BWW Interview: Finbar Lynch Talks INDECENT at Menier Chocolate Factory
Actor Finbar Lynch's extensive theatre work includes Girl From the North Country in the West End, Translations at Donmar Warehouse, and Antony and Cleopatra at the National. In 1999, he was nominated for Tony and Drama Desk Awards for Tennessee Williams' Not About Nightingales.
A Tony Award-winning hit, Indecent explores the events surrounding the controversial play God of Vengeance by Sholem Asch, about a Jewish brothel owner and his lesbian daughter; it was banned on its Broadway opening in 1923, and members of the company were arrested for obscenity.
There's a lot of excitement around the London production of Indecent. How was the rehearsal process?
It's been very intense. It's an intense process in terms of the movement, the music and dance. And also the actors are creating the world - they're basically creating each scene. There's many transitions from scene to another. So learning all of that, and of course learning the lines and scenes themselves - it's been quite intense. But it's all going very well.
It's a fascinating true story - have you enjoyed researching it and the people who were involved?
Yes - it's an incredible story. The author Paula Vogel was with us for the first week and a half, which was great. She and Rebecca [Taichman, the director] have been working on it for many years. They both independently discovered the play at quite a young age, actually, and both wanted to do something with it. So it's been a real passion for them. And in terms of the history and so on, they know it in such depth. It's been great to be around.
God of Vengeance was incredibly groundbreaking for its time. Do you think the themes are still relevant to today's society?
Yes, I think they are. The central relationship is between two women, and it's a really beautiful love story. It's interesting that it toured all over Europe in Yiddish, and indeed it played New York in Yiddish, but it was only when it was translated into English and went to Broadway that it was banned.
In our play, we see that one of the big members of the Jewish community in New York has a problem with it because he feels there's such a lot of hostility to immigrants - and specifically Jewish immigrants - in New York at that time. So I think he felt that anything that provoked a controversy around Jewish people was bad for the people on the bottom, if you know what I mean.
Maybe he did object morally to the subject matter, but I think the main reason he was involved in trying to have the play banned was this idea of avoiding anything that would cast Jewish immigrants in a bad light. You see at that time: the walls were coming up in the States. You couldn't just come over anymore. So, yes - I think it is still very relevant. Freedom of expression and so on. How easy it is - or maybe not - to talk about relationships. Just between people.
You play the role of the stage manager. Is it right that your own career began as a stagehand back in Dublin, and that's how you got your big break in acting?
Yes - that's right! I was a bit naive actually, but there weren't any drama schools in Ireland at the time. So I literally went around the theatres knocking on doors, saying "I'd like to be an actor", because I'd no way in. I didn't know anybody. But just from doing that, I was offered a job as a stagehand at The Gate Theatre in Dublin.
The theatre was holding auditions for A Streetcar Named Desire at the time, and there was this small part in it. A young guy, and he goes to collect the newspaper money. He just has one scene with Blanche, and it's actually a really lovely scene. Somebody in the theatre - it was the stage manager - said to me, "Look, I'm in on these auditions - I'll get you in."
It was one of those auditions where you're up on the stage and the producer and the director were out in the auditorium. And so I did the audition, and afterwards the producer said to me, '"So what have you been doing?" and I said, "Well I'm working as a stagehand." And he said, "Well what the fuck are you doing here?" [laughs].
It was Noel Pearson, the producer. He produced quite a lot of good stuff - he did My Left Foot with Daniel Day-Lewis. And he ended up giving me my first three or four parts. It was great, actually. He was very good to me. And it was luck, you know.
You mentioned not knowing anyone in theatre when you started out. What attracted you to pursue this career at such a young age?
That's a good question. I think I just sort of lived in my imagination a lot as a kid. And I was just drawn to it. I really don't know why - because I had no experience. None of the schools I went to had any drama or anything like that. It's just something I thought I'd like to do, you know! Something I thought I'd enjoy.
Well, I wouldn't say we didn't encourage him, but we never suggested to him that he might go down that road. But once he decided that was what he wanted to do, he showed such a passion for it, you know. And that's great to be around - when someone is that passionate about something. It really is.
Indecent was very well received on Broadway, winning several Tony Awards. How do you think the play will be received by audiences in London?
I think it's such a good piece, that if we do our job, the audiences are going to have a really great experience. I've got some friends who've seen it a number of times in New York, and they've already booked to see it over here. The play really does affect people on all kinds of levels. It moves people, it entertains people, and it really draws people in. So I'm hoping that audiences over here have the same experience as they did in New York.
Photo credit: Johan Persson