PwC, our Under 25s sponsor, interview the Fortune's Fool Cast

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Weve been supporting the PwC Under 25s Club for nearly two years now, providing subsided tickets to performances at The Old Vic for a younger generation of theatre-goers.

Fortunes Fool, a dark comedy of errors set in 19th century Russia, is on at The Old Vic until 22 February 2014. You wouldnt think that a tale of Russian rural aristocracy would contain so many laughs! But laughs (and tears) are certainly what you get with The Old Vics new, darkly amusing production of Turgenevs play, adapted by Mike Poulton and directed by Lucy Bailey.

We sat down with Richard McCabe (Tropatchov) and Lucy Briggs-Owen (Olga Petrovna) to talk about sponsorship of the arts, encouraging younger people to act and how comedy and tragedy intertwine to create a truly emotional journey for a theatre audience.

Is corporate sponsorship of the theatre and the arts something youre pleased to see?

Lucy Briggs-Owen(LBO): Yes, insofar as it increases accessibility for a broader spectrum of theatregoers. And if it can provide financial security and, to an extent, artistic freedom for institutions like The Old Vic, thats got to be a good thing.
Richard McCabe (RMc):The fact is that the arts are chronically underfunded in this country. Theres little support from central government, which is appalling when you think what the UK gains from the arts. We should stop thinking of funding as a subsidy and more as an investment. Corporate sponsorship is an absolutely vital link that we need, and were very grateful for. Im all for encouraging sponsorship and its a two-way thing, of course.

The ethos driving the Under 25s Club is that the theatre should be open to everyone. Is it important that everyone has access to plays like Fortunes Fool, regardless of age, class and wealth?

RMc: Absolutely! Young people are the future audience.
LBO: We both benefit from it, dont we the players and the audience benefit from a wider audience. Different notes in the performance will hit people differently.
RMc: I think a lot of the younger audience can relate to Olga Petrovnas character [played by Lucy] and the issues that are raised in Fortunes Fool.
LBO: Yes, its very much about family and identity and who you are.

Have you noticed a difference in the age-range of the audiences coming to see this production? Are the audiences younger than youd have expected?

RMc: Yes, I have actually. What about you, Lucy?
LBO: Well, I can only see the front two rows and they do tend to be full of younger people.
RMc: And whats great about younger audiences is theyre not coming to the play with any preconceptions. An older audience perhaps knows more about what to expect, or theyre already interpreting they might see a play like Fortunes Fool and compare it to Chekhov. Younger audiences have an openness to hear the story and whats being told. There have been certain actual vocal reactions during this run that I really love. Theres a revelation at the end of the first half of the play and on more than one occasion when that revelation is made Ive heard audible gasps from younger members of the audience which is great! And also in the second half when Ive made an exit, Ive actually been hissed, which is fantastic as well and something which an older audience probably wouldnt do. I love that kind of reaction.

How did your journeys into acting begin? Was this a passion that took hold at a young age?

LBO: I went to a very academic school and felt very out of my depth and very inferior. And then I had this really wonderful drama teacher arrive and put drama on the map. It really gave me such confidence I felt like this was something I could do and I didnt really look back after her arrival. Drama school was the next step after that.
RMc: I ran away from home as I didnt have the easiest upbringing. I was in the care of social services, and my social worker said to me What are you going to do with your life?. And I said that I didnt really know. So then he asked me what I enjoyed doing and I told him that I used to like acting in school plays, and he suggested auditioning for drama school. The only one hed heard of was RADA, so I wrote away to RADA and I got in when I was 17, which completely changed the course of my life. I would never, ever have done it of my own volition.

Was there a particular person who inspired you?

RMc: But talking about an inspiring person. The person who got me into school plays initially was my English teacher at school. He was a great inspiration to me He introduced me to literature we never had books at home and I was able to see all of this for the first time. My real name is Bill (William) and when I joined Equity youre not allowed to have two actors with the same name, so I changed my name to Richard after my English teacher hes the one who had actually inspired me to first open those gates.

The age-range of the cast in Fortunes Fool is quite broad Olga Petrovnas character is young, fresh-faced and still idealistic, whilst Tropatchovs character is older, more cynical and far more world-weary. Was it difficult finding that feeling of family within a cast thats so mixed and varied?

RMc: Actors are always young at heart, or at least they should be. You have to retain the child in you, as an actor, no matter what age you are. There are certain kinds of bonding exercises that directors initiate to get you all to know each other; games and that sort of thing. A rehearsal period is generally three to four weeks long so you have to speed up that getting-to-know-you process as it is very important to feel comfortable and trust each other.
LMO: One of things I love the most about the job is that you work with people of all different ages and were all in the same boat. And that its a game where age and experience is heralded and celebrated I think thats wonderful.
RMc: Its a great job: its not sexist, its not racist or ageist its fantastic like that. Its very progressive and a wonderful model for so much else. And generally, you only get better with age in this profession its something youre practising for the whole of your life. The best bit of advice I was given as an actor was that its not a race: just try and be the best actor you can be.

Was it hard getting the balance right between the comedy and the pathos in the play? There are some real slapstick moments, and some very serious, dark almost disturbing moments. Was it hard to shift from one to the other?

LBO: The comedy cant really exist without the darkness. The fact that the audience is allowed to laugh means it can get as dark as it gets. Weve said before that we feel like were in two different plays. Were obviously absolutely not, and its vital that our world collide or it wouldnt pan out the way it does.
RMc: Comedy and tragedy exist next to each other in life anyway. The funniest things can come out of the most tragic situations and that is life. Shakespeare is a perfect example: he will temper his tragedy with comedy and lighten the moment to build up the tension again. The two things have to coexist.

Would you like to see more young people being encouraged to see acting as a tangible career path?

LBO: I think everyone should have the opportunity to act and access to acting as a career if they wish. It should be made to feel as tangible a career as any other, and the more people who have access to it from different social strata, the better it is for the industry. It shouldnt be sold without people knowing that it is very demanding, though. Its a tough, tough game!
RMc: It does mean that if people cant get publicly funded grants and scholarships, then its only the people whose parents can afford to send them to drama school who end up going. So you end up with a particular kind of middle-class person going there it needs to be properly funded so you can get students from the whole spectrum of society.
But Lucys right; its a tough old game. I think in this age of TV talent shows people think its glamorous and easy and that couldnt be further from the truth. But if youre going to go into acting, youre going to do it its kind of a compulsion, really. Whatever the obstacles, youll find a way to do it because its what you love.

Is British theatre in a healthy place right now? What do you think of The Old Vics self-sufficient fundraising model as an organisation that doesnt receive any regular government funding?

RMc: I think its fantastic what The Old Vic do. Im so impressed with that way that its run, considering that it doesnt get any public money. Sometimes I go and see productions at other theatres and theyre just squandering money and I think how much better that money could be spent elsewhere. The Old Vic do a fantastic job and put on real quality productions. And thats in part due to the sponsorship from organisations like PwC.

You can see Richard and Lucy performing in Fortune’s Fool at The Old Vic until 22 February 2014.

The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect those of PwC LLP.