Torben Betts on Invincible
OT: What was the original inspiration for writing Invincible?
TB: I started writing the play as the summer of 2012 was fading into memory and I was trying to work out what the hell was going on in this country and quite how I felt about it. The effects of the 2008 financial crisis were now really hitting home with redundancies and house repossessions flying around, public services being axed and ordinary people really struggling. The suicide rate, especially among low-income men, was going through the roof. At the same time billions of pounds of taxpayers' money was being used to bail out those financial institutions responsible for creating the disaster in the first place and to ensure their top dogs continued to earn their obscenely large bonuses. All this while the millionaires running the country were assuring us that “we’re all in this together.”
Then we had the great flowering of flag-waving that was the Golden Jubilee, the European Football Championships and of course the London Olympics, the latter at a cost of around £9 billion. The majority of the population was genuinely celebrating what it means to be British. Meanwhile the imperialist misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan were still grinding to their slow, bloody conclusions, costing the UK an estimated £20 billion and the deaths of hundreds of young British soldiers, not to mention the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians.
The play came out of this sense of confusion. Exactly what were we all celebrating? I felt quite alienated from all this jubilation. Surely I wasn’t alone in believing that perhaps we should all be asking ourselves some pretty serious questions and then rising up in protest before becoming so soppy-sentimental about an old lady born to immense wealth and privilege and demanding knighthoods be bestowed upon those who are speedy on their bicycles or who can ride their horses with great skill?
OT: You have mentioned elsewhere that you tend to base the characters in your plays on real-life people. Is that the case with Invincible? Could you talk a little about these four very contrasting characters?
TB: I would say that real-life people form the skeletons of my characters, for which my imagination provides the flesh and blood. Emily is (or is trying to be) something of a Marxist/Buddhist and, since the Labour Party purged itself of any semblance of socialism, she feels, like many, completely excluded from the political process. She wants radical change, wants to be a good person and do the right thing, but is often overcome with a terrible anger towards those she sees as indifferent to the welfare of the world. Some will find it hard to get along with her but, once she learns to relax and to rid herself of the hatred she feels for the ‘banks and corporations’, she might well be onto something. On the other hand Oliver, her long-suffering partner, wants the quiet life (then why you may ask did he shack up with such a high-maintenance woman?) They are victims of the recession and have become economic refugees from London (I notice there is quitea trend for this nowadays). They feel a life in the north of England might provide them with the sense of belonging they both crave. He is more comfortable being middle class than is Emily and has perhaps made something of an accommodation with power and privilege (she calls him ‘a fearful liberal’) but really he only wants the best for her and their kids. Their neighbours (Alan and Dawn) are from the other side of the tracks, having been raised in an economically depressed area, with fewer opportunities. Alan has been in the armed services and many of his friends and family have also taken that route, where other career options are more limited. Despite their economic hardships he is comfortable in his own skin, with his own class and with his simple pleasures. Like his wife Dawn he has been raised to be patriotic and to have unquestioning faith in the benign intentions of British foreign policy: that “we are always the good guys“. She howeveris rather more dissatisfied with life and is looking over the fence at the seemingly greener grass. She carries sorrow with her too because she is coming to the growing realisation that it’s generally people like herself who are expected to pay the highest price for this cradle-to-grave patriotism and for the decisions made by our political masters.
OT: How does writing for theatre-in-the-round differ to writing for other spaces?
TB: I have never written specifically for theatre-in-the round but I have to say I do love having my plays performed in the space. It’s such an intimate experience and, should you watch more than one performance of your play (as most playwrights tend to do) you rarely see the same play twice since you can watch from different positions on the clock, as it were. Of course at the Orange Tree you can also watch from above which adds another dimension to it. This is the fourth of my plays to open at this great theatre and so I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Sam Walters and wish him and Auriol much happiness in their retirement from active involvement with the Orange Tree. I know they will be greatly missed by everyone associated with the theatre.