Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Simon Bradbury: Curtain Call

By | Published on Tuesday 28 November 2017

After winning the 2017 Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize earlier this year for ‘The Last Act of Love of JB Moliere’, this week actor and writer Simon Bradbury brings another new play, ‘Curtain Up’, to the Old Red Lion Theatre.
He may be less well known to theatre audiences here in his native UK, but has had a long and successful career on the Canadian Stage. I put to some questions to him, to find out more about his past, his plans for the future, and what to expect from the show.

CM: What is ‘Curtain Call’ about? What’s the story?
SB: Stanley, the protagonist, is a once respected classical actor now relegated to appearing in murder mysteries on seaside piers. Found by a former lover who persuades him to appear as Gloucester in her upcoming production of ‘King Lear’, he is catapulted into the company of his estranged TV star friend who is playing the king himself. Complicating things further is a love triangle between the three and Stan’s heavy drinking.

CM: What are the themes?
SB: Lost love, alcoholism, stage fright, reconciliation. In this story they are all related and feed off one another. We all wear masks and there is a danger in never taking them off. If we refuse to look at ourselves honestly, it becomes impossible to identify true love from others. It can cost us very dearly. It poses the question: what would happen if a man drowning in narcissism and self destruction is given the chance to embrace love again? How hard will his struggle be? Will he make it?

CM: What made you want to write about this subject? What was the inspiration?
SB: I have been around theatre professionals all my life, so I am drawn to stories about them. The personalities and lifestyle itself lean easily towards drama and comedy. If rendered with integrity the story can have broader relevance. One doesn’t have to be an actor to be a narcissist or a drunk. Bankers and shop assistants wear masks like actors do. Yet narcissism is a necessary component of the creative personality. Taken to extremes it can destroy. I am fascinated by the struggle with this shadow and healthy side of the personality. The creative process, in particular, is a ruthless battle between the two.

CM: When you wrote it, were you consciously writing the part for yourself?
SB: No. I never thought I would be playing him. When writing him he seemed to be only a small side of me. A lunatic eccentric, a mad, extreme branch. In playing him, I have had to really examine who this man is and there’s a lot more of me in him than I thought. It’s been disquieting to say the least. Well, I’ve had my struggles with love, alcohol and stage fright so why am I surprised?

CM: What’s it like being in a play you wrote? Does it have any impact on the way you work with the director?
SB: One feels exhilarated and exposed at the same time. It’s a bit of a nightmare. You have nowhere to hide. At the same time it has been amazing.

Directors have to take the play away from the writer. Rewrites on the fly are the order of the day. Yet as an actor you have to eventually take the play away from the director. This awesome wrestle has been going on for weeks now. You think you know what the play is and then someone else comes along and says; ‘No, it’s not that at all. It’s this.’ You have to roll with the punches.

Brian Croucher is a very astute director. He was drawn to the project because it looked at alcoholism in the theatre as well as stage fright. The comedy was incidental. At the core of the piece he saw and still does see some very tragic colours and a search for redemption through platonic as well as romantic love. This is fine by me. Tragedy and comedy have always been part of the same palette. And Brian sees the relevance of the play. In the light of recent incidents on the West End stage, performance anxiety is very much in the news.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about your fellow performers?
SB: Aran Bell is in the play with me. Aran is the son of renowned and sadly now deceased actor Tom Bell. We went to Drama Centre over thirty seven years ago. Since being back in the UK we have been talking about doing something together. I’m fortunate to have him in the cast. Heide Yates, playing the female character, is my Canadian wife. We’ve never done anything together. So here we are. As wonderful as it is to be opposite her, it would take a chapter to talk about the complications and challenges of performing opposite one’s ‘significant other’.

CM: You’ve been an actor for a long time, but have you always written as well? Do you like doing both equally?
SB: I wrote my first play in my early twenties. I’ve been lucky enough to be back to back busy as an actor so time spent on writing has been sporadic. But I’ve produced a decent body of work over the years. I think writing is more satisfying because you are creating a whole world as opposed to one personality. The landscape is bigger. They both have very different demands but the crafts inform and work off each other.

CM: You’re working in the UK after working for years in North America. Does it feel like a big change?
SB: I left in 1980. I went to Canada as a young man and never got off the ground here. And now, even with a good body of work behind me, it’s like starting from scratch; humbling at my age. I came back for aging parents so that was the priority. I’m still very much an outsider and it will take time to get noticed. Luckily I have a rotation gig (every other year) in the US where I can fill the coffers before returning to the UK where I’ll continue to chip away.

CM: What ambitions do you have for the future?
SB: Acting and writing work in the UK would be good. I’d like to do a show with a reputable classical company to keep the muscle honed.

CM: What’s coming up next, after this?
SB: A company up north has shown interest in producing one of my plays. It is later on in the year so I have a writing project to complete whilst waiting for that. So I’ll keep an eye on the folks, enjoy the museums of London, stay fit and keep on scribbling.

‘Curtain Call’ is on at the White Bear Theatre from 28 Nov-16 Dec, see this page here for more information.