Performance Preview: Characters who speak from the heart

“All I have in this world is my balls and my word and I don’t break them for no-one,” says Tony Montana halfway through the film ‘Scarface’.

That’s the beauty of the character. You know he’s a man with balls who sticks to his word … in other words, honest.

The characters in the plays of Serbian playwright Tanja Mastilo are of a similar ilk, as they always speak from the heart. Going to one of her plays is an intimate experience – almost confessional.

Just like Hemingway said 
“There’s that fantastic Hemingway quote that I always loved: ‘Write hard and clear about what hurts’,” Mastilo tells CPH POST ahead of the opening of her new play ‘Mairead’ on Friday February 15 – the third play she has especially written for Why Not Theatre Company following ‘Secrets’ and ‘Mr Tesla Played’.

“With ‘Secrets’, each and every story came from a very honest place and had a very deep significance to me, and I think that was something the audience picked up on.”

Described by the theatre as “a tender love story about prisons, expectations, and about risking your heart”, there are high hopes about a production starring Why Not Theatre founder Sue Hanson-Styles, Kevin Kiernan-Molloy (six memorable roles in ‘The Art of Falling’), Nathan Meister (played alone in ‘Mr Tesla Played’) and Kerry Norton-Griffith (flown in from London especially for the job) under the direction of Nina Larissa Bassett.

Thin line between cheesy and deep
Nevertheless, ‘Mairead’ did not come easily to Mastilo. She recalls having to give up on her attempt to tackle love and romance many times because there is “a very thin line between cheesy and deep”. But she eventually found inspiration in the era of inter-connectivity we are living in.

“Even though we’re so connected, we’re constantly becoming more and more isolated, and I find that paradox very interesting: the selfie culture, the nearly perfect profiles on social media and on dating sites that people try to create,” she explained.

“We’re living in a time when self-focus and narcissism are so encouraged, I can’t help but wonder: where does that leave love? What chance does it have when narcissism rules and you’re constantly reminded to love yourself above anything and anyone.”

A friend in London
The actress Kerry Norton Griffith has played a vital role in realising the play’s potential, confides Mastilo.

“Things just clicked when she came on board and instantly understood this complex character – sometimes even better than me, I think,” she revealed.

“And then the rest of the team followed, and every single person in this cast is irreplaceable – it just had to be them.”

Thanks to the governor
Mastilo is also grateful to Why Not Theatre founder Sue Hanson-Styles for her continued faith in her plays.

Mastilo feels fortunate to have found a theatre company owner willing to take a chance.

“I think that our fruitful collaboration is really a testament to Sue and her openness to try something new and to always push forward and reinvent herself and the company,” she said.

“I’m sure it was tempting to keep doing what felt safe and familiar and go with the well-known plays and those tested formulas that cannot fail. However, that’s just not Sue.”

A chance discovery
According to Hansen-Styles it was only by chance that she found out Mastilo wrote a bit.

Mastilo helped out with some PR in 2009, but it wasn’t until 2014 that she happened to mention to Hansen-Styles that she dabbled.

“I read some of her stories and was so impressed – she writes from the heart and there are echoes of Sarah Kane in her work,” recalled Hansen-Styles.

“Before we knew where we were, we were staging ‘Secrets’ in 2015, a full-length production based on some of Tanja’s stories.”

Staging new works is exciting but risky, according to Hansen-Styles “Fewer and fewer theatre are staging new works these days but are instead putting on former commercial successes in an effort to ensure ticket sales,” she said.

“I have never wanted Why Not Theatre to go down that route. Taking risks in the theatre is what it is all about for me. Mind you, it also means a lot of sleepless nights!”