Storytelling in Purgatory
Trailblazing director of A Spanking in Paradise, Wayne Thallon, and lead actor Andrew Hawley talk about filming in Edinburgh, brothels and the art of telling tales.
Centred around an Edinburgh sauna, A Spanking in Paradise is a local affair and Thallon is exuberant about the city: “You can turn up and film anything which is worth its weight in gold to low budget productions. It’s manageable and quite beautiful. It’s got your chocolate box, your rough-and-ready underbelly and I’m from Edinburgh."
Hawley, who plays wide-eyed Justin, visiting his uncle and moonlighting in his brothel, is similarly enthused, ‘I didn’t know Edinburgh well because I studied in Glasgow but it’s got a good atmosphere. I came up here, got me hair cut, Wayne stuck me in a house and we just got our heads down."
Casting the ideal lead was difficult but, "as soon as I saw young Andrew here, it was love at first sight," recalls Thallon. The conversation takes a more facetious turn, how did Hawley prepare to be Justin, the innocent bystander? "I had to pretend I was virtuous and I wanted to keep myself clean. I made sure that I kept out of brothels so that by the time I was here I was suitably horrified by what I saw. That’s real horror that you see."
Writing the script was easy for Thallon given the comic potential of the subject matter, "a lot of people don’t realise these saunas are legit Edinburgh institutions that have been there forty, fifty years so it’s a scene that begs exploring. You’ve got a small space, and for whatever reason, there are women in there who are competing so they hate each other. Then men come in from all walks of life and it’s a storm in a teacup. The humour is constant."
The laughs are largely down to canny characterisation and Thallon’s gift for story-telling. Mention of Justin’s line, ‘this is purgatory rather than paradise’ inspires an amusing detour: "That’s for the religious fanatics. I like to throw in something serious. It reminds me of back in the 90s before internet porn."
"You had to buy magazines like Razzle and Escort and you’d be flicking through, not me personally, and come across a Polaroid of a naked dude who was called Barry from Dagenham or Des from Southend and it was called ‘One for the Ladies’. That’s my one for the ladies moment."
Rab (Simon Weir) is the owner of Birds of Paradise and a master storyteller. Hawley explains, "Rab is involved in a lot of crime and he’s terrifying at times but he can be engaging and warm and that’s the complexity about him."
It’s something Thallon is clearly passionate about, "If someone can drag you in with these monologues, someone who changes voices, intonation, mannerisms; then that is good old-fashioned storytelling. Where is the Scottish Lost in Translation or American Beauty? What we do is formidable storytelling and we should play to our strengths."
The film is not about sleaze, it’s a story about family that encompasses prostitution, Hawley points out Justin is there to learn about his father and according to Thallon the brothel, "is not a sexual environment. If you don’t want to be turned on by prostitutes, work a day in one. What an industry professional goes through on any given day is not appealing."
What gives A Spanking in Paradise the edge is character and local colour, Hawley quips, "You couldn’t do the same thing in a brothel in Leeds."
Winners of EIFF 2014’s short film awards and two of its documentary premieres have been nominated for 2015 BAFTAs.