Peter Dineen - Interview by a vampire
Steve Cramer discusses vampires and criticism with actor Peter Dineen as Conor MacPherson’s gothic tale of a frustrated critic, St Nicholas, arrives in Scotland
Today the critic is often viewed as a vampire sucking the life out of the artist but it wasn’t alwsys thus. Alexander Pope, for instance, was perfectly able to balance his career as an essayist with that of a poet, with, in fact, the former being more important in his creative processes.
In the case of Conor MacPherson’s new play, St Nicholas, the metaphor of the critic as parasitic entity is made literal. Following success in MacPherson’s native Ireland, the play has toured extensively, and is making its first Scottish appearance at the Citz this month. Father Ted regular Peter Dineen, performer of the ‘one man play’, as MacPherson calls St Nicholas, fills us in on the story. ‘This theatre critic is facing a midlife crisis; he’s very resentful of people who are actually writing creative work,’ he explains. ‘He gets very bitter with his life, drinks too much whisky and creates scenes wherever he goes just to get attention. He sees a beautiful girl in a production of Salome at the Abbey and falls in love with her.’
The plot gets more bizarre from here. The critic becomes besotted with the girl and follows her to London, where, after an unsuccessful encounter with her, he joins a band of vampires stalking the youth of the city.
Plainly, the critic at the centre is perceived along conventional lines. ‘It’s a kind of metaphor for theatre critics sucking talent out of people. I’m not sure I agree with that metaphor, by the way, but it’s Conor’s take on it,’ says Dineen. ‘I must have had a bit of a charmed career, since I’ve never had much of a hard time with any critic. They’ve always been quite kind to me. As far as I can see, they’re just people who write down what they see on the night. It’s funny how most writers are more fascinated by critics than actors are.’
Dineen prepared for his role mainly by reading his favourite theatre critic. ‘I looked up one critic I used to enjoy a lot, and that was Kenneth Tynan. I couldn’t see any of the vampire stuff in that; he just makes me fall around all the time. He was so funny. There’s a certain truth to it and a real authority. If he says a show is bollocks, you can bet your bottom dollar it is. And he tends to go for directors and writers rather than actors, although there were exceptions. I mean, actors don’t get it so bad most of the time. When a critic has said something negative about me, I’ve said, “Oh yeah, that’s true” and adjusted it. I haven’t fallen to the floor sobbing.’
St Nicholas, Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, until Sat 17 Nov.