By Juliet Jacobs
Director/actor/writer Gavin Yap tells us about his initial meeting and subsequent relationship with playwright Sarah Kane’s works, as he tackles her last and most experimental work, 4.48 Psychosis.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Have you always wanted to be involved in acting and directing?
Okay, let’s see: I was born in London and stayed there till I was about five years old, before moving to Malaysia. I went to primary and secondary school here, college in the United States, and then university in London.
If I were to label them, I guess primary school would be my Dumb Years, secondary school my Smarter-But-Still-Comes-Across-As-Dumb Years, college the Learning-How-To-Act-Normal-While-Under-The-Influence Years, university the Damn-Gotta-Stop-Drinking-So-Much Years, and the years since — well, guess you can say I’m still in the process of figuring that out.
I know I’ve been quoted in past interviews, saying that I’ve always wanted to be an actor, but looking back on it now, I think I was more interested in escapism. My interest in acting came from my love of movies — but I think it was more a desire to move away from real life, than a career choice. As I got older, I was always role-playing, doing bad impersonations of my favourite movie characters; that, I think, was where the whole “acting” thing came from. I never had any desire to write or direct. That was something that just kind of happened along the way.
Your current play, “4.48 Psychosis”, was British playwright Sarah Kane’s last work, written from the point of view of someone with severe bipolar disorder, yes? How were you introduced to her works in the first place?
Sarah Kane displayed an intense fascination with the darker side of humanity, and her work does indeed reflect that. What I love about Sarah’s writing is how astute she was about all the things that can make us snap; all the mental and emotional states that we allow ourselves to indulge in to the point where we feel victimised and bitter towards everything around us.
I was first introduced to Sarah’s work when I was still studying in London. Her first play, “Blasted”, was part of our syllabus and it just blew me away. I had never read anything quite so brutal. After that, I read everything else she had done and loved all of them.
It’s interesting to note that if you were to read all her plays in sequence, you’d find that each play moves further and further away from naturalism. I don’t think this was so much to do with her not liking naturalistic drama, but more of a realisation that — in order to push the limits of theatrical imagination — she had to push aside the idea of theatrical realism. “4.48”, you could say, is the ultimate result of this; Sarah’s work became more focused with each play, going from war, to family, to personal relations — and, finally, with “4.48”, to inside the individual mind.
What attracted you to this piece, in particular? How long have you worked on it?
“4.48” was the one I identified with the most. It just spoke to me on a very personal level. It still does. So I guess, in that regard, I’ve been living Kane’s words for a while now. It’s been cool to finally let the demons out, and actually get the chance to stage it.
There are no explicit characters or stage direction in “4.48”; each production of the work has varied from its predecessors. How are you doing things? What informed your decisions?
I’d rather not say too much about the look of this particular production; I think it’ll be a much cooler experience for the audience if they’re not too sure what to expect. I will say that my main focus will be the actor’s voices. There is a trippy visual aspect to it too — but, for me, this play is about the voices, voices in darkness. And seeing as it’s a play that takes place inside someone’s mind, it always seemed pretty clear to me that all three actors are playing the same person. They may take on different voices at different points of the play, but it all happens in this one person’s mind.
But, having said that, it can be interpreted in so many ways.
What was it like, working with Susan Lankester, Samantha Schubert and Malik Taufiq? Share some of their quirks with us?
I’ve had a great time working with them. They are completely committed to the material, which makes my job a lot more fun.
Share their quirks? Ha ha. Nice try.
Come on. Are they unruly? Do you have to crack the whip with them?
This isn’t the juicy answer you are expecting: no, they’re not at all unruly. I usually make it pretty clear, from the first day, what I’m willing to put up with and what I’m not.
Don’t get me wrong, I like to have fun — and, quite frankly, I don’t think there’s much point in doing theatre if you don’t find it fun (because you sure as hell don’t do it to get rich). But discipline is very important to me. Rehearsal time is precious, and I really have no patience for actors who do not respect that basic principle. But Susan, Sam and Malik are very disciplined, and are smart enough to know that you can’t do a play like “4.48” without giving it absolutely everything.
What’s a typical rehearsal like? Any funny or weird stories to share?
I don’t have a fixed method of rehearsing. I tend to approach each production differently. With this, there was a fair bit of discussion and workshopping. After that, we slowly started to piece everything together. Draining, but fun.
A funny story: Sam had this really, really serious and emotional bit of text to get through. While she was doing it, she changed her delivery slightly — which, for some strange reason, cracked me up. This made Sam crack up, and then Susan started laughing. And they kept playing the scene. So Sam and Susan are doing this really serious scene while laughing and —
Actually, it’s not that funny.
Tell us a lame joke about theatre directors.
How many theatre directors does it take to change a light-bulb?
Ten. One to change it and another nine to say how they could’ve done it better.
Ever had any awkward moments with an over-enthusiastic audience member and/or groupie?
No, not really. Most times, people tend to be pretty nice.
What’s irony to you?
When I take my younger brother clubbing, and I get asked for ID.
What are you up to next?
I really want to do Eric Bogosian’s “Sex, Drugs and Rock&Roll”. But I don’t know; have to wait and see. I’ll be re-staging “The Homecoming” next year, which I’m really looking forward to, and I’ll be acting in a Neil Simon comedy called “Star Spangled Girl” with Douglas Lim. Should be fun. You decide.
Internal battles play out on stage in 4.48 Psychosis, which runs from Fri 7 – Sun 16 Sep 2007 at the Pentas 2, KLPac. Tickets at RM35 and RM20 (concessions).
First Published: 05.09.2007 on Kakiseni