Hi Simon, could you give us a brief overview of the story?
Stanley, once a respected classical actor, is now relegated to appearing in murder mysteries on seaside piers. Found by a former lover who persuades him to appear as Gloucester in her production of ‘King Lear’, he is catapulted into the company of his estranged TV star friend who is playing the king himself.
Did you write it with Christmas or winter in mind?
The play is about the struggle that takes place when people are in the middle of a personal challenge or change. At the beginning Stan is in ‘the winter of his discontent’ so to speak. To continue the Shakespeare parallel, he struggles to see the ‘Darling buds of May’. The most Christmassy aspect is the theme of freindship and love. And booze of course. Lots of booze.
There are a couple of lines from the show “they’re all out there; the theatre community royalty. The finest collection of personality disorders this side of a Freudian nightmare.” Does the play hinge on personality disorders?
That line is from our protagonist, Stan, who is making a wry observation of his colleagues. It is also a Freudian slip about aspects of himself. Narcissism can wreak the most appalling havoc. It is also a vital component of the performing personality. Without it an actor would not be able to go out there and do it. Yet it can devour us. The play is very much a struggle between this shadow and healthy side of our personality.
Award winning writer and classical actor Simon Bradbury gives insights into his darkly comic play, about backstage excess, alcoholism and stage fright.
Are there some serious points that you want to express in your play?
We all wear masks and there is a danger in never taking them off. There are consequences of refusing to look at our jealousy, self-love and ambition; as well as our heavy drinking, our alcoholism. The play is very much about this struggle. It begs the question: What would happen if a man drowning in self-destruction is forced, for his own survival, to to embrace love? How hard will this struggle be for him? Will he make it?
You’re bravely also acting in the play. Did you write the part for yourself?
Yes, I am setting myself up for a double humiliation. I didn’t write the part of Stan for myself although I certainly understand him. Being a professional actor for three and a half decades I’ve seen some rum stuff, on stage and off. So I have used some of that in the play. I cast myself more for practical reasons than anything. I come cheap.
As you are more used to working in the classical theatre, is this going to help you with your role?
I think so. I made my bones working at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada. I worked with John Neville, Brian Bedford and Ann Casson of the Thorndike dynasty. They were classical actors from another time who could not only elevate the language but still carried ideas that have since been lost. The belief that art did not serve to imitate nature, but served to idealize nature. A belief in the Beautiful, the True and the Good. It sounds like pedantic bollocks but this is Stan. He’s still holding onto ideas like this, living in an idealized world. But it’s too hard to survive the onslaught of popular culture. Reality TV and soap stars playing lead roles in the West End; the vacuity of social media, the death of language. It just does his head in. He covets the rewards given to the telly star and hates himself for that. It’s hardly his fault. With the feudal abuse that passes for a wage in this country it is a staggering challenge to make a living as a theatre actor. But he is also complicit in his sad situation. There’s a lot of Stanley’s out there.
What are you looking for in terms of cast and creatives?
I am looking for a cast and creatives that are a flexible bunch and not afraid to go into areas that are unfamiliar. Stylistically the play runs a gamut from broad comedy and farce to moments of genuine tragedy and pathos. It’s trusting to play the notes and see where the score takes us. I don’t really know what this animal is. If it fails I want to fail with gusto.
In your opinion, what’s the best thing about the White Bear Space?
The White Bear is high on the radar of fringe and pub theatre spaces. I have only been in London a couple of years (I am a native Mancunian who emigrated to Canada decades ago. I was at Drama Centre in 80’) and it was the first pub theatre that came up when I was inquiring about spaces. So, it has profile. The place is intimate, which is always wonderful to play. You don’t have to be obsessed with banging it out to the back circle.
Also, when I sat down with Michael Kingsbury I asked him about expected fees for creatives and actors at this level. He gave me a figure that I thought was fair. I didn’t want to be a greedy producer who expects folk to work for sod all. And I didn’t want to be in a space that encouraged that shit. So Michael has my respect for expecting his guest producers to ante up. We all need to get on board with the notion that work should be paid. And I don’t mean in buttons. People need toothpaste, food. End of.
Is there any particular scene or line in the show that sums it all up?
I can’t think of a line in the play that sums it up but there’s a quote from actor Gary Busey which tickled me pink. It’s dribbling with his own unique sense of irony and I couldn’t resist putting it on the flyer for the play.
‘There’s got to be more to life than being a really, really ridiculously good actor.’
Aint it the truth.
Editor’s Note: Simon Bradbury recently won the 2017 Liverpool Hope Playwriting award, the UK’s second largest playwriting competition for his comedy ‘The Last Act of Love of JB Moliere’. The competition, sponsored by Hope University, comes with a 10,000 Sterling prize and a possible production at Liverpool Royal Court Theatre in 2018.
The Illustrious Theatre Company
& The White Bear present the World Premiere
CURTAIN CALL by Simon Bradbury
Directed by Brian Croucher
White Bear Theatre, Kennington 29 Nov – 16 Dec 2017
Simon Bradbury is a playwright and actor. A UK national, he has recently returned from the US and Canada where he made his living in the classical theatre. His play ‘The Trial of Charles Spencer Chaplin, Esq.’ inaugurated the new mandate at the Shaw Festival, Canada to present plays by living playwrights. The play opened in 2002 at the Shaw Courthouse Theatre to critical acclaim and subsequently toured the US.