Interview: Jack Fairey on The Sun, the Mountain, and Me, ‘Full of colour and excitement and storytelling’

Michael Ayiotis during The Sun, the Mountain, and Me’s Union Theatre run. Photo: Alex Harvey-Brown

The Sun, the Mountain, and Me is heading to the Jack Studio Theatre this April for a two-week run following its live theatrical debut at the Union Theatre last year.

Produced by Bedivere Arts Company, and featuring writing and direction by Jack Fairey, the play was first produced as an audio drama during the 2020 COVID lockdowns. Max Puplett plays Arthur in the one-person show which tells three seperate stories across ancient Greece, 20th century Kenya and modern day Surrey.

Ahead of its return, I caught up with Fairey to find out more about the inspiration for the play and how much it has changed from its first iteration as an audio play.

Q&A with Jack Fairey

What can you tell us about The Sun, the Mountain, and Me?

The Sun, the Mountain, and Me is a solo play that combines three stories – the ancient myth of Icarus, the incredible true story of Italian prisoner of war Felice Benuzzi, and a new tale about a young artist named Arthur which acts as the framing device. As Arthur is desperately trying to finish a painting and descends quickly into an obsessive spiral, the other two narratives weave in and out of his own to explore desperation and the mistakes we make when searching for escape.

What was the original inspiration for the play?

I’ve been obsessed with Greek mythology since I was a kid, and I’d been toying for a few years with writing something about Icarus – I thought there was something in there about the search for happiness and how sometimes we can be so desperate to escape our circumstances that we fly headlong into further danger. That idea was rattling around my skull when I came across the story of Felice Benuzzi (on a brilliant podcast called ‘Do Go On’) and the two ideas collided together. It was around this time that the pandemic hit, and we were placed in lockdown, and the feeling of being trapped became a very real scenario for many of us. I remember sitting outside in that first lockdown Spring, when the weather was so bizarrely beautiful given the circumstances, and writing out the first draft of the play.

How much has it changed from its first incarnation as an audio play?

In many ways, not that much! The structure of the piece has remained very similar, as has the same beautiful score that George Jennings wrote for us way back in 2020. The biggest change we found when bringing the play to life on stage was how much of the exposition we could cut out. Things that had to be described in the audio drama version could be shown visually on stage. It was really important to me, from a directorial standpoint, that the play was visually striking – Arthur is a painting, after all, and we use colour a lot both in the text and the staging of the piece. When we first got the go-ahead from the Union to put the play on last year, I listened back to the radio drama and could see so many of the scenes so clearly; it was lovely to get to bring that vision to life.

We’ve also got a new performer for this run – our original Arthur, Michael Ayiotis (who is in the show photos) was with us for the audio version and the first production. He was such a big part of bringing the play to life, and I’m so grateful for all his work and passion. He got an amazing opportunity to go on tour with Blackeyed Theatre’s production of ‘Teechers’ this year, so couldn’t join us for the run at the Jack in April – luckily, Max Puplett has stepped into his shoes and is equally incredible. I’ve known Max for a long time and have worked with him on multiple occasions, and he always brings such depth and humanity to his roles. I’m really excited to have him on board this time around.

The play looks at male mental health and isolation – how important is it to explore these issues on stage? 

I think it’s really important. The big issue with male mental health in this country is that we find it hard to talk about what we’re going through. That’s one of the big things the play looks at – the way Arthur refuses to acknowledge what’s going on in his head. However, I also didn’t want it to feel like an ‘issue’ piece. The focus is on the stories: stories of three men stuck in circumstances they can’t stand and are trying to escape from. I want audiences to come away entertained and affected by the piece; all the other stuff, the themes and the ‘issues’ it’s looking to address, hopefully happens beneath the surface. I definitely didn’t want to write a lecture. That’s one of the amazing things about exploring this stuff through theatre – you can make it beautiful, and entertaining, and striking, and funny, and exciting. I really hope that the play is at least a few of those things!

How would you describe the show to someone considering buying a ticket?

I would describe it as a show full of colour and excitement and storytelling, but with something a bit darker lurking at its centre. It’s about art and desperation and desire; about escape and happiness and fear. It’s got a gorgeous score and some cool visual moments, and features an amazing performance by our actor, Max Puplett. More than anything, I’d say that I’m very proud of it, and very humbled by the response we got during our run last year. I’d love to get it in front of more people and show everyone the work we’ve been putting in.

The Sun, the Mountain, and Me is at the Jack Studio Theatre, Brockley from 18 to 26 April