1. The Play
Offers the audience many layers of truth. At times we are in a dream-like, lyrical world, and at other times an in-depth and honest depiction of a family in crisis. We enter the story via the memory of Hans Christian Andersen: A great writer and storyteller, drastically out of his depth because of his inability to understand or make himself understood in English. How reliable is his account? As we try to piece together the events of his visit to Charles Dickens’ family home at Gads Hill in 1857, we catch glimpses of the turbulence surrounding the Dickens family. It is a story of great passion, love and loss.
2. The Character
I read a draft of this play two years ago and fell in love with the part of Hans Christian Andersen. In particular, his gentle heart and the bold lines with which he was drawn. I knew little about the real man at this point. I was further encouraged in to learn that the playwright’s view was not so much exaggerated: He is and was larger than life. I wanted to learn more about this strange, melancholic talented man. I related to his yearning to belong. In this version his innocence is touching whilst his unwitting foolishness is hilariously funny.
3. The Playwright
I have seen the script change and develop over the past two years and I love what Sebastian Barry has drawn together. Sebastian has a real gift for conjuring bizarre and wonderful situations in which his characters interact. The events of this story are made all the more wonderful in that they actually took place. Sebastian has filled in the missing gaps with imagination, and it’s so well constructed, and based on years of study, infused with wit, art, creativity and personal experience. The success of Andersen’s English as a play is not only that it brings historical figures to life, but through a process of understanding we learn to love them too.
4. The Director
Andersen’s English will be the third production in which Max Stafford-Clark and I will have worked together. The previous two, Macbeth and The Overwhelming, were not only critically acclaimed but were also very fulfilling personally. Max’s direction continues to surprise and excite but what amazes me most is the freshness he brings to each new project. A product, I believe, of a continued, genuine openness to the world at large and a forensic uncovering of its variegated detail. One learns so much in such a short space of time; and familiar territory in terms of style also affords greater freedom to explore creatively. So, I am delighted to be back.
5. And Finally…
This fabulous cast is also led by David Rintoul and Niamh Cusack as Charles and Catherine Dickens. Plus, the music of Thomas More. It is sure to be a theatrical event of the year.
Andersen's English is at the Library theatre from 2 - 6 March. For more information on 0161 236 7110 or visit The Library website.