Ronald Mackay’s play Einstein’s Fridge is one of four to be staged at the Festival on October 24 and 25. Tickets Here
He was interviewed by Felicity Sidnell Reid, chair of FOTA and author of Alone: A Winter in the Woods.
An author who worked in several countries, Ronald wrote about his experiences in Romania and Tenerife. Fortunate Isle is a delightful account of his coming of age in Tenerife.
Q:What appeals to you about writing plays?
I’ve always loved radio plays. They conjure up an entire and coherent world through nothing more than dialogue and a few sound effects. As an adult I became an ardent theatre-goer and relished the additional elements that live theatre adds to the live dramatic experience — the stage setting, the emotional environment of an audience settling itself comfortably to become part of a fictional, intellectually-demanding world, for an hour or two.
After retirement, my wife and I became part of the lively community surrounding The Theatre on King (TTOK) in Peterborough, listening and learning.
It was TTOK who offered me a first production of “A Million to One”, exploring the use and the misuse of agricultural pesticides.
Q: Einstein’s Fridge is a speculative play about perhaps the most famous of all twentieth century scientists. Tell us why you chose Einstein’s Fridge as its title and how you came to develop the plot and the characters.
BBC’s Radio 4 mentioned that Einstein patented a fridge that he had invented. I found that intriguing and conducted some research on Einstein. I read many things I knew about Einstein — but also discovered many things that I didn’t and was surprised and even disappointed by.
He was a brilliant scientist but a less admirable human being. He was supremely self-centred. When the student, who later became his wife, became pregnant, he sent her back home to her parents in Serbia to have the baby. Although his name is on the birth certificate, he never saw his daughter and never allowed his wife to mention that they had any more than their two sons born after they married. Einstein, while undoubtedly a scientific genius, was a poor husband and a womaniser.
Q: Some plays which have been written about other famous people have caused a furore because of their depiction of the protagonist. Would you describe your play as provocative in this way?
In writing Einstein’s Fridge, it certainly was not my intention to provoke. I was simply intrigued by the imperfect man that my research uncovered. His continual betrayal of his first wife also surprised me. As a playwright, I decided that it might be intriguing to capture a relatively unknown aspect of Einstein, the scientific genius with secrets in his closet.
Q: What initially inspired you to write Einstein’s Fridge?
Those very human but reprehensible details of Einstein’s life rattled around in my head for a while. I am always looking for ideas that might make a theme for a play. TTOK suggested presenting an evening of 10-minute plays and invited me to contribute. That evening of 10-minute plays has not yet happened but the invitation encouraged me to develop the concept for Einstein’s Fridge.
Q: How did you develop this story?
A productive way of exploring and developing a dramatic idea is to take the known facts and ask a series of “what if?” questions. What might have happened if Einstein’s daughter had been given up for adoption in Austro-Hungary and given the name Lisbeth Feist? What if Lisbeth’s adoptive parents had emigrated after World War II to the US?
What if, later, Lisbeth’s parents told her that she had been adopted? What if she had sought out her original birth-certificate? What if she had learnt that her father was Albert Einstein? What if Lisbeth’s sense of rejection and curiosity had persuaded her to approach Einstein to discover if he had ever had any regrets in refusing ever to see her?
“What might have happened,” I asked myself, “if Einstein had misconstrued that younger woman’s approach as flirtatious?” Einstein was used to such approaches and took advantage of them. What might have happened when he realised that Lisbeth is, in fact, his very own daughter?
Q: What do you want to the audience to take away from the play?
In any play, several things often happen at the same time. There is seldom a single take-home message or a clear conclusion in the plays I write. I like to explore ideas and contentious points but may, or cannot, always resolve them.
I want the audience to reflect on the ultimate loneliness that we all feel from time to time — the inevitable loneliness of the human condition. We overcome it in many ways, to our benefit and happiness. If we don’t, it overcomes us to our detriment.
Lisbeth feels the loneliness of parental rejection. She tries to resolve her loneliness by seeking out her birth father, perhaps to find the love that he had never had the opportunity of offering her. Einstein has lived with the loneliness of the intellectual genius who has no peer. He overcomes it by working. When intellectual work has no effect, he explores more concrete matters — the design of his fridge and the pursuit of acolytes. Both Lisbeth and Einstein find resolution. Very different kinds — and not necessarily those that might have been expected or hoped for.