Stephen Fletcher On...A Life in the Theatre and StreetcarDate: 24 February 2012
Runcorn born Stephen Fletcher is a busy actor. He is currently starring in Gemma Bodinetz's highly acclaimed production of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Liverpool Playhouse. He follows this with a two-man piece - David Mamet's A Life In The Theatre in March at the Liverpool Actor's Studio. We caught up with him this week to talk Tennessee Williams and David Mamet.
You are in two productions in Liverpool. Firstly can you tell us about A Life in the Theatre?
It's about two actors- one young and aspiring, the other one more more mature and experienced- careful not to say 'old'- Drew (Andrew Schofield) might not like it! It centres on their life together backstage and the close relationship actors develop when working in the theatre. It's gives a light-hearted, touching and warm slant on an otherwise secret life.
What attracted you to the piece?
How well observed it is. It manages to highlight a number of instances in which actors find themselves- forgetting lines, missing cues, nerves, insecurity, happiness, solitude. Every actor has a story to tell about themselves or about another actor in those moments- the play is a small window into this industry and the audience are able to look in through it and see the reality.
What is it about Mamet's writing that enthuses audiences and actors?
It's the honesty and simplicity.The no-nonsense approach and the actual 'getting on and doing' of a play. And he cuts through the pretentiousness that shrouds this industry.
What are the challenges involved in doing a two person play?
The biggest challenge will be not laughing on stage or in rehearsal! I'm a big giggler onstage- particularly with Drew, and the challenge here is that no one else is around to hide behind or blame. I've got to be good!
How are rehearsals going?
Good so far. We're chipping away at it. The good thing with this play is that Mamet has written a series of plays in each scene. There isnt the usual over-arching story- this is a series of moments that are presented in sequence. So we can approach each scene as an individual play- some scenes taking less than 20 seconds in total! It's like looking at a series of photographs, but looking at the odd one for slightly longer than some others. Rehearsals have been spent finding out which scene we need to hold on for longer. It's been a good start so far. We've only rehearsing for two weeks- we're staring disaster in the face!
Why should people see A Life in the Theatre?
It's short, snappy and funny. It has never been seen in Liverpool before, it's a comedy, it's a laugh, it's very well observed by the writer, it holds up some beautiful moments of actors giving bits of themselves to an audience's scrutiny and actors' insecurities because of that, and it gives a chance to poke fun at actors in their natural habitat where some of them take themselves far too seriously!
You are currently performing in A Streetcar Named Desire in a smaller role. What is it about Tennesee Williams' work that you like?
To be honest, I was a bit of a stranger to Tennessee Williams, I'm ashamed to say. However, I'm an absolute convert. I think the man is an amazing writer. He was way ahead of his time. He is deeply sensitive to all sides of any argument or walk of life to the point where, as an audience, you find yourself flipping from one view point to the next- each point he makes is a such valid one for that particular character he chooses to speak through. That is such a skill. In Streetcar, no one seems to be in the wrong, just a victim of their own circumstances and choices and in this play we see those worlds collide. I hope to work on something of his again one day.
Blanche is a haunted character who some feel sympathetic towards and others find her irritaing. Your thoughts?
I've always seen Blanche as a far from annoying character throughout this rehearsal process. Whether its because of Amanda Drew's interpretation, or Tennessee's ability to write so well from all sides of an argument, I don't know. But my belief is that Blanche is, like I said, a sorry victim of her own circumstance. To have gone through so many harrowing experiences as she has, there is no other way that she could have turned out- as her life has been so traumatic. It's like Hamlet- everyone thinks he is insane. When I had the opportunity to play it, I was convinced that he wasn't 'mad' but that he was so traumatised by the situation he finds himself in, that those around him judge him to be mad. It's what others put on you, not what you believe of yourself. Blanche is the same, I believe her responsibility to her family, her loyalty, her inferiority complex, her love for the wrong men, and the unwillingness to accept the reality of her situation result in her not being understood by those around her. That means she behaves a certain way, but to brand her as mad or annoying is to not understand any part of the life she has lived.
What is your favourite scene in the play and why?
The scene between the two sisters in act one where Blanche confronts Stella about the life she has chosen to live with Stanley is my favourite to watch. It's a beautiful scene where we get the chance to see two sisters trying to work out how they fit together after so long and their frustration at not understanding each other. It's great to watch Leanne (Best) and Amanda play so well together as sisters do, and feel comfortable enough to "speak plainly" about how they feel and never really reach a point of resolution. Blanche's speech where she reduces Stella's husband to an ape is so well written and brutal and such a great theatrical moment to have Stanley overhear everything from the door.
What's it like playing second fiddle this time and letting others carry the production?
The production and play are so good, it is just brilliant to be a part of it, however big or small. I'm lucky to have some nice moments onstage and have the opportunity to witness such strong leading performances. I'm excited for them, because I know they will remember this production got a long time- and I was a part of that.
What are your future plans?
World domination probably!
You are a regular in Liverpool. What makes the theatre here so great and vibrant?
The biggest thing about Liverpool is its unapologetically honest response. If an audience likes you in Liverpool, they'll let you know. If they don't, then they will definitely let you know. There is an instinct in Liverpool which you cannot shy away from. There is no gushing, no theatrics, a groundedness and an awareness of things more important than a night at the theatre- but that does not take away from their enjoyment or appreciation of people having the bravery and talent to do something they can't do. Liverpool audiences aren't afraid to speak out- and if you leave a gap long enough, it can often be filled with an audience response probably funnier and cutting than whatever comes next in the script. It's that quality and that energy that informs the theatre scene in the city.
Stephen Fletcher was speaking to Glenn Meads
A Streetcar Named Desire continues at the Liverpool Playhouse until 10 March and A Life In the Theatre is at the Liverpool Actor's Studio from 13 - 18 March.