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Q&A: Anthony Banks on Directing Kevin Elyot's Twilight Song

Twilight Song, Kevin Elyot's final play, is being brought to the stage for the first time this week at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park. Anthony Banks, Associate Director at the National Theatre for ten years, talks to us about the play, the playwright, and the pleasures of keeping an audience on their toes. 

Eli Goldstone: Who was Kevin Elyot?

Anthony Banks: He was born in Birmingham in 1951, studied at Bristol University and began his career as an actor, appearing in as many new plays as classics. He started writing plays in the 1980s and his first major stage success was My Night With Reg in the early 1990s. He followed that with several major plays at the Royal Court, RSC and National Theatre along with many episodes of the ITV Marple and Poirot. He also wrote several independent films including Clapham Junction and Christopher and his Kind. He died near his home in Hampstead three years ago having just completed Twilight Song.

Eli: Twilight Song was the last play that Kevin Elyot wrote – can you tell us a little about it?

Anthony: It’s set in the same room in London in the 1960s and the present day. It’s about how the members of a family – who are theoretically a support network for each other – can actually bring about catastrophe by avoiding awkward truths, telling little fibs and living a lie. By showing several generations of the same family experiencing similar incidents and events the play shows how history can repeat itself just as much within the privacy of a domestic environment as it can within the law-making bodies of successive national governments.

Eli: This summer marks 50 years since the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, which is when the play is set. How does the play explore this flawed but momentous shift towards equality?

Anthony: It’s the elephant in the room in the play. Some of the gay relationships in the story occur pre-1967 and some after it. The play presents what has changed in cultural attitudes to sexual orientation and what has stayed the same. The drama is about what happens within the family - the events of the play all take place on the home front - however there’s no doubt that the influence, opinions and examples set by the state hang like a shadow over them all.

Adam Garcia in Rehearsal. Photo by Robert Workman

Eli: Is there a sense of finality, a swan song in Elyot’s final play?

Anthony: There is, as it happens. He didn’t set out to write it as his final play but there are strong moments in it when characters transcend calendar time and tell each other to make the most of life. Although the play is about feeling trapped it has a very optimistic spirit.

Eli: There is so much humour and heartbreak in Elyot’s work – was Twilight Song a joy to liberate from the page for the first time?

Anthony: It leapt off the page for me and I instantly loved it. I could sense an experienced writer at the height of his powers challenging himself to construct the most audacious plot and spectacular final twist. My favourite thing about it is that Kevin has used the format of a whodunit to tell a story about a family longing for love.

Eli: You’re also going to be directing a new production of Strangers on a Train which opens at the beginning of the new year – do these tricksy, finely plotted plays appeal to you in particular?

Anthony: Yes they do. I’d hate the audience to be bored. I like them to be hooked into the drama, actively working out and thinking about what is going on. I’ve sat through many contemplative plays that I’d rather have read. The last play I directed, Gaslight, is about psychological abuse within a marriage but operates upon the audience like a Victorian thriller.

Eli: Finally, do you have any rituals when it comes to opening night?

Anthony: Good dinner, few drinks and bullet-proof underwear. 

 

Twilight Song

Park Theatre

12 July - 12 August