BLAME IT ON THE RENT BOY
Paul Andrew speaks to playwright Steven Dawson about his new work, Mr Braithwaite has a New Boy, playing Midsumma.
A rich older man, a sexy rent boy, an over pampered feline- it’s the perfect line-up for a Steven Dawson play- a madcap ménage a trios, a raunchy narrative, full frontal nudity and animal moments.
With 44 plays to his credit including the evergreen The Art Of Being Still- his first feature-length play -and recent works like The Adventures of Butt Boy and Tigger and his 2010 Edinburgh Festival hit Jane Austen's Guide To Pornography, playwright Steve Dawson has a well-earned if somewhat controversial reputation.
Like any celebrity with a prolific output Dawson has attracted his share of critics. The Dawson Factor is best described as oblique humour, high-camp low-brow, a corny cavalcade of randy characters who adore the superficial things in life. Some detractors suggest his style is more jackass than kick-ass, more Little Britain than Pinter. To suggest this however is also to do a great disservice to any playwright who has his best plays reprised again and again and who understands the art of how to tap the zeitgeist in peculiar ways.
Reading Sophocles Antigone as a drama student has remained a writing influence, he describes the relationships drawn by the Greek dramatist as profoundly moving. "The imagery is so powerful, the sadness overwhelming”. While this accounts for the pathos often depicted in the deepest subtext of a Dawson play, it is another memory that is more revealing about the author's own style: “What is my fondest memory of theatre? That’s easy- switching the cellophane coloured fluoro lights on and off in a high school production of Beowulf & Grendel. Such big budgets back then, such backstage glamour."
Dawson recounts Warner Brother’s cartoons like Bugs Bunny and the Merry Melodies crew as early influences too, and during an odd moment of seriousness recalls his NIDA student years as perhaps the most formative experience of all. "I admit it. It was my Head of writing and directing at NIDA- you know who you are mister- you, who forced me to do playwriting in the mid 80’s and told me afterwards I had written a beautiful work. Ten thousand miles and 25 years later you still inspire me to be better at my craft."
“I am just amazed I am still doing it," he continues."I write plays purely for myself and my friends. The audiences are just cream on the cake. I am so fortunate during the years I have been working with wonderful talented and greatly under-appreciated actors. This is truly what drives me to write material. With this new play, two of my closest actor chums decided they wanted to work together and it drove me to creating something that played to both their strengths and got them together, up close and impersonal.”
Judging by the modest smile on his face, Dawson is pleased with his new work for this Midsumma. When pressed to describe the play despite his protestation about spoilers, he gives in. “It’s black comedy, twisted with liver spots!
We get down to the nitty gritty, the truth about the humour Dawson is lampooned for. "Look, I can be ribald and sometimes downright offensive, but with tongue and double entendre firmly in cheek. Very Black Adder dry, Carry On saucy with a touch of John Waters porn attitude. It’s not stuff for the kiddies-unless of course you really don’t like them."
Where and When: Mechanics Institute Performing Arts Centre until 12 February