BWW Interview: Ronan Raftery Talks RAVENS: SPASSKY VS. FISCHER at Hampstead Theatre
Ronan Raftery plays chess world champion Boris Spassky in Ravens: Spassky vs Fischer, beginning this week at Hampstead Theatre. The Cold War is taken to the chess board as Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer prepare for battle. Raftery told us what we should expect from this game of epic proportions.
Your career spans both stage and screen - do you find that you have a different approach as an actor to each of these?
There are different technical approaches that you have to remind yourself of when switching between stage and screen - in a theatre, you've got to speak up or no one will hear you, and when the camera is right in your face, simply having a thought can be enough. But on the whole it's the same: preparation, commitment, and collaboration.
When did you decide you wanted to be an actor?
When I was 12. I played the First Witch in Macbeth and was instantly hooked.
What's your favourite thing about your job?
Escaping my world. Leaving yourself behind is a prerequisite for playing a different character, so I love pushing myself as deep as possible into another character, leaving everything else behind, even if only for the length of a scene.
And your least favourite?
How would you describe Ravens: Spassky vs Fischer?
It's many things. It's a Cold War drama and a sporting thriller. But at its heart, it is a battle of wills - a psychological clash between two cultures and two men who love their game more than anything, and refuse to get pulled into a messy conflict.
What kind of research did you do before diving into the role?
Well, I learned how to play chess for starters! I have an online account and get consistently schooled by Russian 12-year-olds. There is, of course, a vast mine of information, documentaries and interviews which I've poured over, but some of the most interesting stuff I've come across has been the writings of the men on Spassky's team. It's fascinating to read about what they were really thinking while watching him.
Why do you think it's important to stage it right now?
Despite it being the safest, most peaceful time to be alive, there is a growing sense in the world today that the seeds are being sown for potential blow-out, a clash of ideologies which could have catastrophic consequences for generations to come. Even if that blow-out is not on a battlefield with swords and guns, it's never been more important to explore our historical mistakes, the times in the past when we stood on a precipice and dared one another to throw the first punch.
It seems like a momentous play to stage now that there has been so much talk about Russia's involvement in Trump's election - is that something you had to discuss in rehearsals?
Yeah, there are things that happened during this match that could have been lifted out of last week's newspaper. Planted devices and poison, but also governments doing everything in their power to destabilise foreign powers, using every tool of propaganda at their disposal - from chess tournaments to foolish leaders. The parallels have been clear to us all from day one, and of course they come up, but it's important in the rehearsal room to keep our story and our play as the primary focus.
Who do you play in Ravens?
I play Boris Spassky, the reigning chess world champion in 1972.
What do you like most about the role?
I love his commitment to the game he loves more than anything, his refusal to be used as a pawn in an idiotic proxy war, and his willingness to burn every bridge in that commitment.
What should audiences expect from the show?
It's pretty epic, a full-blown powerhouse, a massive piece of theatre. It's not just a play about chess, don't worry.
Why should people see it?
There's not much like it anywhere else! It's a brilliantly written play, with huge characters and nuanced ideas. It's superbly directed and has some incredible, fascinating performances. You'll also definitely think you're brilliant at chess after watching it. But almost no one is brilliant at chess.
Images courtesy of Manuel Harlan