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Wil & Grace

"who we might become at our worst ... who we can be at our best"

In her new play, Madeleine Withington asks what might happen if, when met with a demanding situation, you could not look it in the eye.

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Category: Theatre
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Wil & Grace: The Antidote to Fear

Date: 16 Nov 2021
Do you ever think about what you would do in an emergency situation?

Maybe you already know. Maybe you’ve been the one on the phone to the ambos, or with your finger stopping the pulse of blood from a stranger’s artery.

I haven’t ever been that person, so I think about it a lot. Mostly because I’m afraid I won’t be able to move. I’ll be useless and frozen, standing somehow in everyone’s way at once, hindering far more than helping.

Or worse: I would faint or throw up, and then somehow I would be the one requiring medical attention.

I’m never not thinking about what could go wrong at any given moment, and that when it does, it will be my fault. I was scared to have dinner with my first boyfriend’s grandfather, because I was convinced I would somehow slingshot my fork into his eye.

By the way, I have anxiety. In case you couldn’t tell.

It manifests in many ways, but one thing that has become clearer and clearer over the years, is that I am terrified I am not a good person. Previous mild breakdowns have included online shopping sprees, resulting in piles of books on moral philosophy, from Kant to Nietzsche, to that guy that consulted on that TV show.

What is ‘good’? I have no idea; the concept to me has become almost ephemeral, like a magic eye painting that I’ve stared at too long. But apparently my mind can’t let it go.

Wil and Grace is in a lot of ways, a play about that fear.

A fear of what would happen if, when met with a demanding situation, you could not look it in the eye. Conversely, it’s also about belief, and hope, and some of the noblest things human nature has to offer. I wanted to examine my own fears about who we might become at our worst, and who we can be at our best.

I feel as though the concept of good can often be oversimplified into something with no shades of grey. I stand by the fact that I have no idea what ‘good’ fundamentally is. That said, part of me is certain that it is not monochromatic.

When I was writing the play, I had to step back from my ideas on what the best choices, what the most ‘heroic’ choices for the characters were. And part of that process was stepping out of fear, and into belief. I think they are two sides of the same coin.

Every character in the play is at some level motivated by belief, whether they are looking for it, choosing it, or somehow have too much of it. They all engage with fantasy on a level practically unheard of for adults.

In Wil & Grace I wanted to explore what would happen if a group of rational(ish) adults allowed themselves the fantasy of children, and what that would bring them. I wanted this, because the most common fantasy I engage with is ‘what disastrous thing I might bring about next’.

If my brain can play me the movie of inadvertently firing a cake fork into a septuagenarian’s eye, then maybe it can also give me something more beautiful. And maybe I can believe that with as much force.

In a world where I don’t believe in god, horoscopes, owning my own home, or, on particularly dark days, in a future for my hypothetical children, maybe I can, for a moment, look at the streetlights and imagine that the stars are closer to me tonight.

Belief is beautiful. It is fundamental. It is the antidote to fear.

Wil & Grace plays at Fringe HQ, 5 Eliza St, Newtown, from November 24 – December 4

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