BWW Interview: Bryan Dick Talks HOGARTH'S PROGRESS

BWW Interview: Bryan Dick Talks HOGARTH'S PROGRESS
The cast of Hogarth's Progress

It's been a busy summer for actor Bryan Dick. As performances finish for one show, rehearsals get underway for another one...or rather two!

A double bill for the Rose Theatre Kingston, Hogarth's Progress features The Art of Success and the world premiere of The Taste of the Town. Catching up on how rehearsals are going, Bryan shares his thoughts on tackling characters with real life counterparts, from William Hogarth to Ernie Wise.

What was your first experience of theatre?

My earliest was probably a little pantomime with my local school, playing Buttons. And loving that and being overjoyed by that. But I started actually performing at quite a young age, I started dancing when I was four. Originally I wanted to be a dancer.

So did you train in dancing first?

Yes. When I was about 11, I went to ballet because I was going down the classical route. And while I was there, I auditioned for and got a part in a television drama for ITV called The Life and Times of Henry Pratt.

So that was a real revelation and a turning point for me. I kind of gave up dance at that point and fell in love with what I do now: acting.

What was it about acting that really enticed you away?

Part of it was I was surrounded by these really creative, mad grown-ups who were obviously having a ball and getting paid for it. And I thought, "Well that seems like a good lifestyle!"

Dancing as well is very physically demanding, very mentally demanding and also if you're not exceptional (particularly in the classical world), it's very hard to stake your claim on it. Acting felt like a freer way to express myself than dance. Classical ballet in particular felt very regimented; acting felt like I could be more expressive in the way I wanted to be.

Do you remember what your first role on stage was professionally? (Excluding Buttons!)

Well, that was my greatest triumph!

My first role when I left drama school was at the Soho Theatre. It was The School Play and I played a 14 year old boy, aged 21. But at the beginning of my career, I ended up doing more television and film than I did theatre.

So latterly, theatre has become more of a thing that I've become involved in, which is really nice.

And you've had a particularly theatre heavy schedule this last year. You've just come off a show, haven't you?

BWW Interview: Bryan Dick Talks HOGARTH'S PROGRESS
The cast of Hogarth's Progress

I have!

So I started the year at the Arcola Theatre doing a play called Great Apes, which is an adaptation of a Will Self novel by a writer called Patrick Marmion. I adored it, it was a really crazy, out there kind of movement play. And our director Oscar Pearce has actually just been nominated for Best Director at The Stage Debut Awards.

And also, Mick Jagger came to see it!

What?!

Yes! It blew my mind too! There was all this hullaballoo, "Oh, there's somebody in the audience!" And we were backstage going, "Who? The producer? The casting director?" Turns out it was Mick Jagger, sitting three rows up.

And then straight after that I went into rehearsals at the Globe for The Two Noble Kinsmen. That was quite a short run and disappointingly so, because we had such a ball doing it and the audience did too. That was my first foray into the world of Shakespeare. So to do Shakespeare in that building on that stage for the first time: that was wonderful.

Then I had just one week off and I started rehearsals for this play, Hogarth's Progress.

Can you tell us a bit about this show?

Yes, so it's written by Nick Dear and is split into two plays. Both parts follow William Hogarth: the younger version is played by myself, and then Keith Allen plays Hogarth thirty years later in the second play. So it's a direct follow on.

And those two plays see him on two separate occasions, and it's basically an enormous pub crawl! It starts at a pitch and it keeps going. You get glimpses into society of the time (or times), and there's a lot of interesting themes and ideas there.

There's a lot of discussion about what art is for and the commoditization of it.

How familiar were you with the artist William Hogarth?

I mean, I knew his work and what it sort of represented and I'd seen a lot of it. But that's as far it went really. I didn't know too much about him, the man.

BWW Interview: Bryan Dick Talks HOGARTH'S PROGRESS
The cast of
Hogarth's Progress

And this isn't the first time you've taken on a real life role. I'm thinking back to Eric and Ernie.

Yes, I played Ernie Wise. We had a ball doing it, but it was terrifying because those guys are legends. And we were very aware we had to do them justice. And also last year, I played Joe Orton in a documentary called Joe Orton Laid Bare.

How do you find approaching those roles, playing real people?

It absolutely depends on the role.

For me, if you're playing somebody that's within living memory, you kind of have to get it right (in inverted commas). And when we were doing Eric and Ernie, a documentary went out at the same time. So it was like, "Cheers...thanks for that!" So people could check if we were crap or not!

So with someone like Ernie Wise, he's very, very familiar to people. So you kind of have to embody Ernie Wise as people remember him, otherwise there will be a disconnect. It's the same with Joe Orton; there has to be a certain sense of the man.

But with a character like Hogarth, this character is entirely the writer's interpretation of this historical figure. So you're beholden to the script rather than the figure, the man.

So initially, you weren't that familiar with that figure of Hogarth. What have you learned about him so far from rehearsals?

So Hogarth's work is very much about people's folly, people's desires. So this character in the play is very much an examination of that: him, the man having those sort of thoughts and desires.

So it's quite bawdy in places, which you don't necessarily assume (particularly classical) artists to be. You know, bawdy or dirty! But he is a very passionate man in a base sense. It's a lot of fun playing that.

But there are elements of the character that are thoroughly dislikable. And I feel like I have to play that quite hard, but I hope the audience excuses that!

What's it like in a practical sense, rehearsing two shows at the same time?

We're doing one week on one and then the next on the other. It is quite strange, because it means you have to step away from the momentum.

The second play definitely has a different feel to it and very deliberately so. It's technically quite strange, because you're in one head space for one play and then you have to take your foot off the peddle a little bit.

Particularly for me, not playing that character of Hogarth in that second play. I've never worked like this before.

BWW Interview: Bryan Dick Talks HOGARTH'S PROGRESS
Keith Allen in
Hogarth's Progress

What's it like playing the same character as someone else? I imagine you and Keith will be working quite closely.

Well at the moment, we're quite early doors. We've done quite a rough sketch of both plays thus far, starting with the first part and my Hogarth.

So Keith hasn't had a chance to watch anything I've been playing with, but I've had a chance to watch where he's going with it. And that's an interesting way round to do it, because for me, his play is obviously in the future. So I can play a little bit fast and loose with that, because as the character I don't know what the future holds and what or who he becomes.

So I can put a definite stamp on what I'm doing. But it's also really nice to watch Keith working: examining some of his mannerisms, or the way he reacts to certain things that I can...steal, essentially!

And is this your first time performing at the Rose Theatre Kingston?

It is, very excitingly.

Have you seen anything here before?

I haven't seen anything since the very beginning when Uncle Vanya was on there. So it's been a while. And we haven't been able to get into the space just yet, but we're doing a visit on Friday.

You know, every space has a different need, different techniques to make it work. But having just been at the Globe, I think I'm in quite a good head space for performing here. It seems to be a similar layout, almost 360° for the audience.

So that was really good training, playing the Globe. Because I now know where I can pitch things and bring it down, and sight lines and practical things like that.

Finally, what can audiences expect?

Like I said, it's a massive pub crawl so expect a very big and bawdy, rambunctious night out!

I hope it's a literal pub crawl: all the pubs down the river!

Ha, unfortunately not...although has anyone ever done that? A site-specific pub crawl? I'm going to go back now and suggest that in rehearsals!

Hogarth's Progress is a double bill of plays, featuring The Art of Success and The Taste of the Town; at Rose Theatre Kingston, 13 September - 21 October

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

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