Philip Ridley’s ‘Ghost From A Perfect Place’ was first launched explosively into the spotlight at Hampstead Theatre in 1994, where it received both high praise and damning critique. Hailed as “a masterpiece” by The Spectator and denounced as “pornographic” by The Guardian’s Michael Billington, this play was likely to prove controversial for years to come. Now, King’s Players bring the subversive production back into the limelight with their widely anticipated portrayal at Tutu’s Theatre. Roar grabs an exclusive interview with Assistant Director Elèni Depollas and lead actress Leah Sheshadri ahead of King’s’ ‘Ghost From A Perfect Place,’ debuting in April:
Hey Elèni, hi Leah, thank you for meeting with us! I hope you don’t mind me picking your brains about your upcoming production of ‘Ghost From A Perfect Place’. Its release is being eagerly anticipated by me and my friends after seeing Kings Player’s brilliant adaptation of ‘Pygmalion’ in December!
Firstly, why did you want to be involved in this particular production? What aspects of the play’s themes appealed to you?
Elèni: I was really drawn to the plays multifaceted nature, it’s simultaneously extremely sad and really funny. I was recently in ‘The Winter’s Tale’, which was great fun, but Ghost is a completely different play in every way.
The play encompasses a lot of really important themes, such as gang violence, sexual abuse and female agency. I think these things are often considered taboo and not spoken about enough, so it’s been really interesting to discuss them in detail and hopefully shed light on them in our production.
Leah: I just finished playing Eliza in Pygmalion, which is a comedy, so Ghost appealed to me as it was much darker. I liked the fact the play is brought together by family, as I come from quite a matriarchal one myself and so I felt really close to their experiences in this respect.
What sort of person should come and see the play? Is it a purely ‘youth’ oriented production?
** We’d advise audiences members of over 15, due to the language, violence and potentially distressing themes within the play **
Elèni: The play revolves around the lives of women of different ages, which is something I always find interesting to watch.
Leah: There are a lot of mature issues dealt with, but the characters range from having so little life experience to so much, so it covers many areas. The characters talk about childhood, adolescence and getting older, so there are so many moments that relate to different ages.
How closely was the original script followed, and were you involved in rewrites prior to or during production? And do you feel the final result was true to the original concept?
Elèni: We’ve followed the Bloomsbury 2nd edition script really closely, it’s so brilliantly written that we didn’t feel the need to cut/change anything. Different actors and directors bring different qualities to every production, but we’ve stuck to the original content. We hope the final production is true to the original play, as we all feel really attached to it and the characters.
Leah: Yeah, the script is so good that it gives you everything you need to build a character on.
It’s pretty close to the original then…but how is this production bringing something new to the story? What’s going to surprise people about this particular adaptation?
Elèni: I think the fact it’s a university production means it’s a pretty collaborative effort. The language and content is definitely uncensored, it’s dark and disturbing but also really compelling. I think the lack of filtering will certainly surprise some people.
Leah: With the plays east London setting, it would have been quite easy to make the characters caricature-like and overly comical, but we’ve tried to make them really authentic.
And how is the Play’s East-London (Bethnal Green) setting represented? Did you take any real-life London experiences into account when staging the Play?
Elèni: All the cast and crew live in London, which I think has helped everyone get fully immersed in the setting. On the whole, we definitely experience the city differently to the play’s characters, so we’ve done character workshops, research sessions, movement classes etc. to try to learn as much as possible and educate ourselves about the content/time/place.
Leah: My boyfriend’s family come from the Bermondsey area and it has a similar close knitted community, with elements of both violence and humour. The people generally have such resilience and good ways of dealing with things even when they’ve been through a lot.
So the play’s story told is across two different eras (the 1960’s and 1990’s). Did you find the representation of the different eras a challenge? What else was challenging about bringing this script to life?
Elèni: Taking on two different time periods was definitely a challenge, but fun as they’re both really interesting decades. It’s primarily set in 1994, which is cool to explore for our team, as we were born in the 80s and 90s. On a lighter note, costume and make-up have been fun, especially for the girl gang. We all remember the trends of the 90s and wanted to make the character’s look authentic. The time periods can be hard at times to convey because the entire play is set in one room, but we’ve tried to emphasise relevant language, costume etc. to highlight the specific decades.
Leah: My character’s [Torchie Sparks] narrative lies within the 60s and her nostalgia and memories of the time bring it to life like another character through reflection. These memories give all the action purpose, they’re the catalyst behind everything. Torchie repeats names and phrases a lot, which isn’t something I do, as it isn’t part of my personality, I sometimes find myself getting tripped up by the repetition.
Seemingly, gang violence in the play is a primary theme. How did the cast approach the amount of violence to be explored on stage?
Elèni: Violence is definitely a key theme in the play and has been something we had to approach with sensitivity. The last thing we want to do as cast and crew is present a disrespectful view of this time and people by presenting the violence badly. We stuck to the script closely in order to follow the content east end born Ridley wanted to express. We use warm-ups in rehearsals that get mind and body engaged and excited, which help with the more physical and energetic violence. Getting into the script’s language and character’s thoughts/feelings definitely helped understand motivations.
What have you and other cast/crew members found most challenging throughout the rehearsal process?
Elèni: The fact the play is set in one room, with few characters, means we’ve had to work extensively on the pitch, pace, pause and movement to create a (hopefully) dynamic, non-stagnant production that holds the attention of the audience.
Leah: It’s quite challenging on the whole, as I’ve never played a character like this before, she’s [Torchie] had so many years of life that I haven’t [age 76], so I’ve had to look harder for parallels, of which there are actually quite a few. I think ageing up is hard for that reason: because you’re touching territory that’s unfamiliar.
On a personal level, what kind of theatre usually excites you? Who are your theatrical Heroes?
Elèni: I really enjoy most theatre, and being in London means there’s so much to see. I like trying to see pieces of new writing, I recently saw Carey Mulligan in ‘Girls and Boys’ and it was super good, she was amazing. I’ve also recently seen ‘Strangers on a Train’, ‘The Real Thing’ and ‘Apologia’ which were all incredible.
Leah: I like theatre that takes a play that’s kind of done to death and tries to reinvigorate it and bring out things I’d never thought about before. Two productions I really liked for this, both at the national, ‘Hedda Gabler’ (Ruth Wilson) and Medea (Helen McCrory), they are two of my ‘theatrical heroes’.
Finally: the play is being shown on the 6th 7th and 8th of April-which is the best night for us to come and see it in action?
Elèni: We’d really appreciate the support any night but the first is always fun as everyone is so excited to finally show what we’ve been working on!
Leah: For me, the last is always my favourite as you have that sad/excited feeling that you’re never going to do it again and so put all your energy into it.
King’s Player’s ‘Ghost from a Perfect Place’ is being shown at Tutu’s Theatre on the 6th, 7th and 8th of April at 7.30pm; with tickets starting at just £6 for ‘Kings Players’ members, and £7 for students, what are you waiting for?! Happy watching!
Tickets available at https://www.kclsu.org/ents/event/5614/