We recently caught up with some of the movers and shakers of Lazarus Theatre Company, who are currently engaged in their autumn season.
Roseanna Morris and Danny Solomon are playing the King and Heironimo respectively in a new stage production of Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, which is now being performed at the Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell. It is directed by Lazarus’ Artistic Director Ricky Dukes.
We found out from the three of them about the Lazarus rehearsal process, why we all enjoy revenge stories, and what audiences can expect from the Elizabethan gore-fest.
RM is Roseanna Morris, DS is Danny Solomon and RD is Ricky Dukes.
How are you all today?
RM: Marvellous, thank you.
DS: Very well thanks.
RD: Blooming tired! We have had quite the epic week, deconstructing the text: Kyd’s text is beautiful but he really does make us work.
Danny and Roseanna: how have you come to be involved with Lazarus Theatre Company?
RM: I noticed that an old friend from university had been part of the company, which led me to do a bit of research. I liked what the company stood for and decided to audition.
DS: I auditioned and got a part in King Lear and Dido, Queen of Carthage which played in rep at the Greenwich Theatre in the spring.
What has knackered you most and what have you enjoyed most about rehearsals so far?
RM: I think one of the most knackering things is that the rehearsals are both physically and mentally demanding, however I also think that it is one of the best things too. It’s also great working with such a lovely group of people.
DS: The last shows I did with Lazarus I found physically knackering. But with The Spanish Tragedy, it’s been the text work. My character has a lot to say so I need to ensure I know exactly what he’s on about and get my head around all the different words and thoughts. I’m sure the physical work is on its way too!
RD: I think it’s the level of energy required that’s the most tiring. The text is always the heavy part of the process and yet the most rewarding. It has to be done; we really have worked and worked again on bringing the play to life.
Is there any chance for downtime? Any practical jokers at Lazarus HQ?
RM: There are usually quite a few cackles in the mornings when we all get in; also over our lunch in between devouring food (it really is hungry work)!
DS: Yeah, there’s time for a cuppa and a sarnie at lunch but there’s always more lines to learn or more text work to do. We do have a Friday night drinks tradition though which is VERY good downtime. And well needed.
RD: Friday Night drinks have to be my favourite part of the week, although we work hard there are plenty of laughs had in the rehearsal room, normally at my expense!
The Spanish Tragedy has lots of violent murders in it. Is it an Elizabethan gore-fest?
RM: I would say so, along with a few unexpected twists and turns.
DS: It is a bit of a gore fest. I remember when I first read it; I thought it was merciless! It’s not all blood and guts though. There are moments of loss and desperation but also love and celebration.
RD: It is the Father of all revenge plays. We have had an incredible journey finding our methods of murder from Kyd’s time. Across the time periods we mainly focused on Spain in the 1930s and modern day warfare.
What can audiences expect? Should the squeamish stay away?
RM: A truly riveting fast paced storytelling experience. Even the squeamish won’t be able to resist.
DS: No, bring the squeamish too! I think the audience can expect a passionate, shocking Spanish thrill ride.
RD: Absolutely not! We conduct the murders in a number of stylish ways… surprises at every turn, and you just wait for the play within the play!
What are the challenges and pleasures of reviving the classics?
RM: Finding the truth of what the text actually says. Once having found the truth you appreciate how wonderful the language is and the fun truly begins.
DS: I think the challenges come when we try and rationalise these stories and characters. There are many aspects that we can relate to e.g. losing someone, loving someone, being afraid and so on. But these plays contain massive characters whose reactions and feelings are wild and instinctive and sometimes don’t fit in with how we would behave today. The joy is when you can accept that and start bringing them to life.
RD: For me they are the same thing, finding the play’s relevance, what is it that speaks to a modern audience and then finding the ways and means to do it. The biggest frustration is having to do everything in three weeks of rehearsal: it really does put the pressure on. Cast and creatives need to be on form all day every day.
Ricky, your usual style is to set your shows in particular times and places. Are you doing the same for The Spanish Tragedy, and if so, what can you give away?
RD: Spanish has somewhat of an irregular twist, we really have plunged into the theme a play within a play. Party banners, balloons and a lot of LX tape are used! I can quite honestly say we have never produced a production like this before.
Danny and Roseanna, you’re playing Heironimo and the King of Spain respectively. What similarities do you share with your characters? Are you enjoying playing them?
RM: it has been a great opportunity for me to play the king; I’ve had a lot of fun so far with the part. The king would believe that both herself and Heironimo will do whatever is right for Spain, and of course the monarchy. I have an inkling Heironimo may disagree with this though .
DS: Hieronimo’s a man whose absolute faith in God and ‘the system’ is being shattered. I don’t have a firm belief in either of these things. He is of a simple belief that if a person kills another person, then he or she should die. I’m not saying I agree with that but it has been refreshing to play a character that has such a fixed attitude. He’s a joy to play because he’s working everything out in his heart and mind and you go on that journey with him. Also Hieronimo’s a family man. I’d like to think that if any of my family were taken from me then I would seek justice. I think that’s what’s fascinating: Hieronimo is just seeking what we know that he deserves. He just gets a bit carried away at the end!
Themes of revenge, murder and betrayal have always been popular in drama. Why do they resonate so strongly with every generation and culture?
RM: I think it’s the high stakes, edge of the seat, nail-biting watching. These are themes which grab an audience no matter what generation or culture.
DS: People love the idea of revenge, because it’s such a simple but just concept. Revenge is the main theme of so many ancient and modern stories alike; the hero is wronged and spends the rest of the story plotting and exacting revenge on those who wronged him or her. And we want them to succeed because we think that it’s right.
Finally, Ricky, can you give anything away about the last production in Lazarus’ season – the Merchant of Venice?
RD: Indeed… Act 5 has gone! The production will be incredibly tight and intricate; the devil is in the detail. I cannot wait to get started.
The Spanish Tragedy plays at The Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell until Saturday 19th October. You can book tickets by visiting http://www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk/spanish-tragedy.
Photos by Adam Trigg.