Michael Simkins: Any play and playwright that is termed ‘great' must be relevant to modern times
Simkins is appearing in a new adaptation of Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman at the Bridge
Michael Simkins has appeared on stages large and small – from the National to the fringe. He's also had his time in some of the iconic musicals out there – from Chicago to Mamma Mia! with additional roles in films like The Iron Lady and Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy. But he'll be heading into the murky political landscape of Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman alongside stage and screen vet Simon Russell Beale this month at the Bridge Theatre – and we've checked in to see how it's all going.
A quick one to start – how have rehearsals been going?
Enormously enjoyable. Seriously. Considering it's such an august play with such a powerful quartet of leading actors and director, there have been a great many laughs … which is always, ALWAYS a good sign, as creativity and mutual trust are invariably the results of a happy rehearsal room.
Why does this new staging of the Ibsen text offer a great deal of pertinence at the moment?
Any play and playwright that is termed ‘great' must be relevant to modern times, otherwise what's the point? The dynamics of personal morality, human feeling and love versus those of power, ambition and influence are always relevant - just think of today's world leaders and global billionaires.
Does Lucinda Coxon's vision involve moving it to the present day?
Yes, it does. But her adaptation is so deft and skilful that nothing is lost from the original. It hopefully merely reveals and enhances the universal truths contained within, without in any way damaging or mangling the texture of Ibsen's intent. It's a very fine realisation for today's times.
Working with Simon Russell Beale must also bring its own allure..?
I find myself wondering if Simon is currently wondering whether working with Michael Simkins brings any allure … Seriously, I've known Simon socially for some years and admired his work tremendously for many more. All I can say is that in the rehearsal room he's every bit as mesmerising and generous as he seems from the stalls. It's a huge privilege to share stage time with him.
Having now reached more than 100 stage shows in your impressive career – what have stood out as some of the high points?
Well… one of the advantages of never becoming pigeonholed (or a star, in other words!) is that you experience a colossal diversity of plays and players. I've worked with everyone from Arthur Miller and Harold Pinter to Meryl Streep and John Malkovich…. but since you're asking…. not many people have sung "Dancing Queen "to 1500 ecstatic punters while holding hands with Anni-Frid, as I did one night in Mamma Mia!…. That took some beating….
Given this major tally, what does this production offer that you've never experienced before?
The chance to work on one of the very great classical stage dramas the 19th century. Major productions of such plays are sufficiently few and far between nowadays that any actor can count himself blessed to appear in one – and this play, and this production with this creative team, offer a rare and wonderful opportunity. I intend to cherish every moment.