Attempting to Levitate

Alex MacDonald's debut play SICKO makes its world premiere at Basement next week. We asked him all about it, have a read!

What prompted the creation of this work?

In life there are few things more gratifying than watching the people you care about go after what they want, and few more dispiriting than having them settle for less than they deserve.

All around there appeared to be this strange phenomenon where bright, capable, interesting people would hit some invisible inflection point where they would just stop reaching for the things that once drove them. Self-belief appeared to be in epidemically short supply, and fear became the driving force behind every choice. Fear of being alone. Fear of failure. Fear of being left behind. This could manifest personally or professionally, but the end result was waking up in a life you didn't choose because fear had chosen it for you. As if there came a certain point where you simply ceded control of your life to a saboteur that insists, no matter what, that “this is fine”. We all have that impulse inside of us to some degree, and it’s about continuing to fight it and not give into the fear.

This feeling of "I can't" or "I'm too old for that", or "it's not that bad, really" became known as 'the sickness', and the idea grew from there.

What can fantasy tell that reality isn't able to?

Fantasy and magical realism can sometimes be helpful in cutting to the heart of things faster than something more naturalistic. I know as an audience member, having that arm's length detachment from reality can allow you the space to just get pulled into the story without over analysing it in the moment. You just sort of get swept up in the adventure and when it’s over hopefully there’s something left to chew on.

I basically took a crash course in “how to write a play” by listening to a bunch of Royal Court Playwright’s podcasts, and the thing that stuck with me the most was this idea that in theatre if something in reality feels ‘like’ something else it can literally just be that. If reaching for what might feel impossible, but having the impulse to try anyway, is a bit like attempting to levitate, then let’s make it that.

After each workshop the feedback was always to go further with the fantastical elements, and weirdly the further it got from ‘reality’ the more relatable it seemed to be.

If this show could convince one person to persevere where they might otherwise have quit (or quit where they might have persevered as the case may be), it’ll have been a success.

Who's the biggest sicko in your team?

If a sicko in the context of the play is someone who’s shut off part of themselves in an effort to conform to some imagined outside idea of how a person should be, then there’s not a sicko in the bunch. I've watched rehearsals veer into discussions around desire, hope, and the pursuit of happiness, and every time it's made the show better. They’re all just a really lovely bunch of people who bring a lot of themselves to the work, and I’d love to write another seven-hander just to get them all in the same room again. Our director, Matt Baker, has been very generous in allowing me to be part of the creative process, and I’m pleased to say co-producing a show with one of your best mates hasn’t turned out to be at all a terrible idea (shout out to Ryan Dulieu).

What do you want your audiences to know before they see this?

Everything the characters in this world say is said with love (even the insults, especially the insults), and the same is true for the play as a whole. The aim isn’t to take shots at any particular way of living, but just to ask, however you’re living - is this what you really want for yourself? And if it isn’t, why haven’t you done something about it?

The goal is to encourage more people to become writers, not readers, of their own stories. If this show could convince one person to persevere where they might otherwise have quit (or quit where they might have persevered as the case may be), it’ll have been a success.

SICKO is on at Basement Theatre from 13 - 17 August. Book tickets or find out more here.