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Interview: Blythe Duff


Interview

Blythe Duff talks to Emma Hay about bullying, nuclear fallout and Arthur’s Seat ahead of her Fringe role at the Traverse.

Image of Interview: Blythe Duff

Blythe Duff is performing in David Harrower’s ‘Good With People’ in this year’s Traverse Fringe double bill. Click here for more info…

Tell us a bit about Good With People and who your character is.

It’s set in Helensburgh and it takes place over a day and evening in two people’s lives. I play Helen Hughes: a receptionist at a rather downtrodden hotel, and there she meets a young man in his twenties, Evan Bold (Richard Rankin). When he arrives in the hotel, she recognises him as the boy who bullied her son when they were 14. So the play deals with quite a few subjects but it really works on the level of how the characters work with each other, what they know and what they believe about each other, for example, she presumes he’s still a bully. It’s a very well crafted piece that’s centred on how – and if – these people can connect. Evan is resentful of being back in Helensburgh, and throughout his day keeps getting drawn back to Helen, and to the conversation they have.

The play reflects how Helensburgh has changed over the years, now that there’s the naval base and how vastly it’s changed from its heyday as holiday village and the genteel qualities that came with it. It also asks the nuclear question and how that affects us in the immediate future. It deals with a lot of themes in 45 minutes, and that’s one of the wonderful things about David Harrower: he can craft such an economical piece with huge themes about Scotland, relationships, expectation and make it so succinct. I guess that’s one of the reasons it’s back on again.

Are you excited to be performing as part of the Fringe festival this year?

This is actually the second time I’ve done this show; it started life as a play for Òran Mór in 2010. It means you’re not doing a remount, you can shake it up a bit. I’ve been doing a show with NTS over the last few months and it’s had a few cast changes, so each time it’s a different incarnation of the same show.

The Traverse has always been amazing at championing new writing, and I’ve always worked with new texts, so I’m used to working with writers who are developing work. That’s their raison d’être, and I’m very excited about performing here again. Travelling there in 1983 with Scottish Youth Theatre was one of the first acting parts I did and I’m really looking forward to going back.

Why do you think Good With People will work well as part of a double bill?

David Greig and David Harrower really are two fantastic writers, and it’s great to be able to pair them up. I met [Greig] while I was in Australia and got chatting to him. He was writing this piece about nuclear war and that’s when we started thinking that it could be a companion piece to Good With People. We approached the Traverse and asked how we could make it happen. The Letter of Last Resort is set in London, and it was lucky that it managed to find a counterpart. On one hand we see a very human perspective, of a fairly quiet town in Scotland, and on the other there’s the fallout and bigger political discussions in Westminster and the plays just give a nod to each other.

Do you think this double bill is an important collaboration for Scottish theatre?

For me, it’ll be really interesting to see how it works in a larger space, and I’m sure it’ll rise to the challenge. Reworking it – having a chance to really get into the text – is something the Traverse has always nurtured. I have no qualms about where my desires lie; acting in theatre is really difficult – the pay isn’t great, the hours are long and unsociable, but I just love being part of it. It’s a difficult time for everyone in every business, but the Traverse always comes up with the goods.

Both plays discuss the theme of nuclear threat. Do you think this is something people need to be made more aware of?

Well it hasn’t, and if it has, it’s been fleeting; but it is important that we address it. There is a lot of strong feeling about this and it’s generally adverse. It’s going to be a really important subject in the run up to the independence referendum. One of the most interesting perspectives I’ve learned to think about came from one chap that had been part of the peace camp at Faslane. Throughout his time there, he never thought about what people of Helensburgh considered about the matter.

The peace camp now, although it’s fantastic to photograph, is a “sorry looking” little place; it sits in a strange wee pocket in the middle of everything. And this guy just never thought he’d be providing something that the people there didn’t think was necessary. Helensburgh has had to endure development and dispute on all levels – from what’s right on our doorstep to how it affects the entire community. Like it or not, Trident brings in huge revenue, and there would be devastation without it. There are so many different questions that can come out of this, some much bigger than I can explain. But it’s all up for debate, and that makes it such a rich topic for theatre.

Finally, apart from your double bill, what are the three things you’re looking most forward to this year?

1. I’m looking forward to a show called The Boy and the Bunnet – it was a book and it’s got fantastic traditional music in it. There will be Gerda Stephenson and seven musicians. It goes to schools and is just a brilliant new piece for young people.

2. My best friend is about to move to Edinburgh, and this will be her first festival back in Scotland and I’m very much looking forward to all the afternoon tea and coffee we’ve missed over the last 20 years.

3. I’m going to climb up Arthur’s Seat. It may be shameful, but I’ve never done it so I’m going to take my camera and go for a good walk and get that view. Hopefully it’ll be sunny that day. But, you never do know, do you?