Monday, 14 September 2015

Interview: Edward Bennett, starring in Photograph 51

Edward Bennett is currently playing Francis Crick in the UK premiere of Photograph 51 directed by Michael Grandage at the Noel Coward Theatre.

The show, which officially opens tonight (13th September), sees Nicole Kidman return to the London stage in the role of Rosalind Franklin, the woman who cracked DNA. Anna Ziegler’s piece asks what is sacrificed in the pursuit of science, love and a place in history.

Edward most recently starred in Orson’s Shadow at the Southwark Playhouse. Just a few of his extensive theatre credits include: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Love’s Labour’s Won & Hamlet (all RSC), Things We Do For Love, School For Scandal, In The Next Room, Pygmalion, Little Nell, Habeas Corpus & Measure for Measure (all Theatre Royal Bath), One Man, Two Guvnors (UK Tour), Lovesong (Frantic Assembly), 3 Farces, Nan, Skin Game & Diana of Dobsons (all Orange Tree Theatre), Plenty (Sheffield Crucible), Hay Fever (Chichester) and Othello (Donmar Warehouse). 

His screen work includes: Miranda, The Scum Also Rises, Above Suspicion, After You’ve Gone, Skyfall, War Horse, Hamlet and Friends Just United.

I recently spoke to Edward about why Photograph 51 is such a fascinating play, what the atmosphere is like in Michael Grandage’s rehearsal room and the buzz surrounding Nicole Kidman’s West End return…

What were your first impressions when you read the script of Photograph 51?
My first impression was that it is a fascinating play about something that I, like many other people, knew only a little bit about. I knew a bit about the discovery of DNA and how it works, but I found out so much more by reading the script. What makes the play so beautiful is that you also find out so much about the people who were involved – artistically you find out what happened to them and learn about the politics in the race to find it. 

How do you think audiences will respond?
It’s a very informative play, but not in a way that an audience is going to walk out saying “What was that about? I didn’t understand it”. I found it thrilling and exciting to read, the dialogue is very snappy and there’s not too much exposition so that it gets bogged down. It’s quick and fiery but also at the same time informative and genuinely very interesting. 

Edward & co-star Will Attenborough

This is Photograph 51’s UK premiere, have you enjoyed the process of working on something new? It must feel completely fresh?
It’s been done in America a couple of times, but it’s great to be working on something which hasn’t been done in the UK before. At first I wondered how it was going to be set and what it was going to look like because there are so many different ways it could be done. It’s so exciting to be doing something with Michael Grandage directing and Christopher Oram designing it - you know you're in good hands! A professor from King's College came to talk to us and that was fascinating. It’s been an amazing process to learn so much about it, we’ve really got into the whole story behind it as well as delving into the characters which you obviously do on any play. With this it’s so specific because it’s based on historical fact so it lends a different kind of ‘feel’ to rehearsals; we’re not just creating for the sake of it, we’re honouring something which happened and the people within it.

Michael Grandage is a director everybody wants to work with – he is always at the top of his game. What is the atmosphere like in his rehearsal room?
It’s always very focused, but also at the same time quite relaxed. I know that sounds like a funny thing to say, but you’re always on your game with Michael because he sees everything you’re doing and sees through things you might do habitually. He’s incredibly particular and specific about the text and how he wants it to be interpreted. From the very beginning he has a very strong vision of how he wants it to look, but at the same time you never feel like you’re being moved around like pawns on a chess board. He’s always open to any questions and says no question is stupid which is so important when you’re doing a play like this about science [laughs]! There are a lot of stupid questions that need to be asked… a lot of which he has actually been able to answer himself because he’s done so much research on it. 

There is such a massive buzz surrounding Nicole Kidman’s return to the London stage. What has she been like to work alongside?
She’s a star for a reason; you can see that when she’s working she has a unique feel to her. She has something that you just want to watch and listen to, she’s wonderful to be around. At the same time, it’s a different thing coming from film into theatre – it’s a lot of hard work – but the way she’s approached everything has just been wonderful! She’s just like any other member of the cast, there are no airs and graces or anything like that as some people might think, she’s a true professional and works as hard as anyone else. At the same time there is something very special about her and her talent. I’m incredibly excited to see how it goes down!

Your career has been incredibly varied from new work to classics in big West End houses as well as off-West End and regional shows. Do you purposely look for that kind of variety to avoid becoming pigeonholed, or has it just worked out that way?
The pay in theatre isn’t anything like what you get for doing TV, so what’s the point in doing it if you can’t get variety and play as many different roles as you possibly can?! I went to drama school so I could play any role I went up for; man, woman or beast! I’ve been very lucky in that over the last twelve years I’ve had the opportunity to play lots of different kinds of parts in classical pieces as well as in new work like this… and not just posh people either… sometimes [laughs]… although that seems to be the general stock [laughs]. I’m always very thankful just to work anyway, you have to remember how thankful you are to be working when so many actors are unemployed. I’m so thankful to have been able to do some of the work that I’ve done, and especially thankful to be doing this at the moment! It’s such a joy.

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Photograph 51 runs at the Noel Coward Theatre until 21st November 2015. 
Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

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