David Leddy - in context
The theatrical experimentalist explores what makes good men do bad things
This article is from 2009.
As writer/director David Leddy’s body of work grows, certain recurring themes become apparent. This is common enough to all writers, but what marks Leddy out is a kind of largesse of spirit to his work, a generosity about the people portrayed that emerges from an understanding of the contexts within which they operate.
His recent Sub Rosa at the Citizens’, a site-specific account of a murder committed in a Victorian theatre, narrated by its witnesses in a series of brilliant monologues, exemplified this. However grisly the goings on described, each character was given a context which caused the audience to refrain from both sentimental empathy and the simple hostility which most narratives would ask them to lean on. Instead we were given full pictures of lives, and an understanding of the origins of each character, so that even the most unsympathetic of the characters could not be turned into a simplistic villain.
‘I’m interested in the question of why good people do bad things and bad people do good things,’ says Leddy. ‘What drives us in that direction? What is it that makes people come to brutal decisions, and how do they excuse it to themselves? Or do they not excuse it? We tend to think that the biggest contributing factor to people’s decisions is their personality. But the big determinate in reality is the context. The pressure that they’re put under by the world or situation around them is what interests me.’
His new piece, White Tea, exemplifies this. Its story focuses on Naomi, a Scottish woman working in Paris. She has been estranged from her mother, a noted Japanese postwar peace campaigner, for many years, when she hears of her illness. After she at first refuses to attend the sickbed, a nurse is dispatched from Japan and the growing understanding that emerges between daughter and carer tells us a good deal about relationships, and not a little about tea, and how we use it in both Japanese and British culture.
‘White Tea is about that idea of context,’ Leddy explains. ‘It’s about the things that a person might have done in Japan in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, where a younger generation of people were saying maybe this blind obedience to authority isn’t such a good thing, because it’s led us to a very bad place. White Tea is about that transition, and how that affects the mother-daughter relationship.’
The new work will act as a companion piece to an older one, Susurrus, a site-specific journey around a garden where a series of recorded voices act as your guide. It amounts to a sensual reinterpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a contemporary edge.
‘Theatrically, they’re at opposite ends of the spectrum, but the characters in each of the pieces know each other, and knew each other as children. So they have an impact on each other, that you have to see both pieces to understand. Underneath both is this thing about people who have these great parents who were better at doing their jobs than being parents.’
White Tea, Assembly Rooms, 623 3030, 7–31 Aug (not 11, 18, 25), 2pm & 5pm, £9–£10. Previews 6 Aug, 2pm & 5pm, £5; Susurrus, Royal Botanic Garden, 623 3030, 6 Aug–6 Sep, shows every half hour 10am–5pm, £8.