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Interview: Daniel Monks Discusses THE SEAGULL, Covid Delays And Disability On Stage

The Australian actor on Chekhov and working with Emilia Clarke

The Seagull

In December 2019, a star-studded new production of Anton Chekov's The Seagull was announced, scheduled to open at the Playhouse Theatre with Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones fame in the role of Nina. After completing the rehearsal process, the production was forced to close after its first preview due to the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The revival opens next month at the Harold Pinter Theatre, with Jamie Lloyd directing Anya Reiss' adaptation of Chekhov's 1895 play. It is set in the modern-day and follows a group of characters at a remote house in the country as they comfort each other as their dreams fall apart.

BroadwayWorld caught up with Australian actor Daniel Monks, who plays Konstantin, to discuss the strangeness of the two-year-long interruption, being fed baked goods by a movie star, and his experiences of being a disabled actor in the UK.

Tell us about The Seagull - what about this revival is different?

We're doing a new version by the playwright Anya Reiss, who is brilliant. This version is modernised and, on top of that, Jamie Lloyd is experimenting with form and natural language. So, it's not traditional Chekov. If you've seen Jamie's Cyrano de Bergerac [with James McAvoy], a similarity is [that it is] a classic text which tries, through theatrical language, to make a classic text more accessible and immediate for modern-day audiences.

What does that look like for you in terms of playing the character of Konstantin?

What I love so much about working with Jamie is that he's experimental and he never comes in like "it needs to be like this". Everything is a question, opening up possibilities. After the West End shut down back in 2020, it now feels like a new production because he's still so hungry to explore and encourage the company and cast to. Konstantin has such a performance history - people have memories and [existing] perceptions of the character. Working with Jamie feels liberating because he's not interested in re-hashing previous productions at all. His approach is "let's treat this like new work". Because Anya's script is so brilliant and modernised, it does feel like being able to look at these classic characters anew.

How is playing a character who is so tortured by their art? Especially in terms of being an artist yourself.

I love Konstantin so much and even though he goes through a lot of turmoil throughout the show, I feel like that's the meaty stuff for an actor to play. There's so much in him to dig deep into and that's really satisfying. Konstantin talks about finding new forms and Arkadina [played by Indira Varma] is more representative of a previous generation of art and theatre. Konstantin is more about provocative new theatre and trying to push the evolution of art.

This means that there are meta elements [in the play] because there's so much talk about theatre while we are in a play in a theatre with an audience. I just find that exciting. This element mirrors what Jamie is trying to do through opening up possibilities about what theatre can be and not being complacent and doing it a certain way just because that's the way it's always been done. The Seagull"

What's it been like having such a long hiatus because of the pandemic? How has it affected your relationship with the company and the play?

It's extraordinary because being in a room with everyone now is really moving. We were shut down after our first preview and that's something we all went through together, as with a lot of productions. Every month for the first two years we would have a full cast and crew Zoom and Indira Varma and I, for 17 months, played Words With Friends every day.

This play has lived in us now for so long. Being in this [rehearsal] room - the process feels organic and effortless because we have lived through something together and we feel like a family. There's such trust between us. There was before, but time is such a valuable bond. It really feels like we are a family unit. In rehearsals, I can feel from myself and everyone how grateful we are to be making this together again. From the day we shut down to the next rehearsal was 805 days. A lot of us had lost hope that we would ever come back. It feels special and meaningful to make this with these people again.

Lyn Gardner wrote an article for The Stage in the pandemic about 'slow theatre' - embracing slowness - and what this might look like. That's happened, in a way, for you and the cast because usually with a company you must be fast friends because of the urgency of reaching your collective goal. But you've had all this time...

Yes. We've all been through it, and because we all kept in touch through the highs and lows of the pandemic together, the first day back was so emotional and tender in a really beautiful way.

What's it like working with Emilia Clarke, who is so well known?

