There are worse things you could do on a balmy summer’s evening than sit in a courtyard chatting with actors Harry Hadden-Paton and Al Weaver. They’ve spent the day rehearsing Jamie Lloyd’s revival of The Pride, Alexi Kaye Campbell’s tale of parallel homosexual relationships in 1958 and 2013, yet there’s no hint of fatigue as, while discussing the drama that opened earlier this week, they banter about childcare, being the new Doctor Who and childhood music.
It’s indicative of a feeling that emanates from everyone involved in the Lloyd-led Trafalgar Transformed season, which has seen the young director build an evolving season at the Trafalgar Studios, that here is a landscape-changing way of working with innovative ideas about consistently bringing quality drama to the West End, increasing theatre’s reach and having fun doing it.
Matthew Amer found out more about that, the production and losing it on stage from the two leading men…
What made you want to be part of this production?
Hadden-Paton: For me it was working with Jamie [Lloyd, the director] again, having done She Stoops [To Conquer at the National Theatre]. I love the play as well. I auditioned for it in 2008 [when Lloyd staged the premiere production at the Royal Court] and he didn’t give it to me, so we’ve got unfinished business.
Weaver: Financial reasons really. I’m skint! I was unemployed! [laughs] I think for everyone the main draw is Jamie. He’s great. I remember when I worked with him a year and a half ago at the Donmar [Warehouse, in Inadmissible Evidence], my agent saying “This director is great and he’s going to be a big deal.” And he is a big deal because he’s so good at what he does.
Hadden-Paton: He’s so collaborative. He doesn’t judge you. You can ask any question. He never makes you feel stupid. You feel free to be creative and imaginative, try stuff out. You’re never told what to do, you find it organically with the other actors, or at least he makes you feel like that’s what you’re doing.
Weaver: That’s the sign of a good director, isn’t it? I can’t speak for myself, but the rest of the cast are amazing. It’s an ensemble piece. It needs a team that all pulls in the same direction. He’s brought that together.
Hadden-Paton: It’s also like nothing else I’ve ever read or seen before.
Weaver: There’s so much subtext to it.
Hadden-Paton: You start reading it and you imagine it’s one play, then very swiftly it’s a very different play.
Weaver: You want to keep surprising people, and I think that’s what this play does.
Hadden-Paton: The whole season that he’s put together [Trafalgar Transformed, which has also included Macbeth and The Hothouse] is about making it an event, making it different to what people expect. That’s part of what Jamie’s done throughout the entire building. It’s a very exciting place to be.
The cast of previous show The Hothouse raved about the Monday audiences brought to the theatre by a discount ticket scheme and the targeting of new theatregoers. How are you feeling about playing to that crowd?
Hadden-Paton: I love it when you get a very diverse audience.
Weaver: I think I’ll be very nervous on that first Monday. I’ll be very nervous anyway but that Monday… I don’t know, I’ve done plays before that have a homosexual element and you’re never quite sure… if there’s a younger audience there’s part of you that thinks I hope they don’t start shouting expletives, but then in a way when that does happen sometimes it’s great because you know the audience is involved.
Hadden-Paton: Mondays are usually quite different anyway because you’ve had a day off. I don’t know about you, but I feel like sometimes after a day off, if I haven’t gone back over it, the words are a bit foreign in my mouth, so throw in a rowdy audience and I don’t know what will happen. But it’s great to get a reaction. When I did Posh [Laura Wade’s drama about a debauched Oxford University dining society] the reaction was so varied. People were laughing at the same time as people were really furious. People were patting themselves on the back while other people were spitting – not literally – and laughing when we were beating up a landlord.
Weaver: It was really contentious that play, you were angry but laughing at it, thinking ar******s, but God that’s funny. You question yourself, don’t you?
How are you finding switching between times and possibly playing the same character twice?
Hadden-Paton: It’s nicely illusive. Nothing’s set in stone. It’s not explicit whether they’re the same person. It’s blurred.
Have you made a conscious decision to be able to play them?
Weaver: We’ve talked about it, but it’s nice to keep it open, see what the audience thinks. It’s not really important that they’re the same people; that’s not the point of the play. Jamie’s always talking about empathy against objectification. It’s not just a homosexual play, it’s about everyone being true to yourself, following your heart and being the most complete human being you can be. That’s what it’s celebrating, humans and mankind, saying we’re all equal.
Apparently there’s a lot of love for 90s reggae in the rehearsal room…
Hadden-Paton: Why did we go down that route?
Weaver: We just started singing some reggae.
Hadden-Paton: It turned out Hayley and I had the same CD….
Weaver: We did a nice rendition of Meatloaf the other day. Simon Russell Beale [who starred in The Hothouse] had a piano, because he’s an amazing musician. We were like “Can we keep the piano?” It’s under the stage. Where they’ve raised the theatre [the stage has been lifted by two metres for the Trafalgar Transformed season], underneath is a relaxed area so that actors don’t have to be in their dressing rooms.
Hadden-Paton: I saw it when the Scottish Play was on. It was a useful area. It was where all their armour was. There was blood spattered everywhere. It was where they all got sweaty and hot, whereas there are only four of us in this, so it’s quite a big space that we need to make ours.
Weaver: I did ask for Sky today. I was joking, but if it comes that will be great.
Hadden-Paton: I’m bringing a dartboard, definitely.
Weaver: You’re going to teach me backgammon. I’m sure we’ll get some poker going on… The great thing about the show is it will run at about two hours, so there’s no time to do anything. You’re on stage most of the time and if you’re not you’re doing a costume change and getting ready to go on. Because the stakes are always quite high it’s very difficult to fit a game of ping pong in.
It sounds like a youth club under the stage!
Hadden-Paton: That’s part of this season and this production, what Jamie’s doing is making it unlike anything else we’ve done.
Sounds like a lot of fun. Have you ever had too much fun on stage and lost it?
Hadden-Paton: I had the biggest corpse of my life at the National. On the Olivier [in She Stoops To Conquer]. Just me and Steve Pemberton on stage. It was the worst and the best moment of my life pretty much. I had two word interjections and Steve was shouting at me, getting really angry with me, but right at the start of it he walked into a piece of furniture, something really simple, but when you’ve done it a certain number of times anything will set you off. I just saw a glimmer in his eye and then mine went. He started shouting at me and the tears started coming out of one eye, so I turned up stage. He was putting portraits over my head, giving me the fireguard and the candelabra and covering me in all this stuff. I was crying with laughter, but I had no lines so I had nothing to fight it with. Eventually he got to the end of the scene and slammed a door shut having told me off. I was left in the middle of the stage on my own in the middle of this posh farmhouse, tears just streaming and Kate Kelly walks on and looks at me like “What has been going on here?” But you hear stories…
Weaver: It’s usually the tragic scenes.
Hadden-Paton: Posh was a naughty one because the point of it was you had to fight to be heard. There were 10 boys on stage at any one time and the underscore, if you like, was quite hard to be heard over. People were talking to each other while you’re delivering lines that are in the script – that was part of it, making it a fight – and the upstage whispers were quite naughty, probably self-indulgent, but added to the camaraderie.
Weaver: It’s quite nice for actors, what the audience doesn’t see. They see what they want to see, which is the play that you’re presenting, which you never jeopardise, but if you go, you go. Embrace it.
Hadden-Paton: It’s live theatre, anything can happen, and that’s what the audience enjoys.
"The whole season that he's put together is about making it an event. It's a very exciting place to be."