It all began in Oxford, last year, with director James Savin planning to direct Sartre’s play Huis Clos. Playwright David K. O’Hara read it and something did not sit well with him. In Huis Clos, we are in hell – represented by a Regency-styled room in which the lights never go off – where a womanising coward, a murderous floozy and a manipulative lesbian are stuck with one another for eternity. An eternity they spend driving one another crazy but are unable to go against their natures. Sartre said, “L’enfers, c’est les autres.” In other terms, it is other people who are hell, and you can only be who you are in spite of other people. David K. O’Hara did not share that viewpoint. In fact, he felt strongly against it. So he went to see James Savin, and volunteered to write – in a month flat – another play to be staged instead of Huis Clos. A kind of retort to it, which supports the theory that you are who you are because of other people. This play is The Upstairs Room.
David K. O’Hara’s play is set in a London struck by an ecological disaster. Trying to escape the rising waters, and whilst awaiting forged documents he needs in order to return to the US, Gordon – a writer – finds himself taking refuge in the attic room of a halfway house. There, he meets sexy, enigmatic Stella and impish teenager Iris. Trapped together, the women take Gordon on an emotional roller-coaster which forces him to face the painful truth of who he really is, and why he is there. When he finally looks at himself, Gordon sees a man he did not know.
Unlike Huis Clos, what we have in The Upstairs Room is not the eternal damnation of hell, but a cathartic journey through purgatory towards redemption. Unlike Jean-Paul Sartre, David K. O’Hara gives us a glimpse through all the layers of evil and anger, into what is the fundamental purity of humankind. He also gives us a glimmer of hope. Self-destructive patterns can, in fact, be broken, and allow love to flow freely.
The Upstairs Room is a play relevant to our times, when man-made ecological disasters
are a backdrop to growing poverty, despair and anger. Confronted by a planet rebelling against human abuse, we are forced to re-examine our values and our long-standing patterns of behaviour both towards nature, and our fellow-humans.
Creating happy, new patterns is also the philosophy of Anthony Cozens, Steven Mills and James Savin, the three men who set up Giddy Notion, the production company staging The Upstairs Room. “I graduated from drama school ten years ago,” says Anthony Cozens, who also plays the role of Gordon. “After ten years, you tell yourself that you’ve served a long enough apprenticeship, and it’s time to take your career into your hands, and create an environment where you grow professionally, doing projects you believe in. So I got together with Steven [Mills] and James [Savin] and we are working on creating a space where not only we three but also other actors and creatives can thrive. A space where we can all help one another get to where it is we want to get to.”
In these hard times where Arts funding is cut, and Film, TV, Theatre and Radio sometimes seem to revolve around a small group of box office proven names, Giddy Notion’s mission statement is truly inspiring, and one cannot but applaud it and wish it success. After all, in these dark times, it is an act of great courage to see light.
The Upstairs Room is playing at the King’s Head Theatre (115 Upper Street, Islington, London N1 1QN) from 13 November to 8 December 2012. Box Office Tel. +44 (0)20 7478 0160
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