As you may well know, St. Nicholas was the inspiration behind Father Christmas; so it wouldn’t surprise you to hear that he is the official patron saint of children. What you wouldn’t expect of jolly old St. Nicholas is that he is also the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, brewers, pawnbrokers, students, repentant thieves and lawyers in Paris.
It was an evening drive home from a St. Nicholas rehearsal when Mr Christian Patterson stumbled across this information, and for whatever reason we found it disproportionately amusing. Myself in the driver’s seat, and Christian by my side on his smart phone; rehearsal research at its finest. Naturally our attention drifted, we had a quick look at our very own St. David, who as it turns out, is not only the patron saint of Wales but of Pembrokeshire, Poets and most intriguingly, Vegetarians.
Before I knew it, I had spent the full hour’s commute listening to Christian list the Saints and their patronage. Both of us belly laughing, a familiar state when in Christian’s company. The winner was most certainly St. George, The Patron Saint of Herpes. Not once did I register the peculiarity of the situation I found myself in. I was more than happy to drive along listening. It could have been the phone book, and I think Christian would still have me in stitches.
I thought to myself, what a brilliant story-teller. Perfect for a play like St. Nicholas. You see, that’s what St. Nicholas is. It’s a story. It’s a true story. It may not have happened, but it is still a true story. It’s a true story about vampires. Not your Hollywood, Transylvanian, Count Dracula variety of vampire, or even your adolescent, Twilight variety. It is a story about your everyday, normal, run of the mill vampire. There. I’ve said it. The play is about vampires. As I’m sure you can imagine, parting with this information does tend to raise an eyebrow or two.
Christian Patterson in St Nicholas rehearsals
Even as I type this I am imagining you the reader. Yes, you. I imagine your face a picture of mistrust. “What, a fictional, true story about vampires? That doesn’t sound like a sophisticated piece of theatre.” But I promise you that is precisely what it is, and what’s more, it is genius. Conor McPherson has struck artistic gold. It’s a big claim, and your suspicion is to be expected.
But, before you cast judgments on the notion of vampire-themed-theatre, I’d like to part with a quick story of my own. In answering the question “What are you working on at the moment?” I have discovered something about myself. Theatre has altered my everyday threshold for absurdity. And I’m not talking about Pinter or Beckett here; I’m talking about the daily situations and transactions I am party to. For example; I was once spotted carrying chainmail and a sword on the London Underground. On another occasion, I spent a night on the streets of Exeter dressed as a clown. All for the sake of Theatre, you understand? Most recently, over the past three weeks you might have spotted me walking through Cardiff City Centre equipped with a carton of milk and a five-foot-tall ornate lamp with no lampshade. I have been performing this journey daily, for the most part without a hint of shame.
You see, I knew why I was doing this. I had a reason. It was for the production and as far as I was concerned, normal. It was well in to our third week, when I began to notice the gaze of passers-by. Realising that from an outside eye this could be perceived as ‘odd behaviour’. I began to feel far more visible than I usually do. I began to work myself into a panic. I began to fear the judgment cast upon me by others. “Look, it’s the crazy lamp guy again!” What I will say, judging by the reaction of said passers-by, people’s inability to recognise a lamp without a lampshade astonished me.
Therein lies the problem. The lamp must have a lampshade, it’s a rule. People don’t carry ornate lamps and cartons of milk through the city centre, that’s another rule. If a rule is broken; we find it strange, we don’t trust it. What I have learned, thanks to my experiences in theatre, is that no matter how absurd a circumstance, no matter how many rules are broken, if you have a reason for it, it will become the new norm.
So yes, St. Nicholas is a play about vampires; and if you are dubious of this, it means somewhere in there is a rule of yours being broken. If this is you, I challenge you to throw away your preconceptions and take St. Nicholas for what it is. Through breaking your rules, you may just happen upon reason. Perhaps this is the power of theatre. But never mind that, this isn’t a story about rules and reason, it’s a story about Vampires. I mean it’s also about love and art and life, but it’s mainly the vampire thing!
Dan Jones, Associate Director
St. Nicholas by Conor McPherson opens at The Other Room on Tuesday 1 March and runs until Friday 11 March.
For more information and to book tickets, visit www.otherroomtheatre.com
Review; St Nicholas: http://www.asiw.co.uk/reviews/st-nicholas-conor-mcpherson-room
Photography: Aenne Pallasca