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Garreth Cruikshank speaks with director Anna Jahjah on her latest play at The Old 505

“I’d Rather Goya Robbed Me of My Sleep Than Some Other Son of a Bitch” is currently playing at The Old 505 theatre in Newtown. Garreth Cruikshank saw the show and instantly knew he wanted to talk to the director about the show. So here is the result of that decision.

G.C:  How did Theatre Excentrique come into being Anna, and what is it’s point of difference?

A.J: When I arrived in Sydney 5 years ago, I went to a lot of shows. I loved the plays I saw, and the quality of what I saw. But I started being really frustrated because all I could see where plays from Australia, England or America. Nothing, or hardly anything,  from non-English speaking regions – Europe, South America, the Arabic countries etc. I come from France, and there we are exposed to plays from all over the world. So I decided to create a theatre company that puts on plays written in languages other than English. They are translated of course, but that’s the main, and only rule. That means, basically, we will never get any government funding (hehe!) but then again, who does these days anyway…

G.C: How did you ‘discover’ “I’d Rather Goya …”? 
A.J: So, the equivalent to the Edinburgh festival in France is the Avignon Festival. It is one of the biggest theatre festivals in the world. It puts on plays in French BUT also, and this is what I mean by Europe being open to the world, plays in English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish etc. Not a whole lot of them, but still. I’ve been going there every year or so for the last 10 years, to see what’s happening out there, and this is where I find the most interesting plays, usually. I saw “Goya” there 10 years ago, and was taken aback by its energy, meaning, etc. I saw it in Spanish, and it was mind blowing. I saw it again in Paris 1 year later, and I kept it in the back of my mind for the next 10 years.
G.C: What attracted you to the play, and what made you want to take it on as a project?
A.J: The first thing that attracted me was the crazy energy diplayed in the play. Then the outrageous things that the character says. Things like:  “I am going to go whoring with my 6 year old so he knows what sex is all about!”. Or saying  “joder” (shit/fuck in Spanish) every second word? Last but not least, I loved all the questions Garcia raised in the play and his answer to them: how art is the only answer to ultra- capitalism, consumerism, loss of identity and connection. I loved that he doesn’t preach his ideas, just gives a crazy solution to deal with the world: break into the Prado Museum to see Goya’s Black paintings, or accumulate thousands of books to fight against depression. etc
G.C: What were the biggest challenges for you as a director with this play?
A.J: Certainly the biggest one was not having ANY stage direction from the playwright. The text is a monologue. That’s it! No indication about who the man talking is, where he comes from, who he is talking to, where he is when talking, etc. Having such freedom is great, but can be intimidating. As I always say: “from constraint comes liberty”. Where do you start when you have NO constraint at all? We worked for weeks with the actor, Gerry Sont, and the cellist, Sister Ursuline, to try and find a visual answer to our questions, and I think we found one.
G.C: What would you like audiences to take away from this production?
A.J: I would love it if they left the theatre thinking: “what the f… was that?” It is such a different language to what we are used to seeing in Australia. I hope it leaves a trace. Of course, I would love them to reflect on the message of the play, and how to fight in our crazy world, but even if they just take with them the energy of the play, the style of writing, the feeling, that would be great. As Garcia says it himself: “sometimes the rhythm is more powerful than the meaning.”  A bit like the effect poetry can have on the reader: you don’t understand everything but the emotion is there nonetheless.
G.C: Thanks Anna.
“I’d Rather Goya Robbed Me ….” is running at The Old 505 Theatre , Eliza St, Newtown till September 2nd.