The Naked Lie
One of the most talked about plays of last year’s Sydney Fringe Festival is coming to Melbourne for Midsumma. Thrust onto the stage to tell the audience something they don’t know, Here Lies Henry strips the performer bare, emotionally and literally. Director Jason Langley tells Michael Magnusson about the naked truth behind Henry’s lies.
One man plays can be difficult enough to bring off. Without other actors to share the load, one actor has to carry the entire show, develop the story and relate it to the audience.
What if the show has no story? What if the performer is telling you a stream of lies anyway?
Canadian writer, director and actor Daniel MacIvor likes a challenge and solo shows seem to provide it. Nearly half his 26 plays to date are for the solo performer and Here Lies Henry is one of the best.
“Here Lies Henry is a difficult one to explain when people say ‘what’s it about’,” says director Jason Langley.
“It’s an odd play when you read it because people can’t say what it’s really about and what the ending is.
“But all is revealed and it is satisfying,” he adds.
Langley says he has a penchant for plays like Here Lies Henry, which expose themselves bit by bit. And he is a big MacIvor fan.
“I first became aware of him back in the late 1990s. He came to Australia in 1999 with a production of his called Monster, another one-man play, and it really quite changed my life and challenged everything I’d thought about theatre.
“I devoured everything that was available of his and Here Lies Henry was one of those plays that I read and I’ve wanted to do a production of it for a good 12 years.”
Langley said that although some of the MacIvor one-person plays have the actor playing multiple roles; Here Lies Henry is about just one person.
“And it’s always Henry,” he said,“and Matthew Hyde, who plays Henry, has got nothing to fall back on.
“Indeed it’s very much the actor’s nightmare where you see the performer thrust onto the stage and not know what he’s doing there.
“And for the audience, that’s what they are seeing and slowly Henry is revealed to them but it’s made all the more difficult because he professes he is a self-confessed liar.”
Langley said that instead of alienating the audience, in the process of working out who Henry is they realise who they actually are in the scheme of things.
“The audience are very much the other character in the play.”
“Not that there are huge amounts of audience participation, but it is a dialogue with another person and the audience is that other person and Matt is completely beholden to their reaction too.
“And the audience certainly realise who they are and why they are there and that they were a character in the play. By the end of it, it puts a whole spin on what a one-man play might be.
“And because MacIvor is such an incredible writer, this is unlike many things that you may have seen before.”
This staging first played at last year’s Sydney Fringe Festival but now plays to the predominantly gay audience during Midsumma. McIvor is gay himself and has explored both homosexual and lesbian relationships in his work. Henry is gay and his interplay with the audience may well create a different and unique dynamic.
“A lot more people will be able to relate more closely to him,” Langley says.
“It’s not hugely important to the character that Henry is gay but it’s certainly important to the plot.
“I think a lot of people will recognise him and they will recognise themselves in him and they will recognise maybe their love lives, their relationships and maybe their thoughts that they try to hide from the world.
“Henry says that he tries to avoid the truth and has built up around him lies, and lies really are the illusion that you create to keep you from the world that you don’t like.”
Although the script is very tightly written, Langley and Hyde have worked towards making Henry’s words appear to be tumbling out spontaneously.
“When Matt first read the play, to him it seemed liked random thoughts and selected stream of consciousness.
“In the first week of rehearsal we completely dissected the play line by line, word by word, and it was wonderful watching his light bulbs go off. It took us seven days to get to the end of the play, but by the end of those seven days he realised that there was nothing at all random and ambiguous about it.
“It took us seven days, but it if takes the audience just seventy minutes then we’ve done our job well.”
Here Lies Henry, 22 - 27 January, Theatre Works, 14 Acland Street St Kilda. Bookings: midsumma.org.au or theatreworks.org.au
(Image - Matthew Hyde in Here Lies Henry)