Preview: Drink Me
Emily Chan talks to the mind behind a surrealist new piece of writing
by Emily Chan
Saturday 5th May 2012, 23:48 BST
Robbie Aird, the writer and director of Drink Me, is knowingly cryptic during our interview. When asked what the play is about, he replies with some hesitation: “I’m loathe to give it away.”
What I do know is this: Drink Me is a dark surrealist piece in which four people wake up chained by their wrists to the walls of a prison cell. Motivated by very particular desires, the characters struggle over who has the right to drink from the bottle. The bottle remains a mystery throughout: “There is something very specific in the bottle, but I’m not going to tell you what it is now, and it’s quite likely that I’m not going to tell you ever, even if you see the play every night.”
This is the play that first-year English student Aird “needed to write” and a kind of play that he will never write again. He says: “There’s a lot of me in Drink Me. There’s a lot of my angrier side […] It was a very cathartic experience.” For this reason, he suggests that he does not seek approval and would be more than happy to receive three one-star reviews.
Indeed, he thinks that the whole experience will be very bewildering for his audience. He does not expect people to “get it”, and the focus is on the spectacle, rather than untangling the intricacies of the plot. Aird tells me that there have times during the rehearsals when he has been laughing manically and thought “Oh God, my friends are going to come out of this fearing for my sanity”.
The play is dark and unsettling, containing acts of gratuitous violence: “There is no character that doesn’t suffer.” The actors will be made to look as “inhuman as possible”. Does Aird see himself in any of his characters? “As horrifically damning as this statement may be, for anyone that watches the show and has to speak to me ever again, a lot of it is a projection of my personality onto five people in a prison cell together. Which is disturbing even for me to think about.”
This darkness is combined with the “zany”: there will be a club scene under strobe lighting, and two of the characters will tango when they first meet. There was a joke in one of the rehearsals that even releasing bees onto the set half way through the play would not seem out of place.
Aird is keen to emphasise that Drink Me is a highly experimental project. He cites James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as A Young Man as an influence and explains the way in which he used the idea of a stream-of-consciousness to drive the play. Like Joyce’s novel, it is a biography of a man’s life, “but depicted from a very unusual perspective.” However, particularly considering this is his first full-length script, he is careful not to take his writing too seriously. He has encouraged his cast to ridicule the philosophical debate in the play and even talks about doing Drink Me On Ice.
The writing process was not without its own drama. There was a finished script last term but the only copy was destroyed when friends spilt beer on his laptop. This meant that he had to re-write the whole thing, a play that is now completely different and “even more surreal”.
The fact that the play has become increasingly surreal during the writing stages and the rehearsals seems to stem from Aird’s fear of being too conservative. He argues that there needs to be more experimental theatre in Cambridge, that there is too much Shakespeare and Pinter, too much straight drama.
Why should people go and see Drink Me? “Love it or hate it, you’re not going to see anything else like it. This is our opportunity to go nuts.”