Interview with Martin Crimp, Writer of In the Republic of Happiness

In the Republic of Happiness is Martin Crimp’s newest play currently performed at the Royal Court Theatre until 19 January. A violent satire, In the Republic of Happiness begins with the unexpected arrival of Uncle Bob who delivers a long and outrageous message. Disrupting a family Christmas, Uncle Bob’s visit throws up many questions and one certainty: the world will never be the same again. Previously working on The City, Attempts On Her Life, The Country, Face to the Wall (to name a few) at Royal Court Theatre, Crimp talks to Aesthetica about his writing and inspiration.

A: You’ve done a lot of great work with the Royal Court over the years; what is it specifically that attracts you to the theatre?
MC: Everyone will have their own mental picture of what the Royal Court is. For me it’s the place where I feel free to experiment – and where the experiment is welcome. In the Republic of Happiness , for example, is not really like anything I’ve written before. Plus this theatre still has a tradition of challenging the status quo – politically and aesthetically.

A: Can you tell us where the main inspiration came from for this new play?
MC: I became fascinated by the vast number of contemporary voices making demands – demands for compensation – demands for the latest drug – demands for the recognition and honouring of trauma and suffering. And beneath this tumult of demands – many of which, of course, are legitimate – there’s a kind of sadness. What is it about our society that makes us feel angry and vulnerable even when we are materially prosperous? Is it the lie of self-authorship? – because the US / UK model of laissez-faire liberalism insists that individuals are entirely responsible for their own destiny – while at the same time fabricating needs which – notoriously – can never be met. These voices were the starting point for this play.

A: More generally, how does the creative process usually unfold for you? Does it vary depending on the play in question or does it always follow a similar trajectory?
MC: When a specific voice produces a specific image, then a play can begin. I believe this only happens when you put pen to paper, since only then does writing become concrete – marks on a page. Most of what I write never goes into a play.

A: The Royal Court’s Artistic Director, Dominic Cooke, is directing. Can you say a little about his vision for the project and how it serves to complement yours?
MC: The play is divided into three distinct parts – in fact three different kinds of theatre – and Dominic, together with designer Miriam Buether, are highlighting this structure with three strikingly different environments, and, you might almost say, three different approaches to acting.

A: There’s a real tension between the central characters in the piece. Is this something of a trend in your work, and can you identify any other common themes running across your plays?
MC: If there’s no tension, there’s no drama. As for themes, I don’t think it’s wise for a writer to talk too much about this. Writing is hopefully driven by something deeper than a desire to tick boxes.

A: You’re about to go into rehearsals for the production. Can you talk us through your involvement in the rehearsal process at each stage?
MC: I like to be there at the beginning, and then – as a useful outside eye – appear again at the end.

A: Can you tell us more about the cast you are working with and their contribution to the project?
MC: I have a brilliant cast of eight – and it’s a particular pleasure to work on this play with a group who span a number of generations, each bringing their own unique perspective to the project.

A: What is next for both you and the play after this Royal Court premiere?
MC: One of the most fulfilling artistic collaborations I have is with the composer George Benjamin. I’ve written the text for his two operas – and the most recent of these, Written Skin, comes to Covent Garden in March of next year.

In the Republic of Happiness, until 19 January, Royal Court Theatre , Sloane Square, London, SW1W 8AS

All images courtesy of Johan Persson
1. Seline Hizli, Anna Calder-Marshall, Stuart McQuarrie, Ellie Kendrick, Peter Wight, Michelle Terry, Paul Ready, Emma Fielding.
2. Emma Fielding, Seline Hizli, Peter Wight, Stuart McQuarrie Anna Calder-Marshall, Ellie Kendrick, Paul Ready.
3. Michelle Terry, Stuart McQuarrie
4. Stuart McQuarrie, Paul Ready, Anna Calder-Marshall, Emma Fielding, Seline Hizli
5. Michelle Terry