Youth Without God
Did you know that three members of the cast of Christopher Hampton’s Youth Without God are making their professional debuts? As the run of the show comes to an end, we had a chat with Raymond Anum, Brandon Ashford and Finnian Garbutt to find out how they found the experience:
How has your experience being in a professional production differed from drama school?
Raymond: It’s been great to learn about the nature of life as a professional actor. It differs mainly because of the people. At drama school you are with a group of actors for a number of years, usually in a similar age range so an understanding builds, and relationships are established. Adding on to that at drama school there’s a shared lingo, in terms of what everyone is working for and how everyone communicates with each other. Therefore when doing productions, the main relationship to build is with the director and so a major foundation has already been established, which is how the actors are with each other. However in a professional production you are in an ensemble with people that you haven’t worked with before, alongside direction that you may not have encountered at all before. So there’s a lot more ground to be made in terms of everyone’s relationship with each other and creating a common ground.Another difference I think is the support you have and therefore the expectation of your work. At drama school there’s a common understanding that we are students and therefore still in progress as actors. It’s always said that you should take 3rd year as another year of training instead of a year of productions. The standard of work that is expected is still very high, and you are always pushed to be at your best, but I think the fact that you are still seen as a student and are surrounded by your teachers and colleagues in some way brings less pressure. Whereas in a professional production this kind of support isn’t there, simply because you’re not with teachers and students that you’ve been with for 3 years. You may get that with actors that have been working for many years but still everyone is there to do a job, and that’s the main aim. I’ve learnt about what is expected of you in terms of attitude, preparation and conduct, through experience which is the major difference because drama school can only really teach it.
Brandon: It has been different in some aspects but mostly I feel it’s been the same. I trained at Guildhall School of Music and Drama where the ensemble is paramount; but also finding your own personal individuality within the group. Stephanie’s direction and vision for the piece was completely ensemble based, where we worked as one organism to get through this beast of a play. The biggest difference for me is the length of run. In drama school you tend to do a week/week and a half run. So doing a month run of this play has been a real eye opener to the stamina and focus you need for longer runs.
Finnian: I would say the biggest difference between this production and a drama school show is the experience of the actors. Drama school is great at getting you ready for the business but working with such talented and experienced actors who have been in the business for years is also massively helpful. The older members of the cast have been incredibly supportive and have really helped to bridge that gap between drama school and a professional show.
How has the process of working with Stephanie Mohr been?
Raymond: It’s been great working with Stephanie. She had such great knowledge on the period of the play but also the culture (due to her Austrian background) and because of this there was an assurance I felt that you wouldn’t find yourself lost in anyway. She had strong ideas, and a strong vision which became like a firm structure, and so I could explore as much as I wanted in this firm structure that was created. It was a nice way to work. It was a privilege to have Stephanie in my first job because when looking at Ziegler, she was very open to hear my views and thoughts on the character and so I never really felt stranded. There were very very big themes throughout the play, and some uncomfortable moments but she made me feel extremely comfortable in approaching her if I had any struggles, and made the whole experience safe and enjoyable for me.
Brandon: Stephanie Mohr was an absolute blessing as my first director in professional theatre. She had a clear vision for what the piece needed to be; but also gave the freedom to play around with the character and was always a generous energy in the room. She was actor-centred and made it her upmost priority that we always felt safe and listened to.
Finnian: It was a real pleasure getting the opportunity to work with Stephanie. The attention to detail and work she put in was really eye opening and impressive. There was a real atmosphere of play and fun in the rehearsal room; equally measured with a strong and precise work ethic. We had group warm ups every morning which really helped get us all working as a team and we were all given a voice in the room – I think that is hugely important in such an ensemble driven piece. Stephanie was a gift of a director and I’m sure I’m not the only member of the cast who is praying to work with her again!
How has it been working at The Coronet Theatre?
Raymond: It’s such a great space, very open but yet still intimate. I loved that because even when there’s nearly 200 people in the audience I didn’t feel distant from them, and could still connect as if there’s only 1 person in the audience. As an actor I loved being able to move and speak in this dynamic.There’s a real feel of family in the theatre. You are able to meet everyone who works in the theatre, so everyone is close by making the work in the theatre as best as possible, and I think this shows even in the design of the theatre. There are lots of carpets and sofas so you are in some way encourage to relax and feel at home in the theatre. The history of plays and productions are on the walls, and even dangling in the main space, which adds to the homely feeling.
Brandon: The Coronet is really beautiful theatre. It’s rustic auditorium space against the quirky bar and arty foyer made it really exciting to come to work and proud to invite people to come share our show.
Finnian: The last month and a half has been extremely surreal. I’m really lucky to have landed a job so soon after graduating and the fact that it is at such a beautiful and intimate theatre is amazing. I remember the first day of rehearsals, walking in through the foyer and going onto the stage. Nothing can really prepare you for that! There’s always a great atmosphere after the show too. The bar is beautiful and cosy and there’s always friendly faces about. I’ve had a great time at the Coronet and I know I’m going to miss working here a lot.
What would you like audiences to take away from the play?
Raymond: God is love, so in some ways the title of the play could be ‘Youth Without Love’ and I think this has a massive link to what’s happening in London at the moment. I think a lot of our youth are bruised, hurt and traumatised, and in many ways are lacking love and support. It doesn’t excuse some of the behaviour we see but like the play hints at, when they lack these things it leads to violence and crime.
Brandon: I personally think anything taken away from this play is valid. Some people have loved it, others not so much, but the crucial thing (In my opinion) is that it’s got people talking and discussing the ideas and themes within the play – Which aren’t too dissimilar to what I’d going on in the world right now. I think once you’ve seen the play it makes you look at yourself and surroundings and think “Is this right? What’s going on in the world or even here in London, is it okay?” – The answer really does hit home and I think the play helps illuminate that fact.
Finnian: I think in today’s society the majority of people fall into the trap of thinking “I’m just one person, what difference can I make?” – I too think like that a lot of the time, but I think this play shows that speaking out and telling the truth can make a real difference. The play also delicately shows how easily the younger generations can be manipulated and controlled. The only way that can be prevented is to highlight that it is happening. I think plays like Youth Without God can go a long way in helping to expose that kind of manipulation and abuse.
What is your favourite line from the play?
Raymond: For Ziegler I think ‘Anyone who touches my box dies!’ said the most to me about him.
Brandon: My favourite line in the play has got to be The Teacher’s line “If there are only a few sane people left in a country, how do they go about putting the overwhelming majority into straight-jackets?” I feel this line in really synonymous with our current political climate. Sometimes it can feel like you’re banging your head against a brick wall when it comes to British politics, especially at the moment, so it’s good to see Horvarth was feeling the same and writing about the same issues all those years ago. There’s a unity in the struggle for what is right.
Finnian: I think Christopher Hampton hit the nail on the head with the line, at the start of the play, “what good can one man do?” I think we all fall into that trap at some point! From that moment, the play then goes on to show exactly what good we can do when we finally express ourselves and stand up for what we believe in.
Youth Without God runs until 19 Oct.