How is the deepening crisis in Venezuela affecting theatremakers there? Award-winning playwright Gustavo Ott, who gets his overdue UK debut this month with a new production of 2002 play Your Molotov Kisses, discusses that and how his five years living in London as a young immigrant – working as a theatre usher, meeting Harold Pinter, flat-sharing with ETA separatists – shaped him and his art. Time to get booking!
Originally staged in 2002 and based in Venezuela’s largest city Caracas, in South America, Your Molotov Kisses has been relocated to modern-day Britain by director Gianluca Lello. It runs at London’s Etcetera Theatre from 8 to 16 August 2018 as part of this year’s Camden Fringe Festival. This full productions follows a successful rehearsed reading at CASA Latin American Theatre Festival at the Southwark Playhouse in 2017 and stars Lydia Cashman as Victoria and Matthew Bromwich as Daniel.
“How many times have you travelled outside the country?”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“You hate everything foreign.”
A dark comedy about religious bigotry, racial profiling, misconceptions, deceptions and the fault lines of race, class and intolerance, Your Molotov Kisses asks: Why are we living with terror on our minds?
Talking to… Gustavo Ott
Gustavo Ott is a journalist, novelist, director and producer as well as a playwright. He has received numerous international awards, productions, and residencies as a playwright, including at the Public Theatre (New York) and La Comedie Française (France). He is the winner of the Ricardo López Aranda International Playwriting Prize.
How did you get into writing?
I started as a musician. I wanted to be in Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin. But being a musician was hard for me. I really had to work my ass off. To my surprise, I found writing lyrics easy. The rest of the group found that part hard. Then, when we played in a theatre production, I was instantly attracted to the stage. I began working as a lighting designer at first and then as a director’s assistant. At a rehearsal one day, everyone in the company apart from me was asked to adapt a short story for the stage. I was mad and began to work on an adaptation anyway. Mine was the one chosen to be performed. And since then, that’s what I’ve been doing, still pretending to be Pink Floyd.
What was the inspiration for Your Molotov Kisses?
I wanted to write a play exploring questions of identity. Two situations separated in time jumped out of my notebook. The first one happened here in London. I was in my early twenties and living with a bunch of friends from Spain. We partied all day every day, just having fun, and never discussing politics or art. Then, one day, all my friends disappeared without a word. The next day the police knocked on our door. They were looking for my roommates because they suspected they were in ETA (a Basque country nationalist and separatist group called the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna).
Twenty years later, a neighbour of mine received a package lost for ten years. Inside was an old camera with pictures. And those pictures caused problems in his marriage. The two situations suddenly became linked for me by the era of intolerance, prejudice, and humiliation. I was especially interested in shame as a catalyst for violence and as a tool for pain in the context of everyday fascism, not only in our actions but particularly in language. So then, I mixed this with privilege and class. An upper-class couple, beautiful and successful, want to have a baby. And, suddenly, that becomes an antisocial idea. A journey without the journey because their only motivation for beauty and success is a disregard for others.
How do you feel about its debut in London?
I lived in this city for five years, working in several theatres as an usher, waiter and bartender. I worked in London when they opened Les Mis at the Palace Theatre. I was always the first to arrive, four hours before my shift, just to watch the RSC company rehearsing. I also worked at the National Theatre in the Lyttelton cafe. I got great tips because I loved being around theatre people and audiences.
Whilst working in various guises at the theatre, I was never made to feel like an immigrant or an outsider. I actually found it a pleasure to clean the stage, seats and dressing rooms. I even met Harold Pinter. He used to come to the cafe I worked in. He let me watch his rehearsals of the Sweet Bird of Youth production he was working on with Lauren Bacall at the Haymarket. I wanted to be a director like him. Now, after all these years, coming to London to see my play in my old neighbourhood of Camden Town seems to echo the main theme of Your Molotov Kisses: the past plays a strong part – and an intense force – in shaping our identity.
Do you think there’s a difference between British & Venezuelan theatre?
Not as much as you may think. Of course, tradition and public support play a defining role, as well as education and training. But what we share is a love for writing, curious audiences, risk-taking directors, excellent actors, all looking for ways to put experiences on the stage that are not shared via other art forms. I would say right now that the theatre is pushing boundaries in Venezuela because the political and social structures in my country are in total disarray.
There is an unbelievable crisis unfolding in Venezuela, which is pushing a lot of talent out of the country. But still, we are making theatre. The Venezuelan crisis is dangerous, with the same indicators of hunger, inflation and poverty as the crisis in 1923 Germany. With a critical difference: fascism, in the form of an organised criminal elite, has already been ruling the country for years.
What advice do you have for the company here?
I always write about this sensation of loss. From the ordinary to the extraordinary, and from the simple and dismissible to the complex. Even the structure of the play follows this main idea. The political tones of my theatre are like object ideas, like physical things, that you should be able to see. As a director, I always work with actors toward this idea of objects as transmutations of ideas. And of course, there is the comedy factor. There is plenty in Molotov, and it isn’t to please everyone. Humour in this play exposes vulnerability and increases the level of perversion
Do you have any other theatre projects coming up?
In September, there will be two new productions of Cinco minutos sin respirar in Spain and South America. Also two more of The Photo – we premiered this play last February at Gala Theatre in Washington, DC. A new production of Passport will open in Philadelphia. Also, next month in Spain, I’ll be presenting my crime novel, La lista de mis enemigas mortales, edited by Ediciones PG. You will also be able to see the Spanish production of Your Molotov Kisses in Madrid. Then, in Canada, they’ll be producing Miss and Madame in October. So, after a whole year without a passport, I’ll be travelling around for the next three months – and that’s good because I always end these trips with a lot of new writing.
Showing at the Camden Fringe, Your Molotov Kisses runs at 8.30pm on 8-12 August 2018, and then 6.30pm 14-16 August 2018 at the Etcetera Theatre, 265 Camden High Street, London NW1 7BU. Tickets are just £12 (concessions £10). CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!