‘Eureka Day’ star Mark McKinney on his London debut and "enjoying the hell out of this play”
In 2020, seeing a vaccination play would probably be at the bottom of anyone's theatregoing wish list — watching a drama about a pandemic while living in one would be too on the nose. But now, nearly two years since the COVID jab rollout began, West End audiences can look forward to Jonathan Spector’s Eureka Day, a timely play that makes audiences sit up and consider their moral and political viewpoints.
On the surface, Eureka Day – which, incredibly, was written before the pandemic even happened – may seem all doom and gloom. But, as cast member Mark McKinney points out ahead of making his West End debut in the show, the show balances tough conversation with light humour.
“It’s a straddler,” said McKinney. “It’s what I call a ‘Come-rama’ or a ‘dra-medy’. It’s a pretty tight drama, but I think it's a very human comedy at the same time.”
It's not surprising that McKinney chose Eureka Day for his first London show. He's played comic roles in TV shows like Superstore, Man Seeking Woman, and Slings & Arrows, as well as a three-year tenure on Saturday Night Live. Now, he's lending his comedy chops to Eureka Day as Don, head of a highly-opinionated school committee.
We spoke to McKinney about the excitement and challenges faced when returning to the theatre after years in television shows, as well as the importance of political commentary on stage.
Eureka Day is at the Old Vic.
Book Eureka Day tickets on London Theatre.
Eureka Day marks the first time you've been in a show in London. What attracted you to it?
Well, performing in London was high on my list – not only the city, but the history of the Old Vic. But also, this is something I wanted to do. I was on a TV show in the United States for six straight seasons, which kind of precluded me returning to theatre in any kind of meaningful way.
So I was looking for a play, and also looking to get to Europe at some point — I spent part of my life here when I was little. Put it this way: there was nothing that clouded my enthusiasm at all about this.
Eureka Day is a new play to London. What is it about?
It's really about what happens in a parent-teacher committee, sort of like the Oversight Committee, mostly made up of parents and my character Don, kind of the head of the school. There’s a crisis and [the] tools that heretofore worked beautifully kind of evaporate and the play sees what happened when something takes its place.
Eureka Day deals with the subject of vaccinations. Given that we’re two years into the pandemic, does that affect how audiences may view the play?
I don't think audiences will see a ton of COVID references. They’ll certainly recognise the way the ground sort of became unsturdy repeatedly throughout the whole play. They’ll recognise the spaces overlapping into the present.
Do the characters reflect people you know and recognise?
Oh very much so! You know, the issue of vaccinations is kind of at the centre of it, but it's about more than that. It's about a structure that had been so civil just crumbling and reforming, and I think any kind of crisis is an opportunity for that to happen.
There’s a great cast in Eureka Day. Had you worked with them before?
I knew of them. But I never worked with them before. I don't even think Susan [Kelechi Watson] and I [knew] each other because she shot at Paramount and I shot at Universal while our shows were on ABC at the same time. Maybe we bumped elbows at some function.
It’s a thrill. It's just five people getting into a room and then you start to see: 'Oh, that's why they're really celebrated.'
Is it different performing on stage as opposed to performing on screen?
Oh good god, yes! It’s like night and day. There’s something bottomless about really delving into a good, dense, new play where nobody’s footprints have set anything up. Imagine four weeks' rehearsal for an episode of a TV show!
In TV, there’s a likeness of structure sometimes, particularly for doing comedy, but the production structure [for theatre] I guess, [you can] move and fix things on the fly.
This is a really well-conceived play. We’re all just working our muscles to match it and having so much fun doing it. I love all the phases of the initial meeting: the first stumble read-through when you’ve got the script in your hand, and the tentative baby steps as you try and do something in one direction and then reverse. It’s fabulous! I’m enjoying the hell out of it.
Having been in one television show for so long, are there challenges in returning to theatre?
There’s physical ones, like getting your voice ready. A lot of it has been sort of like tuning the instruments, and really, really paying attention to our vocal coach Charlie [Hughes D'Aeth] and dialect coach [Penny Dyer] and, of course, the director [Katy Rudd] and writer Jonathan [Spector].
Theatre is a much more physical thing, so those are the things you need to bring up to speed. But even that's fine. I mean, the exercises are hilarious – it's exactly what the squares think we're up to.
Do you have a favourite moment in the play?
There's a big muscular end to one of the scenes that has so many elements going on. It's going to be like riding a runaway bronco for the cast. Every time we go through this, it’s scary! You kind of hope everything's gonna work out.
Why do you think people should see Eureka Day in London?
There’s an amazing cast, it’s totally in the moment. It’s funny, and the play certainly will be celebrated. It's a lot of fun to watch. It’s not a romp though, it’s super intelligent and super accessible — a true sort of human chaos comedy.
The characters are understood regardless of what side you’re on — I don't know if there's a divide in that debate still anymore. No matter how you approach these kinds of issues, you will feel like you're you're seeing something truthful and genuinely reflective, and the human dilemmas of all by characters are deeply, deeply understood.
Photo credit: Mark McKinney and Helen Hunt in Eureka Day rehearsals (Photo by Manuel Harlan)
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