An Interview with Nigel Planer
6 February 2018
Actor & writer Nigel Planer on his latest play, The Game of Love & Chai, directed by Jatinder Verma and produced by Tara Arts.
The Young Ones was made up of caricatures of a hippy, a punk, an anarchist and a gangster. Is farce purely for entertainment, or does it have the potential to enlighten?
Nigel - The phrase ‘purely for entertainment’ implies that a piece stops being entertaining the moment it has something to say. Comedy has always been looked down on as if it is somehow less important than serious drama, but I feel it has as much a chance of telling us things about human nature as any other form. Having said that, Marivaux is famous for over-doing the jokes and word play.
My feeling is that he takes a premise that is eternal and then shows us what fools we all are. In this case the premise is how silly it is falling in love, but in ‘The Island of Slaves’, for example, he chose a different starting point; a master and his servant swap places when they are marooned on an island because the servant proves to be a better leader those circumstances. So yes, there is always an element of satire.
I suppose in our “love and chai” version, we are satirizing the tendency of middle class liberals to feel that they are superior to others. But mostly we are moving more archetypal things than that; what kind of people do we fall in love with and why.
You've said that “with Marivaux, as with Bollywood, the main thing is to completely abandon oneself and let foolishness and love take over.” But some may see the perfectly choreographed song and dance sequences of Bollywood as an escape from a darker, moralistic world. Is there any seriousness to 'A Game of Love and Chai'?
With The Game and Love and Chai there is no metaphor. There is no deep hidden meaning. It is what it says on the tin. The purpose of comedy is to puncture pretentiousness, not to create it.
You love Bollywood and have an evident love for the films of Satyajit Ray. What inspires you about them?
Sometimes truths can be told through silliness and exuberant dance routines, sometimes through subtle nuance and beautiful cinematography. And sometimes – a thing I particularly love about Indian cinema – you can get both in the same film. For instance Rag Kapoor’s “Awara”, or his “Bobby” or Manoj Kumar’s “Purav Aur Paschim” or even Aamir Khan’s famous “Lagaan”.
Do you think British audiences' appreciation of comedy has changed over the years that you've been involved in the business? What works now that wouldn't have worked when you first started out, and vice versa?
Well I think things have become much more difficult for comedy writers because we must be so careful of putting a foot wrong. Of course it’s good that gross sexist or racist jokes should be called out – in fact the alternative comedy scene where I started out called itself the first non-sexist non-racist comedy circuit. Trouble is things are not likely to be very funny in a totally ‘safe space’.
The point of jokes is to break the ice, to surprise, to cut pomposity down to size, to celebrate life force. There is no hard and fast rule about what is offensive, it’s usually a question of taste, but Mel Brooks had a good way of putting it. He said that one should always look at the intention of the joke – was it well intentioned or did it mean harm?
What's more enjoyable - writing or acting?
Well, acting is more fun to do but there’s no after glow – it’s ephemeral, it’s gone the moment it’s done. Writing is tough and lonely, but in the long term, far more satisfying.