By Conor O’Neill
The book has sold 5.5 million copies, the play has been watched by over five million people, it’s won umpteen awards and has travelled from the West End to Broadway and every country you care to name. CultureCrush NI spoke with leading man, David Breeds on acting, taking your chances, the privilege of playing for the National Theatre, and inhabiting the curious world of Christopher John Francis Boone. We are of course talking about the adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
So David, how did you get into the world of acting?
“It’s a bit of a weird one really, I’d never acted before, I was always playing football, there was no acting at school or anything like that. But I always performed for my friends, whether it be telling jokes or stories or whatever. I’d always looked at TV and actors and thought to myself, ‘ah, I could do that’, but there was no access to it.
“There’s a bit of a mental story to it really. I was 18-years-old and I went over to New York to teach rock climbing in the Catskills and some of the people who I became friendly with were actors. After I’d finished the summer of teaching rock-climbing I went to their university and sat in on a couple of their classes and watching these people doing it and I just thought, ‘I could do this, I really, really should do this’, so I came back from America and I was working in a factory producing car engine rods and I applied to university to study sports therapy and was accepted but I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this’ so I went online and searched for acting coaches in London and I found this guy’s name and asked him, ‘how do I do this?’
“I went to a class and he basically saw something in me and he said, ‘If you drop everything and work your ass off you’ve got a decent chance, you’ve raw ability and a natural instinct’, so two weeks later I went for an audition and won a scholarship for a college, and that was it, ‘I’m doing this now’.
“And thank God I did because I’d all my fingers in all these different pies, but if I became an actor I can pretend to do all these things.”
So you won the scholarship with the Colin’s Performing Arts Studio and were awarded the Stephen Sondheim Student Performer of the Year and apart from the training I see you played many leading roles but what’s special about playing Christopher Boone? Is there a greater intensity involved?
“First of all it’s so beautifully written, I mean the book by Mark Hadden is wonderful, there’s just so much depth to it, it’s just an actor’s dream really and to play just a beautifully rounded, fully formed character and to get to perform all these incredible, dynamic choreographed sequences in such a set is fantastic. I still pinch myself, it’s such an honour, it’s such a privilege to look after it, to maintain it and find new things. There’s so much in there.”
And what does a role with the National Theatre mean to you as an actor?
“It means everything. I’ve said for years, ever since I became an actor, it’s just the pinnacle. Every actor wants to work with the National. Just doing anything for the National I was just jumping with joy, but also playing this role, it doesn’t come around often and I feel very, very lucky.”
I assume you’ve read the book by Mark Hadden and obviously you know the script by Simon Stephens inside out, but what do you draw on most?
“It’s interesting because Simon has taken a lot of what the book is and made it theatrical. The book was so helpful to flesh out some of the reasons why Christopher does things. He’s such a black and white character on the surface because he’s just saying what he thinks, and it’s so interesting playing a character like that but the more you learn him and the more you play with him you actually realise there’s so much more to him. Simon’s script is just wonderful and in finding everything I could in that and then going back to the book, and rereading it was so helpful. They work in tandem really.”
I know publicly the novelist Mark Haddon has said the book is not about a boy with autism or on the Asperger’s spectrum but did you do some online research about these subjects?
“It’s interesting isn’t it, I’ve played the truth with what that script is and what Christopher is. I feel it’s quite a modern thing for people on the outside to think, ‘oh this is a play about a boy with autism’, but really it’s just about a boy who’s discovering things about the world and putting himself out there. It’s like saying Fiddler On The Roof is about a Jewish man when really it’s about a man’s relationship with his family. To pinpoint something on one thing is over simplifying it.
“I think I can draw on things from Christopher, we can all draw things from Christopher. We’ve all been overwhelmed. There are so many things in life that we all take for granted. A semi-busy room is like being in Paddington station for Christopher, it’s like being centre stage with thousands looking on when it’s just maybe 10 people; you know everything is just heightened, a bang is like thunder to him, or a touch is like being stabbed. Everything is sensory overload. I think as actors we can take that and use our only personal experiences and use them for what the character is feeling at the time.
“I’m not Christopher or had those experiences but I’ve done a lot of reading and watched documentaries. When you are dealing with someone with specific attributes to their character it’s all helpful.”
I’ve been sent through some production shots and the play appears to be quite physical, can you elaborate on that?
“I adore it. It’s two hours and 15 minutes long. I’ve always been quite a physical actor and this show is extremely physical, I changed my gym routine about three months building up to the show, I started doing some body weight exercises and building up my core, there’s whole section where I do a two minute monologue but I’m doing a crunch position where it’s so physical and I adore it. There’s a bit at the end where I’m doing a sequence where I’m dripping with sweat and one of the character says, ‘Christopher, you’re soaking’, I’m meant to be out in the rain but actually just dripping with sweat on the floor. If you’re in the first couple of rows you’re in the splash zone.”
You’ve studied with the best, you’re acting with veterans, but what have you learnt from cast, crew and director from this run as an actor that you maybe didn’t realise before or wasn’t revealed to you before?
“That’s a really good question. I’ve always started the process with the idea of as long as you’re listening and respond truthfully the work does itself. When working with Rebecca Root, who plays Siobhan and seeing her it’s absolutely wonderful. Every night there’s a connection between us and I adore it, when you’re together in a moment and with truthfulness that’s all you need. You don’t have to put anything on top of it, you don’t have to act, you simply have to be there. It’s something that I’ve always strived for, to be able to do a show every single day, I’ve been an understudy before but to be able to live it, I think that’s maybe it.”
I see you’re sharing the lead role with Connor Curren, what way does that work? Do you take it a theatre each, or split the run with days off and on?
“We share the role 50/50. We do four shows a week each, there are eight shows a week and we simply split it 50/50. God forbid if one of us gets ill the other will do the shows, and thankfully there’s Jacob Coleman who is the understudy for Christopher so if either of us can’t do the show he can step in. Jacob is absolutely wonderful. He’s in the ensemble as well and covers every role in the show, the guy is unbelievable.”
We know all about the Tony’s and the Olivier awards, so do you feel pressure going out on the stage with all that in the background or do you simply go out and enjoy yourself?
“I don’t really think about it. I go out and have the best time, I love doing it, I love telling the story and being someone else. I know how good this is and I just love to be present for two and a half hour and just live it and give that audience the best show. If I was half way though the show and I’m thinking about Tony or Olivier awards I’d be kind of distracted. You’ve just got to let that go. I haven’t saw anyone else’s show, well I saw it eight years ago but I can’t remember it because it was so long ago. I have no pressure, this is my Christopher, this is what I’m doing so it doesn’t really matter. Everyone’s Christopher is so different it’s their own creation. That’s what’s so great about the creative team, there’s not a set, ‘this is what Christopher has to to do’, it’s your Christopher, what’s your thoughts. Obviously you get little nudges on direction but it’s really your own unique thing.”
And finally David, is there anything I haven’t had the presence of mind to ask?
“We’re here for a week, if you can’t catch us in Belfast, we’re also playing Dublin. The show is a wild ride, you’ll never see anything quite like it.”
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time plays at the Grand Opera House from January 18 – January 22, 2022. For booking details visit http://www.goh.co.uk. The box office number is 02890 241919.
Get booking folks, it’s going to be good!
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