Florian Zeller is a French novelist and playwright. His work has been translated into a dozen languages, including English. He won the Prix Interallié in 2004 for his novel Fascination of Evil (La Fascination du Pire), and has been hailed as “the most exciting new theatre writer of our time”. Find out how he writes in a state of metamorphosis, and what drew him to the theatre.
When you start writing a play, do you start out with a clear sense of the narrative and structure? Or can you be surprised by what is happening as you write?
I have never started a play knowing exactly how it was going to end. In a way, I’m the first spectator. I watch the play unfold in front of my eyes and even find myself being surprised at what happens. Actually it’s a bit like dreaming. When one dreams, one doesn’t question if someone suddenly becomes someone else. Metamorphosis is frequent and everything is possible.
Actors often like to know the ‘reality’ or ‘truth’ of a scene. Do actors or directors want to know what is ‘real’?
You’re right. Actors do want to know what they’re supposed to be acting. In The Truth, all the characters lie but if they start off by playing as if they’re doing so, it doesn’t work. It’s an important contradiction: there is no psychological coherence. Why? Because I don’t write psychological plays. On the contrary, I think each scene should be played by disregarding the rest of the play. It’s not the actors but the play itself and its structure which takes charges of the complexity of what we’re trying to say.
You have written in many different forms of literature. What drew you to theatre?
It’s difficult to explain. I am passionate about theatre which I find complex, strong and humble all at once. What always amazes me is that the audience can be touched by a character knowing full well that he’s watching something which isn’t real. We’re not mad and we know that we’re sitting in a theatre watching a performance but we’re taken in as if it’s become real. It’s the notion of “as if” which I find mysterious and beautiful in theatre.
Christopher Hampton has translated your plays. Do you work with him on the translations?
I trust him implicitly. He is an author for whom I have great respect. And a friend. In a way, it’s almost as if we spoke the same language but in a different tongue. Which is one of the reasons I hardly intervene in his translations.
Florian Zeller’s The Truth runs 3 – 20 April 2019 at the KC Arts Centre – Home of SRT. Click here to book your tickets to this hilarious comedy about sex, lies and best friends’ wives.