Benedict Andrews on “Every Breath”

Interview for Belvoir Theatre website.

How did you find the process of writing your first play? Do you feel it will influence your direction?

In fact, EVERY BREATH is not my first play. I wrote several plays at high school and the start of my university studies, but then I buried these urges under my activity as a director. I have recently begun writing for the stage again. EVERY BREATH is the second of a clutch of plays from the last few years. In 2010, I spent the European summer in Hamburg where my girlfriend Magga had a choreographic residency at Kampnagel. I had given myself a rare and well earned break from rehearsal, and was preparing several upcoming productions – two behemoths, a KING LEAR for the National Theatre of Iceland plus a RETURN OF ULYSSES for the ENO / Young Vic in London. One afternoon, I put the directing preparations aside and began to write what would become my first play since those earlier efforts. I didn’t set out to write a play. I’d been working on a volume of poetry and perhaps that occupation helped pry open a long bolted door in my imagination. The writing came upon me like a fever, and I wrote two plays in quick succession. The first is LIKE A SUN, a sprawling epic about an alpha-male and the collapse of his world. Before that play had cooled, I began a second play, EVERY BREATH. I wanted to write something more deliberately condensed and crystalline after LIKE A SUN’s relentless digressions. EVERY BREATH is more of a thriller, a chamber piece. Since that initial pair of plays, I have continued writing whenever I have a break in my theatre schedule. It is a blessing to have started writing plays again. Unlike the collective activity of rehearsal, the act of writing is solitary and singular. It might stem from an overheard snippet of conversation or a nagging image. Then, I have the sense that somewhere inside me is a room or a field, and in that room or on that field is a person or a knot of people, I need to listen to what they say and make a transcript. The play grows from this.

 The play seems to touch on questions of identity, isolation, and entitlement. How does this reflect your own ideas about the production?

When I was writing the play, I never thought about what it was about per se. I began with a simple image – a security guard looking out from behind the glass walls of an empty office tower. I was fascinated by the transparency of this image, the play of surface and depth. I wanted to set up an unusual meeting between this lonely figure and another set of characters. And so, s/he came to stand beside a swimming pool under the stars to guard a family whose existence is under threat. This family seem to lead a very good life – they have excellent taste in food, art, literature and so on – but there’s something lacking, hollowed out, even empty in their lives. The presence of the security guard in their home brings out an intense craving in the each of the characters. Their various hungers – artistic, sexual, spiritual – form a network of needs. The meeting of Chris – the security guard – and the family causes a kind of slow motion explosion. A volatile chemical reaction that changes them all radically. I’m interested in the theatre as a kind of laboratory of the human psyche – I want to get into close contact to people and what drives them. Their appetites. In the theatre, I want to experience the strangeness, complexity, and fragility of life. EVERY BREATH is also a play about writing and that perhaps gives it a special atmosphere – something hermetic – a rarefied, perfumed air. The play works as a kind of fable too – the pool they gather around might be a grotto in a cave, or the waters where Narcissus got lost in his own reflection, where the voice of Echo sounds for eternity.