Monday, 8 September 2014

Interview: Nicholas Burns, starring in Breeders at the St James Theatre

Nicholas Burns is currently starring as Jimmy in Breeders at the St James Theatre.

The play follows the story of a lesbian couple, Andrea and her wife Caroline, in their quest to have a child that shares both of their DNA, with the help of Andrea’s brother Jimmy. When he and his girlfriend Sharon agree, the four are forced closer than any family expects to be. Directed by Tamara Harvey, Breeders is written by Ben Ockrent and is inspired by a real-life experience.

Nicholas is best known for starring as the title role in Charlie Brooker’s Channel 4 comedy Nathan Barley. Some of his theatre credits include: The Magistrate (NT), The Recruiting Officer (Donmar), 66 Books (Bush), The Village Bike (Royal Court) and Ghost Stories (Lyric/West End). His recent television credits include: The Crimson Field, Uncle, The Ark, Poirot: The Big Four, Switch and New Tricks.

I recently spoke to Nicholas about what attracted him to Breeders, what makes this play stand out and why he's having so much fun...

What jumped out at you when you first read the script?
It was the character as well as the script itself – the story was interesting. I also instinctively felt that it was a funny play, the writers have a knack for creating well drawn characters. You can just tell right from the start they are thrust into this unusual situation and how they deal with it is very realistic and very truthful and it spoke to me for that reason.

Do you enjoy the creative process of working with a new piece of writing?
Yes, it’s been lovely. The writer was in with us for the first two weeks and it’s great to know that you are creating a part, a character, which hasn’t been done by anyone else before. At the same time it’s quite scary because you don’t know how it is going to be received by the audience. We believe in it, but you don’t know how it’s going to be received by an actual audience. It’s a bit scary in that respect. It’s a great piece of writing so we are excited.

What was Ben like to work with in the rehearsal room. Isn’t the story loosely based on his personal experience?
Yes, I believe he was asked by a friend to be a sperm donor. It’s not exactly what happened with him, but it was that which gave him the basic idea for the plot. He’s obviously drawn from his experience and we see this rather unusual situation develop through the play.

You play Andrea’s brother Jimmy. How do you identify with how he deals with the situation?
The thing I’ve learnt to really love about him is that he has such a good heart. Ultimately he loves his sister and he loves his girlfriend and he just wants to do right by both of them. He is a genuinely generous and kind person. Also, the relationship between him and Sharon (his girlfriend) is so much fun to play because they are like a couple of grown up kids who muck about and have a very close, loving and sweet relationship. I’ve really enjoyed that side of it.

What can the audience expect? How will they come away feeling?
I hope they will have a very good laugh! But it is also thought-provoking, and what they decide to do is a modern and contemporary idea which I think will make people stop and wonder whether they could do that for the people they love and whether their relationships are strong enough to allow them to even contemplate such an idea. The whole concept is quite a difficult one to get your head around… a lot of people when they first hear someone say: “I’m donating my sperm so that my sister’s partner can have a baby” would straight away think of incest. So people need to get that out of their head. There are lots of potential talking points; for example the fact that as well as being the child’s biological father Jimmy will also be the child’s uncle. So it’s quite an interesting family dynamic for the audience to digest.

I love that there is nothing else remotely similar on in London at the moment!
Yes, it’s a very fresh and new idea, and a fresh new play which I can’t wait to put in front of an audience!

You are working alongside an incredible cast! What are they like to work with?
It’s been incredibly jolly! We’ve had a very, very good time, laughed a lot, been very silly and we’ve grown to love each other! It’s been brilliant, a very happy and lovely process. I’m so excited to be involved and loved every minute.

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Breeders runs at the St James Theatre until Saturday 4th October 2014.
Visit for info and tickets.

Photo Credit 1:  Johan Persson
Photo Credit 2: Anton Belmonte

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