It’s human nature, says playwright Nick Coyle, for people to dial down their individual eccentricities. It’s something we’ve done – and have had to do – since the dawn of human civilisation.
“It’s part of living in the herd,” he says. “You have to sand down your quirks so people will give you part of the mammoth when you are sick.”
It’s also something most of us do at the personal and intimate level, says Coyle, whose new play, The Feather in the Web, is about to premiere at Griffin Theatre.
“I really wanted to explore the way love can force you to warp your own identity. Whether we’re male or female, we can relate to being in love with, or attached to, or obsessed by, something or someone not good for us.”
Coyle’s interest in the phenomenon has a dual origin. “My entrance into that conversation comes from with being in love with someone who didn’t love me,” he says. “But it also comes from working in the arts. You often feel trapped loving the thing that doesn’t care about you. I guess I’m interested in just how much of ourselves we’re willing to give to something that we love.”
The Feather in the Web germinated from a character Coyle began to dream up a few years ago. “I had this idea that I was really excited by: a young girl who does what she wants, when she wants, and doesn’t care about any repercussions. She would enter, destroy the scene, then walk through to the next scene.”
He ran with the idea for a while, wrote 20 pages or so, then consigned it to the bottom drawer.
“Then two years ago, I entered those 20 pages in the Lysicrates Prize [the annual competitive event for playwrights]. The audience loved it and it lost only by a handful of votes. But more importantly [Griffin’s] Lee Lewis liked it. So we did a development with Playwriting Australia last year and it was programmed and now it is finally happening.”
The finished play tells “a simple weird story,” says Coyle. “Weird and funny and dumb and moving.”
At the play’s centre is Kimberly (played by Claire Lovering), a young woman in love for the first time.
“She meets this guy, Miles, randomly, who already has a girlfriend and is not interested in her,” Coyle explains. “She falls in love with him entirely against her will – in love with him even though she doesn’t really like him. But it’s like a spell or a curse. She is trapped.
“She used to be so free and self-motivated, but now she is just entirely beholden to him. It’s playing with the ideas of how destructive and terrible and horrifying first love can be. And it’s a comedy.”
Kimberly is a “pretty amazing character” says Lovering, who makes her Griffin debut in a production directed by Ben Winspear and co-starring Tina Bursill, Gareth Davies and Michelle Lim Davidson.
“I have never read or seen a character like her before. There are no rules and she breaks all the conventions of normality. She says the truth. She can break people open with very few words. She pulls the rug from under every scene she is in.”
Very seldom, if ever, does an actor get to develop a character using the strangest, most over-the-top choices she can imagine, Lovering adds.
“If someone is eating cake, she will grab the cake out of their hand and smash the plate on the floor. If they are drinking coffee, she will grab the coffee out of their hand and pour it on their head. The possibilities of how Kimberly might behave in any situation are infinite. Nothing is too much. I can get away with anything.”
Kimberly is in her late teens at the beginning of the play and at her most extreme. “The idea is you see a little of her growing up and you see her in her twenties,” says Coyle. “By the end of the play you have an idea of her future. It’s an entire life on the stage in an hour and a bit.”
Coyle describes The Feather in the Web as a “black rom-com”.
“I love theatre that makes you feel … anything,” he says. “That is all I want when I go to the theatre – something to hit me without me having to think about it, for it to bypass my brain and I’m suddenly crying or laughing or gasping. Even in a bad play I hate, if there is one moment of that, I feel like I have got my money’s worth. That’s what I want.”
He doesn’t set out to write “funny”, he says.
“It’s really just what comes out of me. I just try to write a play. My main goal is connection, between the audience and the actor and the story. I just write the only way I know how, and if it is funny I’m glad, because comedy dismantles armour.”