The last time I performed on stage was in June 2016 in an adaptation of Tarsem Singh’s beautifully rich and vibrant film, The Fall. The Fall had long been in gestation before it became a spectacle for audience consumption. My journey with this piece began at a bar in Soho when I met with Tarzan Gemikonakli (the director of the theatre production whose name, I know, bears a striking resemblance to the film director’s) for a drink back in 2014. I was quite apprehensive about acting on stage again as it had been a while. But when he first approached me about this project, I was immediately captivated by the premise of this story. It resonated with me because I saw something very human in Roy, the character around which this piece is centred and the character I was to play.
What very quickly became apparent from my first reading of The Fall was that it required one to possess an ability to imagine in scale. We are very quickly transplanted from the minutia of an internal process that manifests as suicidal tendency against the backdrop of Roy’s confinement to a hospital bed in a ward, to spectacular, expansive and vibrant landscapes that seem otherworldly. However, it was not just the juxtaposing scales that resonated with me, it was the array of characters, each distinct, that propel the undercurrent of Roy’s predicament forward that truly captured my attention. How does one escape the world one inhabits when they are physically incapacitated? The lack of veracity in Roy’s actions was masked by the splendour of the world he created for Alexandria, a young patient on the ward. That, for me, presented an interesting dichotomy that I was curious to explore.
I initially felt that there was a great deal of complexity to this piece. Not only did the truth of the work lie in its subtext, one needed a vivid imagination in order to realise the essence of what was being conveyed on the page. It was difficult for me to accurately build an immediate portrait of the world inhabited not only by the ‘real’ Roy and Alexandria, but by the characters that they imagined. My comprehension of the piece came through a process of absorption over time, through ’osmosis’. I read and re-read and read again until, finally, a picture emerged in my mind. Then, bit by bit, Tarzan and Imogen (Tarzan’s wife and the producer of the production) would feed me with wonderful snippets of animation created by the extraordinary animation team. As these pieces of animation trickled through, this picture became richer. I began to understand things in different ways – how an orange might become a gateway to the stars.
I had chosen not to watch the film out of what was perhaps a misguided fear that it might impact any characterisation I was to later engage with. The temptation was too great, however, and I caved. I watched The Fall and I thought it was magnificent. It made the world of Roy and Alexandria even more vivid for me. The animation for the play became three dimensional and I no longer felt a degree of separation in the interplay between the different planes my character inhabited and interacted with.
When we later captured some of the projected video segments with the wonderfully talented young actress Keira Jozana at a small theatre in London, it was the first time the elements of animation and live performance came together in a theatrical environment and I really got a sense of Roy’s relationship with Alexandria. I felt that symbiosis was established between the live performer and projected images. The environments created by Roy and Alexandria in this epic tale transcend space and time and as an actor I really felt this because of the amazing work the production team had created through the various elements that make up this production.
You will often hear actors say that they truly believe their role is not to pass judgement on the characters they embody but rather to find some connection to them. As tired as that statement might be it is also true for me. I wanted to make Roy like any other person. I wanted to make him seem human. I wanted to make his actions seem like they were his only recourse given his circumstances. If it felt real then I felt people could relate to him. I questioned myself and asked what things in my life might have affected me in the way they affected Roy? Moments of dejection and of losing hope that are part of the human experience. I tried to use all of that to drive everything he did.
You may be wondering why am I recounting this story? The journey I went on with this piece made me realise something. Journey’s themselves are as important for me as the end goal or end point. The end goal or ‘product’ – the thing that gets made or done might be exciting but it isn’t really an end. It is the beginning of a new process.