Ciaran Owens is currently in rehearsals for the Greenhouse Theatre Company‘s debut play, a revival of Mercury Fur by Philip Ridley which will open at the Old Red Lion . We managed to ask him a few questions about the play, theatre and how his first year out of drama school has treated him.
Not bad at all mate, how kind of you to ask.
You graduated almost a year ago now, how has you’re first year in the industry treated you?
Wow, that’s gone by very quickly indeed. It’s been a good first year, I’m very lucky to have been working. But you never know when a period of ‘rest’ is round the corner, so you’ve got to take one day at a time and get as much as you can out of each opportunity when you’re busy.
Whats been the highlight?
I had a blast shooting an episode of ‘Wallander’ out in Sweden last summer. I played a heavily bearded fisherman importing drugs into the country and on my first day shot a scene with Kenneth Branagh where I got to shoot at him with a flare gun before escaping via speedboat. There was a little explosion and everything, I felt exactly like Bruce Willis, just with more hair. I was pretty nervous about it as Branagh was always a hero of mine, but he was an absolute joy to work with and really put me at my ease.
What can you tell us about Mercury Fur?
I think it’s a bit of a masterpiece and feel very lucky to be working on it. The subject matter is pretty full on, focusing on a group of young guys who facilitate the wildest, most depraved sexual fantasies of their clients, and takes place in a bleakly painted London in which law and order has long been overthrown and violent gangs roam the streets and supermarkets wielding machetes. However, it’s actually very funny, has more heart than almost any other play I’ve read and is ultimately all about love.
It faced some criticism when it was first produced for depicting a British society which had descended into a state unbelievably far from the one in which we live. But last summer, six years after the play was written, we watched scenes of violence on the streets of London which were all too similar to some of Philip’s apparently far-fetched depictions. I think one of the bigger points he is trying to make is that this kind of social unrest is not fantasy at all, far from it, it’s happening the world over - no better example than in Syria now - and by setting it here he brings the reality of life in a bloody and violent conflict to our own doorstep and forces us to confront the horrors that humanity is capable of. That said, the relationships at the story’s centre are built entirely from love, and as it unfolds we can see how strong a force that love can be in the face of adversity.
Yes he has, which has been amazing. When he walked in and sat down at the read through I think we all did a poo in our collective pants. It’s Philip Bloody Ridley and we’re about to read out his incredible words in front of him. But he’s a very sweet and encouraging man, and has shared some brilliant insights which is obviously a huge help. I think we all just want to do his extraordinary play the justice it deserves. The rest of the cast and the whole team are really fantastic, so with any luck we could be on course to do so.
You’ve worked with director Ned Bennett before, was his involvement important?
One hundred per cent. We’ve worked together on about three shows before this one and I could keep doing so until the proverbial cows come home. He has an incredibly refreshing approach to the text and really values and nourishes the imagination of his actors. He subscribes to Mike Alfreds’ idea of keeping blocking and performance free and open to new discovery in each performance, and in doing so liberates the actor to act moment to moment on genuine impulses, as opposed to getting safe in what supposedly “works” and losing the urgency theatre demands through repetition and routine. It can be scary at first, but once you give yourself over to it, it’s completely liberating.
You’ve just finished Sleeping Beauty at the Birmingham Rep, how was that?
So much fun. We revived Rufus Norris’ Young Vic version of the story which is a considerably darker retelling than a traditional pantomime might offer, so there was really something to get your teeth into. The music in the show was played by a cast of brilliant actor-musicians, and being one of only two members of the company who can’t play anything, I felt suitably untalented by comparison. I worked with our brilliant director, Sarah Esdaile, at drama school and she really opened my eyes to the importance of making theatre aimed at families. She said on day one that for many of our audience members this would be their first experience of watching a play, and it was our responsibility to make it a good one. The kind of reaction kids give back to you is incredibly visceral and honest; you really can’t hide from them so you have to come up with the goods. Doing seventy-four performances, including morning matinees, of that kind of show means that you have to keep being inventive or you and your audience will quickly get bored. I learnt a hell of a lot on that job.
Do you enjoy the challenges of smaller spaces like this and how does it compare to the Rep?
Yes, I love performing in small spaces. You have an intimate connection with the audience you just don’t get in a bigger theatre. It demands subtler detail and nuance, you can’t let any moment go for nothing. Of course I enjoy the big spaces too, there’s nothing like buzz you get stepping out in front of a packed house in a theatre like that.
If you could play any role at any theatre what would it be and where?
I’ve always dreamt of playing Iago, and I’d do that wherever they’d have me. Globe or National or RSC’d probably do, I suppose. I’m also a huge Martin McDonagh fan, I’d love to get the chance to do one of his plays with Druid Theatre Company, Padraic in ‘The Lieutenant of Inishmore’ being a favourite.
Whats the best thing you’ve seen at the theatre?
In terms of an individual performance, it has to be Mark Rylance in ‘Jerusalem’. The man’s a force of nature, can’t wait to see him as Richard III and Olivia at the Globe in the summer. I was also blown away by the ensemble of Mike Leigh’s ‘Ecstasy’, best across-the-board acting I’ve seen.
We would like to wish Ciaran and the production every success for the show, and say a massive thank you to him for taking the time to answer all our questions. Mercury Fur will be performed from 27th March – 14th April 2012 and more information can be found by clicking here.