London with dusty authenticity in tact. We managed to grab some time with this man of many talents to discuss the play and what inspires his work.
What inspired you to write Albatross 3rd and Main?
I have close friends in Vermont so I’ve spent a great deal of time there over the years. It was during one trip that I happened upon an article in a local newspaper about a guy who had been arrested for selling a fan made of eagle feathers. That piqued my interest and I learned about the federal legislation relating to the ‘Eagle Feather Law’ and how that impacts on the Native American population today.
The seed for the story was sown right there. That was a couple of years back.
The play is set in Massachusetts and takes place entirely within a small general store, what interested you about this setting?
During those trips to Vermont, seems like whenever we stopped off for coffee, it’d be in a General Store, and what struck me is how timeless those places are. A treasure trove for the senses. You can smell the diesel oil, machine tools, wood smoke, cedar cladding and coffee beans and see the lives of the generations who have worked there, shopped there, or just dropped by to chew the fat.
The play has quite a stylised almost cinematic feel to it – did you take any inspiration from the world of film when crafting the story?
Cinema has always had a huge influence on me. To some degree it was my escape from the gritty reality of life on the rundown council estate where I grew up. But ironically the movies that really shook my world early on were those that held up a mirror to the kind of life and people I knew, even though I lived on the other side of the Atlantic. Films like Angels With Dirty Faces and On the Waterfront.
I’m still deeply moved by those films, and learned a great deal about the development of character, story structure and subtext from watching them again and again before I even knew what direction my life would take.
Could you talk us through the three central characters and what motivates them throughout the play?
Each of the characters represents a different face of the ‘average’ American citizen for whom the American dream in the 21st century is nothing but a fantasy.
I’ll resist being too prescriptive about exactly who they are and what their motives are, as that’s for others who study the play to decide; but suffice to say I always begin a play with two questions about each character:
What does he/she want? What’s to stop them from getting it?
The character of Spider could be seen as the villain of the piece, but would you say that this is a fair assessment?
I think Spider is a much more complex character than he at first seems. He spouts casual bigotry, but if asked wouldn’t consider himself a bigot. He desperately wants to fit in, but is the eternal outsider. I believe the official definition of a sociopath is something along the lines of: he/she typically has a conscience, but it’s not strong enough to curb bad or unlawful behaviour.
In terms of the narrative of ‘Albatross’ though, the bigger villain of the piece for me is the ‘system’ all the guys are battling against, and the federal legislation that disenfranchises hundreds of ‘un-approved’ Native American tribes.
The play raises questions about the cost of life and the morality of exploiting that value for personal gain. What drew you to this theme?
Injustice of one form or another, and the exploitation of the weak and disenfranchised, and the natural resources of our beautiful planet (and all flora and fauna we share it with) has long been fuel for the fire of my writing.
There are numerous indicators in the play all of which feed into a broader comment about how a Capitalist society which values profits over everything else, has to be, in my opinion, morally bankrupt. As Lullaby says at the end of the first act: ‘to want more than you need, that’s a sure sign of poor mental health’
What challenges would a company face when looking to stage the play in the future?
In terms of the stage play itself; I think the biggest challenge lies in casting the role of Gene. The opening telephone call (almost a monologue) requires nuance, comic timing and intensity.
It’s also true to say that given the nature of the dialogue, there is a tone and rhythm required to make it really sing. The sections of banter should see the characters clipping the end of one another’s lines.
Finally, my advice for a general approach to the play: Mine the funny. Play the comedy. The drama and the darker forces unleashed in Act Two will be all the better for it.
Can you describe Albatross 3rd and Main in 10 words or less?
Can I be cheeky and quote our notice in The Stage to answer this?
★★★★ ‘richly authentic, blackly comic, teasingly enigmatic, a damn good story’