Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Harrie Hayes: Benighted

By | Published on Monday 5 December 2016


Sometimes things come together in such a serendipitous way, you just know that it’s all going to work out brilliantly. Such as when I heard that an adaptation of the novel ‘Benighted’ by JB Priestley (a fave writer) would be gracing the stage at the Old Red Lion, and that one of the actors involved is one of zazU, the comedy-theatre troupe we gave an award to in Edinburgh this summer.
I spoke to that aforementioned actor, Harrie Hayes, to find out more about the show.

CM: Can you start by telling us a bit about the narrative? What happens in the play?
HH: A group of travellers find themselves stranded ‘somewhere’ in Wales during a huge storm and find shelter with the peculiar and somewhat hostile Femm family. Over the course of the evening shameful truths are revealed, new love blossoms, and they discover the strange horrors hidden away behind the doors in the crumbling, dark old house.

CM: What is your own role in it? What is your character like?
HH: I’m playing Margaret; she’s well versed in manners and how to behave in polite society and is married to the lovely Philip. What’s great is that through the play she is confronted with so much that doesn’t fit into her nice middle class sphere of existence, and since she’s unable to leave the house she just has to deal with it. There’s a particular scene with the sister of the house, Rebecca Femm, that makes me want to crawl out of my skin every time we run it. So I hope that’ll be fun to watch!

CM: What other characters are involved? Can you tell us about your fellow cast members?
HH: Margaret’s husband Philip and his friend Penderel are played by fellow Zazu member, Tom Machell and founder of Pint-Sized, Matt Maltby respectively. Joining the three of them in seeking shelter are Gladys, a show girl from Walham Green played by Jessica Bay (recently in Birds of a Feather) and Sir William Porterhouse, a textiles magnate performed by Ross Forder who has just finished playing the lead in The Sting at Wilton’s Music Hall. Finally there are the creepy Femms, Horace, Rebecca and whoever else may lurk in the dark corners of the house. Horace is played by the superb Michael Sadler, one of a kind, a ‘now’ actor if you like, and I do like. The cast (and crew) are such an awesome group of people and we’ve worked hard but have had so much fun in rehearsals. With any luck that’ll be evident when you come to see the show!

CM: This is based on a JB Priestley novel of course. Can you tell us about who adapted it, and why?
HH: Yes, it’s based on the novel of the same name. The wonderful Duncan Gates has adapted it, I have to say I haven’t asked him why, BUT I am glad he did! As well as it being fun there are so many interesting ideas being touched upon in the show about class, the effects of war on those who went, the true nature of success and what happens to people who are out in the sticks for too long.

CM: Have you read the original novel? Ever plan to, if not? Are you a Priestley fan?
HH: I haven’t had much experience of Priestley actually, unlike everyone else (or so it seems!). I didn’t study ‘An Inspector Calls in school so this is my first real look at Priestley’s work. I actually bought the novel today! I wanted to get to grips with the adaptation first, as I felt like it would be only too easy to get hung up on ‘well this is how it happened in the book’, but now we’ve got a good grasp on the show I can’t wait to get stuck in.

CM: The book was also made into a film back in the 1930s, wasn’t it? Have you made a point of seeing it (or not!)?
HH: I have seen some clips, it’s really good – camp, creepy and so ‘of the era’. I’m hoping we’ll all watch it together at some point. One of the most exciting things was to hear that my all-time favourite musical, ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’, was inspired by it!

CM: What do you like about the play? What made you want to take on this role?
HH: I love the story first of all. When I got the script my first thought was “this is great”, my second and third thoughts were “this is mad, how on earth can this all happen on stage? I really want to find out!” I was in one of Duncan Gates’ short plays, ‘Earplugs’, a few years ago, and I really like the way he writes. It tends to be the character is first, and then gender, which is rare. Margaret is a great character to get to work on, she really gets her nerves frayed by the whole experience. Her desire to push against the bad things that happen paired with the expectations that were placed on women of that class and time to behave a certain way are really exciting to play with.

CM: We have previously come into contact with you via your work up in Edinburgh and loved it (in fact, didn’t we give zazU an award this summer…?). How does the zazU stuff, and your other comedy/improv work compare with this kind of performance?
HH: Thanks again for the award! Making zazU is different in that we are all actors/ writers/ creators/ producers with that, but with this I get to just be an actor in the process. It was actually a real relief to know that someone else would be working out how best to tell the story. Having said that, I think the skills we’ve all learned from working together as a comedy group have been really useful to take into other rehearsal rooms we’ve found ourselves in. The challenge with this role for me has been that whilst ‘Benighted’ is a comedy, Margaret is closer to a straight character. With zazU I tend to gravitate towards playing weirder, more grotesque characters so playing someone more on this realm of being has been really interesting.

CM: You also have quite a few TV and Film appearances under your belt. Is that more or less fun than live performance?
HH: I used to only really like live performance but the more I do recorded stuff the more my opinion shifts. I enjoy both really. I’d like to keep doing both as much as possible. Though it has to be said, there’s very little that beats the terror, adrenaline and excitement of a live show.

CM: What’s next for you? And what aspirations do you have for the future?
HH: I have a few jobs lined up for next year and I’m writing my first feature screenplay at the moment as well as working on some other writing collaborations. I’ll be taking some solo stuff that’s basically me as a bored train seat trying to find meaning in life to some scratch nights in the new year… stay tuned for that if that sounds like it could float your boat. There’ll also be some more zazU stuff in the pipeline. My aspirations are to try to get better at the things I do, work a lot and buy a house (ah ha ha, only kidding. Just the first two).

‘Benighted’ is on at Old Red Lion from 6 Dec-1 Jan. See the venue website here for more info and to book.

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