Adam Garcia interview - 'I've been sitting in a dark room to prepare for The Exorcist'
It's a quarter of a century since the Sydney-born dancer, singer and actor Adam Garcia joined the company of an Australian-made theatre dance show called Hot Shoe Shuffle that would bring him to the West End for the first time - and now he's back there again, aged 44 but still very youthful looking, in a new stage version of William Peter Blatty's 1971 novel The Exorcist, about a young girl who is demonically possessed. "I've had a very varied career," he says as we sit in the deserted stalls bar of the Phoenix Theatre, before technical rehearsals for the play that afternoon. "I always aimed to do that - I wanted to see how challenged I could be."
He sits back and admits thoughtfully, "Its one of those things where I guess I'm just greedy! I think when I first arrived in London many years ago now I was known as a tap dancer - people thought there's this new musical theatre kid in town. But I didn't want to get pigeon-holed in that, so I went off and did plays and films, too, trying to get my hands on everything. I like them all equally!"
He's had a long journey, not just physically from Australia to London, but also in terms of age and experience along the way.
"I'd just turned 19 when I first did Hot Shoe Shuffle in Australia, so by the time it came here I'd just turned 21." Many of the people who would be instrumental in his subsequent career were involved: "Dein Perry, who'd been my teacher and went on to do Tap Dogs, was involved; so was Chris Horsey, who I now choreograph a lot with in Got to Dance; and David Atkins, who was its producer, director and star. I was very, very lucky - it was the little show that could. We started of in a tiny theatre in Baulkham Hills in North West Sydney; it then went to Melbourne and toured Australia before coming to London. It also led to Tap Dogs, which I had a hand in some of the creative process of. But after we did it in London, I chose to stay and try my luck here - it has now been my home for more than half of my life!"
He became a West End star when he originated the role of Tony Manero in the 1998 London stage premiere of Saturday Night Fever, inheriting a character created by John Travolta, at the London Palladium (for which he was nominated for an Olivier Award). "It was nerve-wracking, but I was young enough not to realise how big it was, luckily! The director, Arlene Phillips, was incredible and really guided me mentally through the process of being the lead in a show."
His co-star was Anita Louise Combe, a fellow Aussie, who he says "is just staggering"; why is it that so many Aussies find themselves in the West End? "I think we're highly competitive, we love to travel and a lot of us found that opportunities were just not there at home. And the best place we can come with the heritage we have is London. That is really the place you need to compete, you're competing against the best. And what I love about London and I always tell people who are new to it is that she doesn't give you an easy ride. You don't come here for the carpet to be rolled out; you have to work and prove it. It moves quickly and there's a constant flow, but its so creative."
Over the years since, he's appeared in plays like Birdy in the West End and Where Do We Live at the Royal Court, and done musicals with the English National Opera at the London Coliseum (On the Town) and at Chichester and the Old Vic (Kiss Me, Kate, for which he was also Olivier Award-nominated). He was also involved in the original Broadway workshops of Wicked as Fiyero, but was not available for the original production there, as he was already committed to a film, but instead originated the role in the original London company in 2006. "I was incredibly grateful - Americans really know how to produce a musical, and that musical in particular is so complicated and sophisticated that it's a superb piece of theatre."
Now, however, comes a different challenge: a big new play. And it came out of a particular piece of adversity: "I'd just come back from doing Singin' in the Rain in Australia, where I had to leave the show when I blew my calf out after eight weeks, which was a bit of a bummer. When I came back I got a phone call to go to Sean Mathias's house to see him about The Exorcist. I'd auditioned for him at the Donmar Warehouse a few years earlier, and always wanted to work with him. And when I read the script, I found it be a complete page turner."
They did a try-out production at Birmingham Rep last year - "we had a great time and there was a great buzz. I play the younger priest who's not an exorcist and doesn't quite believe in it, but has to assist in an exorcism. The book is a detective novel, and the play is a bit like it - you are presented with with all these clues. The audience get to see more than the characters. I guess that's part of the tension. Also the underlying theme the play paints is about mental health. There are the people around the girl who are very, very sick, and all are weakened and in a state of mental degradation and anguish. So there's a lot about psychological dilemmas like grief, vanity and addiction."
He credits Mathias for upping the ante. "He really kneads up the dough of the drama, so its very exciting. For audience its about holding them, engaging them and ratcheting up the tension."
There's nothing quite like it in the West End. But he's also got to be careful to unwind properly afterwards: "My character is very much depressed, so my preparation is about isolating myself, sitting in a dark room and filling myself up with this depression. After I leave the theatre, I have to watch a cartoon or put on some happy music, go home and look at my daughter, who is two. She is not often awake, but she sleeps so beautifully."
The audience might not sleep as easily as she does after they watch the play.
The Exorcist Tickets are available now.
Photos courtesy Robert Day/Eva Rinaldi (flickr)