Andrew O’Hagan is a name we would usually connect with fine novels such as Mayflies, The Illuminations, Our Fathers, as well as his role as editor of the London Review of Books. Andrew is going one step further this Fringe with The Ballad of Truman Capote, a play he’s written (and directing) about the renowned mind behind In Cold Blood. We spoke with Andrew about what to expect from the play.
Your Fringe debut, The Ballad of Truman Capote, brings the literary persona to the stage, what can you tell us about the play?
For longer than I can imagine, I’ve been thinking about writing something about Truman Capote. It turns out that over the decades, I’ve met a lot of people here in America who attended Capote’s famous black and white ball in 1966. I was amazed when I looked back to see that this party, which happened in the middle of the Vietnam War during a very turbulent time with civil rights in America, was the party of the century. It brought together politics, high culture, literature, and show business in a way that I think was a precursor to much of what we take for granted today.
Have you remained loyal to the truth with this play, or have you embellished some areas?
Keira, of all the writers I can think of off the top of my head, Capote is the one that problematizes the relationship between truth and the imagination, between fiction and reality. The author of In Cold Blood would have to be responsible, but [I used] a certain blending of reportage and imagination that we now take for granted in creative non-fiction. We live in an era where the parameters between what’s fictional and what’s true are really unstable. And that instability was in him. He couldn’t quite tell the truth, but neither was he a liar. He was a sort of creative inventor of himself.
It’s a funny scenario because this little southern guy with this strange voice was in charge of a great cultural moment, but at the same time, he’s just quite lonely, self-conscious, and unhappy. Something about Edinburgh and its associations with literature for me, and the life of the mind, and the life of comedy makes it the perfect place to stage this play, bringing this fascinating, funny, inventive mind into a context where people are already pre-conditioned to feel for him, understand him, and to be moved by him.
This is not your first dabble in theatre, but I am curious to know how it must feel to be bringing such a character to Edinburgh?
It’s not my first play, but it is my first time out as a director. I adapted The Missing, my first book, for the National Theatre of Scotland a few years ago with John Tiffany directing, and there have been several adaptations of books of mine. My theatrical experience has been quite compact and not at all extensive, but I’m a great admirer of theatre and I had been holding something in reserve, waiting for the right moment when my vision of the thing I’d written was exactly what I wanted it to be.
In that sense, it is a sort of inauguration, it’s something I invented straight onto the page as a play. In that sense, it feels like a debut. And, it’s certainly my debut as a director, which has been wonderful, stepping away from that kind of solitude that we were discussing outside of the interview a minute ago – to move to being in a rehearsal space with actors and technicians and being able to work collaboratively is something that comes quite naturally to me.
I accept that writers must work alone when they’re writing novels and plays and poems, but I love that opportunity to step out. When we were making Mayflies for the BBC, that was a golden few months because of the collaboration, the conversations, and the decisions to be made, it was just kind of fabulous, making them with other people.
You are also at the Book Festival talking about adaptations in From Page to Screen. How much has the work that you’ve done with Andrea [Gibb] and the team at Mayflies had an influence on your future work?
Hugely. I mean, I’m a committed writer on the page. Caledonian Road is coming next year. It’s my big social novel, I’ve been working on it for so long. Invitations to come to work in theatre and television are great, but my first love really is this, the keyboard and introspection.
The Ballad of Truman Capote runs from 4th till 12th & 14th till 26th August. Tickets here.
From Page To Screen: Mayflies is on 22nd Aug at Edinburgh International Book Festival. Tickets here.
Main Photo Credit: Jon Tonks