“His work is as austere as the age of austerity,” says Aleks Sierz, author of The Theatre of Martin Crimp, whose new interview with the playwright appeared at The Arts Desk on 10 March. The somewhat reclusive writer sat down with Sierz upon the occasion of the world premiere of his new play, Play House, at the Orange Tree Theatre, and the London opening of his translation of Botho Strauss’ Big and Small, which opens at the Barbican this week. I’m a great admirer of Crimp’s work — his plays Dealing with Clair, The City, and Fewer Emergencies are spare but brilliant examinations of a declining culture, and Attempts on Her Life, a central influence on Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis, remains criminally undervalued in the US even as Kane’s play is regularly remounted.
A few excerpts from the interview:
What were your influences?
(Pause.) To me, looking back, it’s obvious that I was heavily influenced by Beckett. Of course, that’s a really dangerous influence, but in some ways not a bad one. Better than no influence at all. (Pause.) At the same time, I think that something more personal to me was already present — I was going to call it satire, but maybe that’s not the right word. Jonathan Swift is, of course, another Irish writer I’ve always admired and continue to read. As an adolescent, I was also a big fan of Ionesco, and I must have put on all sorts of weird plays by him at school: The Lesson, The New Tenant, and a play about the character Macbett. But I was completely unaware of the new wave of —
No, not kitchen-sink. [Edward-]Bond-type plays. Angry plays. Political plays. Which I discovered much later. So I was coming from a place which seems to me now quite strange and isolated. At that time, living in Yorkshire, I read Alain Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute, books which I found in the York Book and Record Exchange. They didn’t always make sense to me; but they left a subliminal mark. As far as British drama was concerned there was definitely a 10-year time gap between me and everybody else. …
For me, dialogue is inherently cruel. There’s something inherently cruel about people talking to each other. And I don’t know what that is. My parents’ constant arguments as a child possibly have something to do with it. …
[Getting Attention] was an uncommissioned play and, at the time I wrote it, there were a number of influences. One was all the media reporting about child abuse. The second thing, which got up my nose, was that many well-known British novelists of the 1980s were becoming fathers, and, in response to fatherhood, they were becoming increasingly sentimental. I remember reading an interview with one of them, which talked about his wonderful study overlooking his lovely garden, and how he looked around “with concern,” when he heard his child, which was being looked after by its nanny, not, you will note, by him. My experience of having children was different. It was not sentimental. It was beautiful, but hard at the same time. When I wrote Getting Attention, I wanted to confront physical — and I mean physical rather than the more fashionable sexual abuse — and, at the same time, to explore satirically some of the discourse that surrounds it.
The full interview can be found here.