What would you do if you lost your smartphone? Are we all in need of a digital detox? In our interview with EROS author Kevin Mandry, he discusses screen addiction, Herbert Lom onstage, his favourite playwrights, the kiss of the camera, digital detox ambitions and more. Read up… and then get booking!
With one click, anything becomes an image, and image is everything. What happens when fantasy becomes more real than flesh?
Ross used to take photos of women. He says it was about beauty. Now Kate’s back in his studio after twenty years. She remembers things differently. She says she’s there for justice.
Set in the 1990s at the dawn of the internet, Kevin Mandry’s new play EROS targets the moment when digital images first began to dominate our consciousness, and a younger generation began to feed hungrily on them. It also explores the effects of society’s obsessions with beauty and conformity.
Talking to… Kevin Mandry
For thirty years, Kevin Mandry worked as a commercial copywriter on myriad corporate projects, while also penning plays including Citizen Ilyushin, Lost Paradise, Romance, A Place in the Desert, Remembrance, Buskers and Silence of Stars. In the 1990s, he was twice winner of the annual North West Playwrights Competition, organised by Contact Theatre Manchester, for whom he also served as a script-reader.
Following early retirement in 2010, Mandry has now returned to writing for the stage. EROS is his second play premiered at the White Bear Theatre, following 2014’s Flowers of the Field, a “beautifully written” study of early twentieth-century folk-song collectors that “captured the heart and soul of an era”, according to OffWestEnd.com.
What made you first fall in love with theatre?
It was too long ago to remember! But from the age of about twenty, I was generally working in the theatre in some form or another – usually front of house – so it was simply the environment I inhabited. And the progress from watching so many plays to writing them seemed obvious. Very early on, I saw Pink Panther’s Herbert Lom onstage at my local theatre, and it suddenly dawned on me that I was, effectively, in the same room as a major film star…that must have lit some sort of flame…
You’ve had a long career as a copywriter. Has this affected your playwriting? Is it a very different discipline?
Chiefly it’s affected my playwriting by preventing it! That whole tedious business of earning a living seriously eats into your time – and of course, as a freelance, you never know how best to apportion it. Do I dare take time out now to write a draft (which takes me at the very least a year)/ go on holiday/ move house/ paint the bathroom/ mow the lawn, or should I be out there chasing down the next job? On the whole, I probably erred on the side of financial caution (though it doesn’t feel like it) with detrimental effects on my writing.
It is a very different discipline, not least in that a) the final decisions about what you write are not your own and b) everything tends to happen in a screaming hurry. Theoretically, developing the ability to turn something round in a rush might have improved my playwriting skills, but if anything, it had the opposite effect – made me more cautious and painstaking.
Which other playwrights do you most admire & why?
This changes all the time. Some of the obvious classics. Ibsen for his sheer granitic strength. Harley Granville Barker for his enquiring and perceptive intelligence. Above all, John Whiting for his classical balance of thought, emotion and construction. Arthur Schnitzler strikes me as a major European writer we know too little.
Among contemporaries, I’m in awe of the sheer density of ideas packed into much of Howard Barker‘s work, the narrative skill of Conor McPherson and the energy of Martin McDonagh. Of younger writers, James Graham‘s sheer productivity leaves me reeling, while after the first preview of Alistair McDowall‘s Pomona I had to go for a long walk until I’d calmed down.
How worried are you about ‘younger generations growing up in a world mediated overwhelmingly through screens’?
I don’t see how anyone over a certain age could have missed it: just observe how the smartphone has become, effectively, a body part – and this must be having an effect. In Game of Thrones, there’s a shocking moment when someone gets a hand chopped off – a second of stunned silence before a roar of pain and horror. Today you could achieve the same effect by just taking away someone’s smartphone.
More seriously, by making the screen the first and often only point of reference, it’s all too easy to accept the first carefully packaged ideas that present themselves as the basis for thought. I once heard an enthusiast for Google (other – better – search engines are available) claim that, with all the resources of the net to hand, it was now no longer necessary to actually know facts; oblivious to the point that you can’t think about what you don’t know.
Of course, I’m aware that there’s an alternative argument – that the internet makes available a vast amount of information that was previously locked up in libraries and in the minds of intelligent, articulate people – and that’s true. I’m just not sure that the balance is tilted the right way.
More pertinently to EROS is the point that images – any image, computer, phone, TV or cinema – probably presents an artificial and carefully manipulated view of the world. Life simply isn’t as glamorous, seductive or reductive as a screen version of it is likely to suggest.
How much time do you spend online yourself?
Actually, apart from work not that much. That’s partly because I have a really uncomfortable chair, which is a great incentive to get up and do something else. It’s also because, at any given moment, I tend to find I have at least a thousand other things that need doing urgently (anything from the laundry to tile re-grouting to the gym) away from the laptop. Similarly, I prefer to write first, second, even third drafts by hand. There’s something about the physical action of handwriting that actively mediates, and to my mind, improves the thought process.
Do you have a favourite line from the play?
The first line: “He used to call it ‘The Kiss’ – the kiss of the camera.” Straight away, it’s about what images do to us.
What would you like audiences to take away from Eros?
The urge to have a digital detox! Seriously – notice and consider the other 99.999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999% of the world that you can’t see on a screen…
Anything else you’d like to add?
Just that, despite all the above, to my mind EROS is first and foremost… a love story: it’s about how genuine true love is often the most powerful and valuable experience we have… but that that experience is by no means a guarantee of a happy ending…
EROS runs from 28 August to 15 September 2018 at the White Bear Theatre, 138 Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4DJ. Performances (90 minutes) are Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm, with Sunday matinees at 4pm. Tickets are priced £14 (concessions £12). CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!