Monday, 9 February 2015

Interview: David Bamber, starring in Harvey at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

David Bamber is currently starring in Lindsay Posner’s new production of Harvey by Mary Chase. The play is touring the UK before transferring to the West End’s Theatre Royal Haymarket from Tuesday 17th March.

The comedy tells the story of Elwood P. Dowd and his unwavering friendship with a six-foot tall, invisible rabbit. Bamber plays William R. Chumley alongside James Dreyfus as Elwood P. Dowd and Maureen Lipman as Veta Louise Simmons.

Harvey premiered on Broadway in 1944, winning Chase the Pulitzer Prize for Drama the following year. The production was directed by Antoinette Perry, after whom the Tony Awards are named. Harvey premiered in London in 1949 at the Prince of Wales Theatre.

David's theatre credits include: Travels With My Aunt (Menier Chocolate Factory), Troilus And Cressida, The Merchant Of Venice and Honk (all for the National), Sweet Smell Of Success (Arcola), Betty Blue Eyes (Novello), On The Razzle (Chichester), Real Inspector Hound/Black Comedy (West End Warehouse Production), The Cocktail Party (Edinburgh) and My Night With Reg (Royal Court). He is perhaps best known for playing Mr. Collins in the 1995 television series of Pride and Prejudice alongside Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.

I recently spoke to David about why there is more to Harvey than first meets the eye, what people will take away from the piece and reuniting with Lindsay Posner…

How much did you already know about Harvey?
I think that I was principally aware of it as the film which I’d seen a very long time ago with James Stewart who did it on stage as well. I didn’t know that it had been in the West End in the seventies! To be perfectly honest, although I am a man of the theatre, I don’t think I was even aware that it was a stage play when I first saw the film.

So what were your first impressions when you were contacted about this production?
To be truthful my memory of the film, which I had not seen for decades, was that I thought it was a rather whimsical piece. I realised it is an extremely good play; deep is the wrong word, but it is very involving and very human. Mary Chase was obviously an interesting woman, it’s quite forward looking for its time. She wrote this in 1944! It is ahead of its time in the treatment of mental illness as it were, although I’m not saying that is what the play is about. She has a very liberal view and was like a humanist or something. It’s very good and extremely funny… well hopefully [laughs]… it is certainly amusing!

Lindsay Posner, Ingrid Oliver, Desmond Barrit & David in rehearsals

What do you think people will take away from the piece?
Well I think some people may stay away because they think it’s an old fashioned play and more traditional theatregoers may go because they think they’re getting a harmless matinee, but I think people will be quite shocked by how interesting it is and the things it throws up! There is a lot to talk about, don’t forget this is in an age before they started lobotomising people routinely with mental conditions and just turning them into vegetables. It is very thought provoking! 

You’re working alongside a stellar cast, did you enjoy rehearsals?
Well it wasn’t like we were just throwing it on, there was a lot to explore which has been great. There is much more to it than a lot of people think. A lot goes into performing it, yes there are laughs, but it is also very serious and a family drama with James (Dreyfus) and Maureen (Lipman) and Ingrid (Oliver). There is a lot going on! It has been very creative to work on.

Desmond Barrit & David in rehearsals
And what is Lindsay (Posner, director) like to work with?
Oh I adore Lindsay! I hadn’t seen him for donkeys years since we were both at the Royal Court in the early eighties. I love working with him, he is very thorough, diligent and tolerant. He always lets you try things and then his comments are always marvellous. As I say this is the first I’ve worked with him for a very long time, but hopefully not the last [laughs]… he’s probably replacing me as we speak [laughs]!

Are you pleased to have the opportunity to fine tune the piece on tour before opening in the West End?
I think it’s really good. We visit a few places and then have a week off before we go into the Haymarket. With a play where you are expecting audience reaction you have got to feel your way into it and edit it to a degree. You need to be able to decide how to work round it if you get reactions in certain places or don’t get reactions when you think you should. With Harvey it’s not just about playing for laughs, but we are expecting a response. They will all be wonderful performances, but these first ones will also be learning performances. 

We will all be nerve wracked – it is always the same! Before the first one you always wonder, ‘Why am I doing this? I wish I was sat at home watching Coronation Street’. Years ago I was in My Night With Reg and when we did the first preview at the Royal Court we got a laugh on the second line which we all thought was extraordinary. The whole play was funny, but sometimes you get to a stage in the rehearsal room where you don’t realise that because you’re taking it so seriously. Until you get an audience in front of you, you don’t quite know what kind of play you are working with.

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Harvey runs at the Theatre Royal Haymarket between Tuesday 17th March and Saturday 2nd May 2015. Please visit www.harveyonstage.co.uk for further information, tour dates and tickets.

Photo Credit 2&3:  Manuel Harlan

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