Monday, 20 October 2014

Interview: Jonathan Broadbent

Jonathan Broadbent is currently starring as De Lorde in the Theatre Royal Plymouth’s revival of Grand Guignol. He also appeared in the play’s original run four years ago.

Grand Guignol has completed a run in Plymouth ahead of beginning performances at the Southwark Playhouse this Thursday (23rd October 2014). Grand Guignol is written by Carl Grose and directed by Simon Stokes, the Theatre Royal Plymouth’s Artistic Director. 

Fresh from playing Guy in My Night with Reg at the Donmar Warehouse, Jonathan’s theatre credits include: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Lyric Hammersmith), Hamlet (Rose Theatre), Ghost Stories (Duke Of York’s), Chekhov in Hell (Soho Theatre/The Drum) and Three Sisters (Lyric Hammersmith). 

I recently spoke to Jonathan about Grand Guignol’s unique style, the beauty of Carl Grose’s writing and why audiences seem to love this play as well as the technical side of ripping someone's tongue out on stage... 

Described as wild, funny, strange and gothic, Grand Guignol sounds really different to anything else on at the moment. You first did the show a few years ago, do you remember what your first impressions were?
Well the writer (Carl Grose) asked me to do a very early read-through of it in his flat. We were reading it out loud and I remember it was very funny. It was quite mad and crazy, depicting a world that was very particular – the world of this horror theatre in Paris that came from the sort of brainchild of Andre de Lorde who was the writer. It is very loosely based on a very real past piece of theatrical history and this horror theatre in Paris. I just loved it! I thought it was funny, it was dramatic, it had tension and I wanted to read the next page. You don’t get that often with scripts, so I wanted to do it and then I got the job which was terrific. 

This horror theatre in Paris is absolutely fascinating, how much research did you do?
We’ve got a few books on the subject, but Carl has put it all in the play really. He has written it in rather brilliantly! Good writers don’t show off their research too much, they just incorporate it into the fabric of the piece. What has been difficult and challenging – and why I think audiences will like it – is that stylistically it is very particular. There are lots of different styles going on within it.

How do these styles come together?
Well, there is the style of the theatre company who are putting on these plays and then there are the styles of the plays themselves, the actual horror plays which Carl has adapted to fit into his play – you get little extracts of these plays. In fact, the audience don’t know at the time, but the first five or ten minutes of the show is one of these plays being acted out. The work we’ve really had to do is on the storytelling and the differentiation so the audience know where we are at. Then of course, it being a play and it being well written and an entertaining evening, we mess around with that so just when an audience think they know what world they are in we pull the rug out from under their feet… in a delightful way!

What is it like going from that very first reading to performing it now? How does it translate on stage?
Well at the moment we’re at that stage where none of us think it is funny anymore [laughs], which is good because it means that we’re playing the truth of it. This play is the revival of the version we did four years ago and I remember it from four years ago – audiences respond in a very joyful way. It’s about a theatre, but the references for it are very filmic. Lots of movie buffs would be very interested in it because it is referencing horror films – Hammer Horror and Slasher films and Psycho and Hitchcock and Scream. We quite unashamedly borrow things, horror buffs will find it clever when they pick up the references. 

Simon Stokes has built up such an incredible reputation as Artistic Director of the Theatre Royal Plymouth. What is he like to work with?
He’s got very distinguished experience with new writing. I’ve worked with him on two different productions now and he’s very particular and you work very thoroughly to unpick every moment. It’s quite painstaking, arduous and slow, but it means every element of the show has been really thought about and constructed carefully.

It must be a fairly technical show?
An incredibly important part of this play is its technical elements. We have to stab people and remove bodily parts… it has to be carefully worked. Not just for a safety point of view, but to make sure it’s believable at the right level – do we have to really believe that somebody’s tongue has been ripped out, or do we only have to believe it for a split second [laughs]? Of course, as an audience member you’re thinking, ‘Well hang on a moment, it’s a play. Surely the actor is not being killed!’ It brings up all those questions and Simon is the overall mastermind of all that. 

Do you enjoy performing in these more intimate theatres? It must be particularly fun with a piece like this…
It’s very good and great to do. I’ve just done My Night with Reg at the Donmar Warehouse which is a 250 seat theatre, but that was a very naturalistic play. This is not a naturalistic play, it is highly theatrical. It will be interesting at the Southwark Playhouse, I know it only as an audience member. It’s a rollercoaster of a play and we have to take the audience with us. There will be balances depending on what the space is like; the Grand Guignol itself was a fringe theatre so it’s going somewhere which is probably of a similar size to what it was… it’s not the London Palladium!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Grand Guignol begins previews at the Southwark Playhouse on Thursday 23rd October and runs until Saturday 22nd November 2014. Visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan 

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