I love Emilia so much. She is the kindest and most generous actor you could work with. An example would be that every Monday, she brings in baked goods that she's spent the weekend making for us. I still haven't seen Game of Thrones. She is so lovely even if I did have any sense of intimidation I wouldn't need to because she is such a generous and warm-hearted person. It was wild because she came to the Teenage Dick press night [at the Donmar in 2019] which was my London debut and then months later I was acting opposite her. It was surreal. She's so lovely and any of the movie-star thing is just removed because she is such a genuine and real person.

Jamie Lloyd's productions are so distinctive - what's the set and staging like?

If anyone has seen his Cyrano or Betrayal, it echoes the evolution of that kind of design. Soutra Gilmour has [designed] the set and it's very stripped back.

In 2019, you spoke to The Stage about your views on representation and disabled actors. The outgoing head of the RSC Gregory Doran recently spoke about the tendency to cast non-disabled actors as Richard III. The company has since cast Arthur Hughes, the first disabled actor to play the role.

Are you experiencing a notable difference in how issues around representation are being resolved (or not)?

I feel like it's a good moment because of casting Arthur, who is amazing. And especially in the West-End with Lizzie Annis in The Glass Menagerie and with me in The Seagull. That feels hopeful. But overall, I don't feel like there's been a marked improvement or shift.

Something that [with playing Konstantin] is exciting for me in auditioning and being offered the role is that so often as a disabled actor you only get cast as disabled. I want to be part of telling a story and not just telling minority or disabled narratives. It's great playing Konstantin - who isn't written as disabled - and by virtue of me playing him, he is disabled. Disability narratives need to include disabled people in the telling of those stories and move forward and become much more authentic. But, having said that, ultimately we are actors who want to be a part of telling all stories and not just be relegated to telling stories about disabilities.

It's complex. I'm very open about being disabled because I think it's important that other disabled people can know what is possible. When I became disabled aged eleven, I wanted to be an actor. I thought it was not going to be possible. I think having any minority in spaces where you're not usually 'allowed' is important. It's important to be visible. To be seen. But that's a double-edged sword.

Do you feel that production companies are generally accommodating to access needs?

In terms of access in theatre for disabled performers, I have an optimistic point of view because I'm from Australia and I think that the UK has progressed further when it comes to disability. Coming here felt utopic. It still has so far to go but I think with the companies I have worked with, there's a real desire to be as accessible as possible and that feels - not hopeful, I don't want to say that because it is necessary- and we've got a long way to go to equal rights.

Theatre is a great place for these conversations to happen because it takes nothing and turns it into something on stage. It's inherently resourceful. We can put a dragon on stage and all sorts of ridiculous things so surely it can be accessible.

It should be possible and also, as with any boundaries or limitations, that engenders more creative solutions. I often feel when I'm watching shows that are made accessibly that they seem to have more creativity to them: the aesthetics of access. How [they] incorporate actors into productions. It all enriches the art that you are making.

<a target=Sara Powell (Polina) & Daniel Monks (Konstantin)." height="320" src="https://cloudimages.broadwayworld.com/upload13/2182654/__thumbs/The%20Seagull_%20Sara%20Powell%20(Polina)%20%26%20Daniel%20Monks%20(Konstantin)_%20Credit%20-%20Marc%20Brenner_%2053.jpg/The%20Seagull_%20Sara%20Powell%20(Polina)%20%26%20Daniel%20Monks%20(Konstantin)_%20Credit%20-%20Marc%20Brenner_%2053__480x320.jpg" align="left" width="480" />

To end on The Seagull: what will an audience enjoy about it?

What I would enjoy about it is the cast. They are so phenomenal. Acting with them has been joyful. Come if you want to see extraordinary acting on stage and a brilliant reimagining of a classic text. That's what I would enjoy. I mean, I am an actor, of course, I would enjoy the acting. What a terrible answer!

Not at all! There's such a draw to strong casts. It's exciting.

Please come! I am feeling very excited because I am loving what we are making. I'm so proud.

The Seagull at the Harold Pinter Theatre from 29 June to 10 September.

Photo Credits: Marc Brenner



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