Tom Stoppard’s Olivier Award-winning play, Leopoldstadt returned #BackOnStage at Wyndham’s Theatre on Saturday and to celebrate, we talked to Aidan McArdle, who plays the role of Hermann, to find out more about his role and the masterpiece play.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, Leopoldstadt was the old, crowded Jewish quarter of Vienna. But Hermann Merz, a manufacturer and baptised Jew married to Catholic Gretl, has moved up in the world. Gathered in the Merz apartment in a fashionable part of the city, Hermann’s extended family are at the heart of Tom Stoppard’s epic yet intimate drama. By the time we have taken leave of them, Austria has passed through the convulsions of war, revolution, impoverishment, annexation by Nazi Germany and – for Austrian Jews – the Holocaust in which 65,000 of them were murdered. It is for the survivors to pass on a story which hasn’t ended yet.
Check out our thoughts on the first performance here, and read the interview below to find out more about the intimate drama with an epic sweep.
Performances of Leopoldstadt have officially begun! How does it feel to be #BackOnStage?
It takes some adapting to…the privilege of this particular project, is that the set was already in place due to the cancellation of the previous run (due to COVID-19) so I have had the delightful luck to be able to rehearse in the space and on the set of the actual production. A new experience and an unexpected bonus.
How does it feel to be starring in the lead role of a play that’s not only written by one of Britain’s greatest living playwrights, but one that is his most personal and possibly last?
Firstly, I don’t think there is a lead role in this play. It is a truly ensemble piece. My character Herman Metz is the patriarch of a matriarchal family and the play reflects the importance of family, social structure and (at the risk of sounding like a new age hippie), love. I believe it is this social connection which is the secret ingredient to the power of this piece.
Please tell us a little about your character and some of the challenges you face when playing this role.
Hermann Metz is a successful textile manufacturer who had inherited the family business and has converted to Catholicism in order to assimilate properly into Viennese society. My character starts off in his 40s and then ages to his 60s and 80s. So, one of the challenges is to portray a person with those years on the clock without doing the worst old age acting in the history of the West End.
What preparation did you do before stepping into this role?
I have been reading a lot around the era, books such as Last Waltz in Vienna by George Clare, the plays by Arthur Schnitzler and the treatise on a state for the Jews by Theodore Herzl which is a matter of some debate between the characters in the show.
How does Hermann’s character and identity develop over the course of the play which spans across fifty years?
I think Hermann has a very interesting journey in discovering how far a Christianised Jew is allowed to assimilate into the heart of the elite of Viennese society.
What does Hermann represent/mean to you?
Hermann is ambitious, pugnacious and has a very strong need to make Metz and company a success so he can fulfil his duty to pass it on to his son Jacob. He is what our brilliant director Patrick Marber calls ‘an ooly magooly’, a nouveau riche industrialist who through the trials and tribulations, he experiences becomes more of an Everyman figure by the end of his story.
In an interview, Tom Stoppard said the purpose of bringing this story to the stage is to make these events/stories “easy to absorb and understand and make them work dramatically.” How does Leopoldstadt do this successfully?
Tom Stoppard is a genius.
Leopoldstadt is deeply personal and is based on Tom’s understanding of his family, his Jewishness and the impact of historical events on his family. How does it feel to tell the story of one particular family that in essence, represents millions?
I don’t approach any role on that level. I have a belief that if I serve my small part in the play, Tom Stoppard’s language and mastery of structure will do the rest.
What message(s) can audiences take from this play?
It’s almost always not the actor’s business to even think about any message that an audience will take from the play. If I’m doing a part, I never think in those terms. But I hope that the audience will leave the auditorium feeling that they have had a wonderful theatrical experience and that perhaps they have a little more of an understanding as to what it means to be human after the show than perhaps they did when they sat down to watch from curtain up….
Who is this play for and why should theatre fans book to see this show?
I think this play is for theatre goers who love clever dialogue, emotional connection to a story and enjoy seeing one of the world’s greatest playwrights show us why he is one the finest who has ever lived.
If the above has got you feeling inspired to see the show, you’ll be pleased to know it will be running at Wyndham’s Theatre until 30 October. Grab your tickets to see the heart-rending story of a family who made good against all the odds.