Another great Tribute, this week from the son of a 'Great Man'. This monologue comes from a person who has always lived in the shadow of the deceased, but never in their thoughts. Every line is a gem, and as always the performance is spot on. I'm amazed at how different and original these tributes are each week. Here's what writer, Ben Weiner, had to say about A Great Man.
1. The setting is very important to this Tribute, taking place in the office of the deceased surrounded by boxes which tell the story of his life. How quick was that decision to not have this eulogy at the funeral and set it in this office?
The decision to have the Tribute delivered in the office was part of the original idea. I wanted to tell this story for a long tome so I was happy when I saw Philip’s call for monologues as it felt like a good chance to get it out there. I thought a son looking for his place in the great man’s life was best served in private and amongst the dead father’s possessions so the office was the obvious choice for me. I also wanted to isolate the son. If it had been him delivering the eulogy at a funeral, he would have been front and centre, which did not feel like the right choice for this story.
2. Was The Great Man in the tribute, or aspects of him, based on any 'celebrity' figure?
Years ago, I saw an interview with one of Mandela’s children who complained that her father was never around. It stuck with me. Whilst that was part of the inspiration for the idea and elements of the Great Man’s life (like his incarceration) mirror Mandela’s life, the Great Man is not based on any ‘celebrity’ figure.
3.One line says "I know I sound bitter.." and there a few occasions when the anger levels rise. How did you manage to balance a bitter and angry character which someone we side with?
Ha! I am working on another script right now and just received a note to make sure my protagonist does not seem too bratty, so I am not sure I always manage it! I was conscious of this risk going into the recording. Obviously, Carl Prekopp’s performance is a massive part of retaining the balance in the piece. Carl is a fantastic actor and it was a privilege to work with him. Philip and Will Mount were also around during the recording and were very helpful in ensuring the process went well. I think, in general, that so long as the listeners can find a way to understand the character, he or she is entitled to express any emotion they like.
4.There's a strong theme of fatherhood throughout A Great Man, at what stage does theme play a part for you, is it something you discover along the way, or a focus from the beginning?
It’s always different. In this case, it was a focus from the beginning, but the basis of a story about a son dealing with the death of his father, who was a great man, but a bad father had been floating about for some time. I had also just become a dad for the first time. I did not have a relationship with my father so it is territory that I felt vaguely familiar with despite the fact that my Dad was only famous in his own front room.
5. I was left really considering if James' Dad is a great man if he let down his son to such an extent. Do his other deeds make the fact he's a terrible Dad OK? Do you have any thoughts on that yourself or are you just posing that as a question for the listener?
Well, the jury is out on that one for me. I do wonder whether one person is able to make choices for society off their own back or whether those types of decisions are just products of society’s collective will. Maybe I have been reading too much into War and Peace! I don’t know the answer, but we certainly like figure-heads to gather around, for good or bad. I would tend to agree with James though that being a great person is someone’s inclination as much as an inherent quality of that individual. There is so much to sacrifice involved in being ‘great’. Time is limited and something is going to have to give somewhere. The choices James’s dad made hurt his son, but seemed to have helped others. I can’t say whether that makes it alright or not.
6. What other projects are you working on, and how does A Great Man compare to your other writing?
I just won the BAFTA Rocliffe writing for children competition. That script is about a family that get stuck in a series of parallel worlds and have to make their way back home. My focus is currently on writing for children. In that sense, A Great Man was a chance to dip my toe back into material for adults. It has inspired me to want to write more for podcasts and radio so hopefully that is something I can develop over the next year or two.
7. Have you had chance to listen to the other Tribute episodes? Which ones have stuck out if so.
Such a tricky question! I’ve listened to them all and I am honoured to be part of the series. Philip’s inspiration came from such a terribly tragic situation that it would have been a privilege to be part of something marking it in any case, but each piece is fantastic in different ways. There is such a broad scope of stories presented and I admire each and every one of them. If I had to choose three to take away with me, I would take:
1. VALEDICTION FORBIDDING MOURNING by KATY WALKER as it is so heartbreaking. It’s beautifully written and performed;
2. BOOKMARK by ROBIN BELL (that’s you, that is) because I love the ideas running through it and I found it interesting and surprising. I also loved the description of the food being prepared. It really resonated with me; and
3. MILESTONE by TONY CLARE as I found it utterly gripping and such a fresh way to approach an extremely difficult and important subject at a timely moment.
As I said though, I genuinely loved them all.
8. Why do you think it's important to write about and discuss death?
How long have you got? I am not quite Woody Allen on the subject (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udoh1DZ7JKw), but I do think Ernest Becker makes a good point in the Denial of Death, which is that human beings have made a very good stab at denying our mortality through the icons and symbols that we employ to cope with the tragedy of death. I think that denial is incredibly unhelpful when we face our own death or those we love as we often feel so unprepared for the loss. On the other hand, maybe that denial helps us get on with our lives. I don’t know the answer, but I do need to have the conversation. I cannot imagine writing anything, which does not involve the threat of death in some way, even if no one actually dies.