Interview by Dimi Theodoraki for ETL
Nerius is a British-born, Leipzig-based writer, director, visual artist, and animator. His unconventional narratives and silly, yet dark humor have resulted in strange fiction, twisted radio comedy, and outlandish short animations, among other oddities. His paintings and illustrations have been featured everywhere from exhibition spaces in Tennessee to the streets of Europe. In 2018, he created and curated the inaugural Animakrak short animation festival as part of the Galway Fringe in Ireland. He continues on his quest to create whimsical yet weird art in a range of media. “Morningstar” was written by Nerius and is his first theatrical production as director.
On the play Morningstar
I started writing the play “Morningstar” in 2009 as a monologue. There are a lot of movies and books that feature the character of the Devil in a very stereotypical way and that is where my idea originated. The Devil is our main character, and, in this play, we call them “Scratch”. The name comes from an old term for the Devil used in England: “Old Scratch”.
The Devil is too often represented the same way and with the same characteristics, which I thought to be boring. I wanted to create something more interesting, to make them a more human character. Mythologically speaking, the Devil really should be more human, with an understanding of what drives people, what people want, and what they care about. As I explored this character, I tried to imagine what experiences they would have had and how close they are to humans. My Devil has fallen in love with humanity, while at the same time tries to manipulate them.
I love dark myths like Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos and the Baba Yaga from Slavic folklore, where you can look beyond the surface of things and explore the existential and emotional things beneath. Another inspiration for me was the 1970s stage production of ‘Dracula’, which featured scenery created by gothic illustrator Edward Gorey. This was a particular inspiration for my animation. I’m animating the background scenery for “Morningstar”, to create a twisted but whimsical visual impression of hell for the character of Scratch to exist in. Being able to animate the scenery also enables me to realize the overall vision for the play more fully.
“Morningstar” is quite dark. It’s also darkly funny. There’s a lot of comedy in it, which provides an important balance!
English Theatre Leipzig
I was excited by the idea of doing something with the creative community of ETL, because they put on very unique productions. Some are devised, some scripted plays and they are always very interesting and have a slightly different take on things. One of the positive things about this experience is that the people of ETL have been very open to letting us direct our plays with a lot of freedom, which is refreshing.
“Scratch” and the Audience
It’s essential that the character of Scratch connects with members of the audience during the performance. Throughout the play, Scratch tries to seduce the audience. Some of their attempts are subtle, others not so subtle. Even though there is no direct interaction with the audience, there are moments where the Devil shows its inner self and is emotionally vulnerable. Those are the times we hope the audience feels emotionally connected to Scratch, otherwise we’ve kind of failed! Ideally, the audience would be open to connecting with the character. I think if you come to the play with that openness, you get the most out of the experience.
The Actors and me
I feel very lucky that I found two actors who are both very skilled: Connor Fox and Nele Rook. The play lasts around 30 minutes, and the role of Scratch is shared by these two great actors. They each play their part with a different approach and in nuanced ways. They are both the perfect devil! It is also interesting to work with them, because I only have experience in directing for radio and animation, which are very different mediums. The other directors whose plays we are going to see on the same night have more theatre experience than me, I’m very new to creating in this medium. But because I don’t know the rules of the theatre, I can make up my own rules. The approach I’ve taken as a director is to adapt some of the ideas and skills I have learned from other creative projects I have worked on, but mainly to facilitate creative collaboration with the actors.
Favourite theatrical plays
I like interesting dialogue and monologue plays involving creative wordplay. There is a great play – which Connor Fox actually auditioned with – called “Thom Pain (based on nothing)”. It was written by Will Eno in 2004 and it is a very strange, very interesting, but sometimes uncomfortable monologue. And of course, I love Tom Stoppard´s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”!
If you want to know more about Nerius: