BWW Interview: Jonathan Hyde Talks GENTLY DOWN THE STREAM

BWW Interview: Jonathan Hyde Talks GENTLY DOWN THE STREAM
Jonathan Hyde in
Gently Down the Stream

Jonathan Hyde is known both for his screen work, with roles in blockbusters like Titanic and the original Jumanji (my favourite!), and also for his performances on stage, including, recently, Frost/Nixon at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.

Jonathan is currently starring in Gently Down the Stream, a new play at the Park Theatre exploring an intergenerational gay relationship. Jonathan told BroadwayWorld what makes this show powerful, and why there is always room for optimism.

We know from stage and screen: which do you prefer doing?

The stage is what keeps you sharp; the screen is what keeps you in dollars. I think, compared with stage work, acting on screen is like being on holiday.

The demands on stage are much greater - you can't stop in the middle of a sentence and say, "Sorry, I didn't get that right, can we go again?". You just have to be absolutely on the money, in the moment. No second chances.

Tell us about Gently Down the Stream

It's an extraordinary play by Martin Sherman, who wrote Bent. It's about history, recalling real events, through the lens of the central character, and it's a romance, involving essentially two characters - and then a third character, who becomes a part of the puzzle.

It's a drama, and it's a very optimistic one at that.

What about your role in this play: has it been a challenging one?

The character of Beau, who starts as a 61-year-old, and finishes the play as a 74-year-old, has been through an extraordinary series of life experiences as a gay man. And he, through a series of heightened monologues, tells these stories, which explain why he behaves the way he does, where his fears lie, where his cynicism lies.

And it's a generational thing as well. His lover is of a completely different generation, and then his lover's lover is of an even newer generation, so you actually get a forward movement in terms of perception. So you get a picture of gay life from 40 years ago up to the present time.

A lot of my friends had really strong emotional reactions to this show. What have some audience members said to you?

Indeed! The beautiful thing about Martin's play is that, although it packs a very serious punch, it's done with a very delicate hand. People are very moved by it; there's a lot of handkerchiefs, and quite a lot of sniffling that does go on - and quite a lot of laughter, too, I'm happy to say.

You said that this is an optimistic play - what do you mean by that?

Because it ends optimistically, it ends with now. Where, basically the older generation, which suffered a huge amount of homophobia and revilement and pain, has somewhat been replaced by a different and a much more accepting circumstance. Gay marriage is legal now, all sorts of issues have been more or less freed up.

There's still a huge amount of ground yet to cover, but I think that the progress has been astonishing. And the play ends with the notion that same-sex couples can be very happy, that these relationships can work. And I think that's a very strong message.

My general sense of the tone of things right now is that there's so much pessimism - in the news and on stage - so what do you think is the place of a play with an optimistic ending?

I think it's a crucial place to occupy, to be honest. We can all fall prey to pessimism - it's very easily done. You only need to look at the statements of our political leaders to hang your head in shame. The sheer lack of imagination, sheer lack of skill, sheer lack of intelligence - it can make one shake one's head. So I think it's very important that some degree of forward-looking optimism is there.

So raise the flag! In the same way that the US House of Representatives is putting forward the notion of the New Green Deal, or the Dutch economist who challenged the world leaders at Davos and said you have to tax the rich - there are solutions, it seems to me, in terms of politics.

It is possible to say, "Yes, we can have hope", and "Yes, we can we be optimistic!", and I think we need to promote that.

Gently Down the Stream at the Park Theatre until 16 March

Photo by Marc Brenner

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