INTERVIEW FEATURE: Dead Cat Bounce
Interview with Mary Rachel Brown, Dead Cat Bounce
By Carmella Winter
Dead Cat Bounce follows the story of Gabriel Freeman, an alcoholic writer in his late 40s, his new, younger girlfriend Matilda, his ex Angela and her new partner Tony. And Gabriel's cat, who they are still, for some reason, looking after. I spoke to the writer, Mary Rachel Brown about the show and the questions it arose for me.
CW: What made you want to write about addiction and relationships?
MRB: Initially, I wrote a play that was very much solely about alcoholism and wasn't a lot about anything else. Consequently, it was a little bit boring. The play is more about love than it is about addiction in some ways. As a playwright you are always looking for high stakes and addiction if you boil it down is kind of about living or dying. Whether that is physical or spiritual. And everyone has things they are trying to avoid, addiction is just a bigger and more public expression of that avoidance. As a playwright, I am interested in unpicking the wound that sits underneath people's behaviour and I think addiction is a great way to speak to that. I want to talk about issues that are shameful and things we don't talk about as a society.
Do your characters have a developed life outside of what we see in the show?
They all have backstories and histories. That's one of the tricky things I find about play writing is it's trying to bringing the integrity of 30 or 40 or however many years the character has lived into an hour or two. In order to get to know your characters, You try and put them next to other characters that are going to scratch an itch, or unearth a bias or dig up a problem from their past.
What does the metaphor of Gabriel's cat mean to you?
Cats have a reputation of being remote and independent and they can isolate themselves and not be affectionate and that is something that can happen to people in the spiral of addiction. There's a point where Gabriel talks in the book about how cats are hard to obtain. Not like dogs, who are all over you. Not every person who is an alcoholic is the same but in terms of Gabriel its a very good metaphor for him.
Do you think that the age gap between Matilda and Gabriel is directly related to why they didn't work out together?
I'm not ageist, I've had relationships with people who have been significantly older than me and those have been great. I think in this, it is potentially a reason why it didn't work out. I think the character of Gabriel maybe underestimated Matilda and thought because of her youth it mightn't have been a deep relationship and it might have been a relationship he could control. I think it was a misjudgement on his part. But in no way is the play a broad comment on age gap relationships. It's just one of the things I chose for the specifics of this story.
Do you think that the character of Matilda was naive for staying with Gabe?
I don't know if she was as naive as a lot of people see her as. She's blinded to certain things out of love. But I also think she really corners him. In the second scene of the play, she really drills down asks him what his book is about and asks him why he is not leaving the house. And she was the only one in the play who was brave enough to say 'You need to stop drinking', so I see her as pretty courageous opposed to naive. It's probably happening in a climate where we are desperate to see women not be negatively influenced or oppressed by men. But it unfortunately still does happen. And she has a whole back story that we see parts of, and you get the impression she didn't have much love in her upbringing so she's desperate to find that.
Dead Cat Bounce is a show about love, heartbreak and alcohol abuse. But it's also lighthearted. It shows alcoholism and addiction in all its messy emotional complexity. The show addresses the topic without judgement or bias, and speaks of how addiction emotionally impacts everyone around the addict.
DEAD CAT BOUNCE
Griffin Theatre Company
4 - 21 March 2019
Photography: Brett Boardman