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Nicolas Tenant On ... The Alchemist

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Next month the Liverpool Playhouse plays host Robert Icke’s adaptation of Ben Jonson’s 17th century satirical farce, The Alchemist. We took some time to chat with Nicolas Tennant about how he’s tackling the role of Face, and what audiences can expect from the production.

Hi Nick, could you tell us a bit about the play and what attracted you to it?
Well, it’s a comedy by Ben Jonson. It’s a play that I’d heard of but never seen performed. It’s about three con men, well two men and a girl, and how they take over a house and con various people. I think that what attracted me the most was that it’s very fast and witty, but also quite cruel. It’s a real challenge.

How does your character fit into the proceedings?
He’s a guy who adopts various disguises, he reels people into the house. It’s his job to find them, to gather prospective gullible clients. He doesn’t actually have a name himself, he’s just called Face. He’s quite unique, people can just colour in what they want to see.

How have rehearsals been going, have you been enjoying developing your character?
Absolutely, I mean no one knows anything about his background at all. They just know how he behaves, all these disguises and so on. Its great fun, it’s like playing five characters in one really.  We’re only in the second week so its early days yet. I’ve worked with Ian Bartholomew before, who plays the Alchemist. We shared a dressing room for about a year, so we know each other really well. There’s a lot of banter.

What are your favourite things about being an actor? Any dislikes?
We’ve been taking about this because the characters themselves act, and about why they go to the lengths they do. For them it’s all about the chance to be someone else. That’s what I like too. It’s quite good fun being someone else. As for dislikes… the uncertainty. I have a 9 and a half month old daughter, so I have to work. The uncertainty of this profession can be quite hard to deal with.

The Playhouse has a great reputation outside of Liverpool at the moment. Why do you think that is, and does it put extra pressure on you?
Yes! Definitely, it’s something that we want to get right. I’ve worked with the Playhouse a couple of times over the years, and I think that they do good productions of very big plays. I’ve always found the Liverpool audiences responsive and very eager to see things. I don’t think that there should be any real mystery about it. You could put on a play, and as long as people like it, it’ll find an audience. I know that they’re not reliant on big stars, and to do a play like The Alchemist, which isn’t done very often…it’s a great thing for Liverpool.

In a time of austerity, what do you think The Alchemist offers people who perhaps don’t go to the theatre very often?
Well it’ll make people laugh. It’s a comedy, and also quite apt that we’re performing in a time of austerity because it’s about people being conned, which is of course more prevalent now. Comedies like this are usually about loveable rogues, but people are getting fed up of that. I hope that we bring some edge, and that people are excited to go and see it. I don’t think that many people will have seen it performed before, there have only been a couple of productions. It’s nice to do a play that no one has a pre conceived idea of. I mean I didn’t know what it was about, so it’s quite exciting. It should be a good night out!

Do you enjoy performing for Liverpool Audiences?
I remember doing a performance of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists in Liverpool a few years ago, and that was fantastic! The audience had a real sense of ownership that we wouldn’t have found anywhere else in the country I don’t think. If we don’t do a good job, we’ll know about it! (Lots of laughter)

What about hangouts, any favourite places in Liverpool?
Yes! I like the pub Ye Crack. Liverpool has some great pubs, but that’s my favourite. The Philharmonic, too. It has the best toilets! It sounds a bit weird and everyone looks at you funny until they go and see them for themselves, then they get it.

Do you have any plans following the run?
That all links back to the uncertainty actors face. I’m just waiting to see what happens; it seems a long way off at the moment.

Nicolas Tennant was speaking with Vicki Goodwin.

The Alchemist opens on 14 September at the Liverpool Playhouse, and runs until 6 October.


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