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BWW Interview: Josef Davies Chats SHOOK at Southwark Playhouse Online

The Samuel Bailey play should have transferred to the West End in 2020 but has now been filmed for audiences to enjoy at home

BWW Interview: Josef Davies Chats SHOOK at Southwark Playhouse Online
Josef Davies and Ivan Oyik in Shook

Josef Davies is an actor known for his roles on stage in a reading of Bent (National Theatre) and on-screen in Chernobyl and Call the Midwife. We spoke to Davies about his role in Samuel Bailey's Shook, which is now available to view online as a film following a critically acclaimed run at the Southwark Playhouse in 2019.

Who inspired you most growing up?

Oh, that's a hard one. Growing up, I liked taking ini??uences and inspirations from every platform of art, to be honest.

I respond very strongly to all platforms of music. Responding to strong street photography gave me the right materials to observe and apply to the kind of work I wanted to do.

I think all actors and artists that like to work with stillness really inspired me in my work.

In a nutshell, what is Shook about?

Shook is about three young men, from dii??erent backgrounds and dii??erent areas, learning to realise that their environment and upbringing don't have to dei??ne who they are, nor the actions they take in their lives - both up to now and in the future.

It's a show that deals with the early stages of masculinity. The best part about it is that it comes from all angles, not just the normal take on this topic that we are used to seeing.

You play Jonjo. What is your favourite thing about playing him, and how did you prepare for the role?

My favourite thing is probably that idea of stillness that I mentioned earlier, actually. I knew when I read the role that it was going to be challenging. He doesn't speak apart from when he needs to, and then whatever he does say is completely valid and comes from every part of him.

There's no hiding with Jonjo, even in his physicality when he is trying to hide everyone is watching his vulnerability and defensiveness. That can never drop. I also love playing his energy bouncing off the other two characters' personalities, which are so dii??erent from himself.

When preparing for the role, I watched a lot of in-class i??lming of children with speech impediments or learning dii??culties. I have dyslexia and dyspraxia myself, so I was able to apply some of the ways my brain might react to certain situations to the part as well.

I also focused on staying present in the scene to take on what others were doing. Jonjo is an observer.

This show has been on quite a journey, sadly not transferring to the West End when it should have. How has that journey been for you?

It's been incredible. I i??rst heard about the play a long time ago when I i??rst met and became friends with Samuel Bailey, the playwright. We started discussing the play as an idea and a concept over a few beers in Bristol.

Since then, watching the show grow from the ground up and then becoming a part of it has been amazing. I always knew Sam's writing was going to go far, and it's no surprise at all that it has, but to be a part of this ride is just a once-in-a-lifetime experience, really.

Why do you think the play was so well received when it premiered?

I think it was exactly the type of work people needed to see: something new and something brutal; uni??ltered and not watered down.

People love to be educated, and there is no better way than to experience it in a fun, entertaining and emotional way. As humans, I think that's how we learn best, to actually feel the work and physically respond to it in whichever way comes.

Also, the entire team on this are just the best. Everyone is full of energy, and so much love went into the show. I think that is very, very apparent.

How have you found the process of rehearsing the show for a filmed performance?

It was great, actually! Although we had a year-long gap after the previous run, it was so finely tuned and rehearsed the first time that it just dropped right back in. Muscle memory and such meant that it all just came flooding back in a matter of days!

It was great that we were then able to tune [the play] and look into the detail even more as we adapted the performances for the screen; that just allowed us to play with the material even more.

BWW Interview: Josef Davies Chats SHOOK at Southwark Playhouse Online
Joshua Finan in Shook

How can the theatre industry best serve young people? Is telling their stories enough?

I think that's a really hard question. Telling their story, yes, 100%. I think we should also make the theatre a lot more accessible and visible to young people. That is very important.

As my colleagues Sam and Papatango have done, putting on new, exciting, risk-taking and thought-provoking writing and productions is also important. There is nothing more exciting than seeing something brand new.

Any advice for aspiring actors?

Stay inspired, interested and hungry. Right now, we're in such a hard and dii??cult time in the world. The artistic world across all platforms is so underappreciated and unfed. It's hard to stay motivated at the moment.

But as I say, get on all artistic platforms, watch people in the world, try to understand people and where they come from and the way they see the world - whether you agree with the work or not.

Listen to music that inspires you, keep's the most rewarding thing when you get to do what you want, and really apply yourself to it. Keep your creativity going.

Have there been any highlights of your lockdown?

I've really loved watching short i??lms recently. I love clicking on YouTube or Short of the Week and looking at the undiscovered new talent coming through. I think that started from watching how people stayed creative in lockdown and seeing them go through the challenge of the new limitations that we've all experienced.

I may be biased, but Papatango's Isolated But Open is an amazing project that has come from lockdown.

Of the characters in Shook, with whom would you most and least like to spend lockdown?

All of them! They're such great and dii??erent personalities. I think I'd need the balance of all of them to stay sane, haha.

Why should people watch Shook online?

Shook is a strong, exciting, thought-provoking piece of theatre. It's a taste of something I think every creative person has been missing. We need it. Everyone who has worked on the show has put their all into it, and I think that is very special.

Shook has been extended online until 28 March

Photo credit: The Other Richard

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From This Author Fiona Scott