West End interview: 'Raz' star James Cartwright
Jim Cartwright's play The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is one of the greatest comedies of all time, and the film adaptation is one of the finest examples of British cinema at its best. His latest play Raz has already been a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where it won the Fringe First Award, and is currently preparing to tour the UK following a four week run at the Trafalgar Studios in London's West End.
Described as a "rollercoaster of a night out in modern Britain" the play confronts the problems facing the low-paid generation that lives for the weekend while still living at home with their parents. This one man show stars Jim's son James Cartwright in the role of Shane, and reunites father and son in what is an important, challenging and highly energetic new play.
James is known for his work on stage, screen and radio, including winning Best Actor at the Royal Television Society Awards for the title role in BBC One's 'Johnny Shakespeare'. Other TV credits include 'Clocking Off', 'Blackpool', 'The Afternoon Play', 'Casualty' and 'Holby City', and he currently stars as PC Burns in the long running BBC Radio 4 drama 'The Archers'.
We caught up with James mid rehearsals for the West End run of Raz, which begins performances at the Trafalgar Studios on 22 March, to hear more about the play and the process of performing in a one man production.
DOH: James - pleasure to meet you. How are preparations going for Raz?
JC: And you! Well, we're running it and talking about it. You get to a certain place where you don't want to overrun it, you don't want to get complacent and for it not to feel as fresh as you'd like it to, you know. It's a fine art trying to balance so you feel confident but not over confident. It's in your blood when you've done it before but in a new space it can be different. There's always things where you think I'd like to have a look at that, or maybe we didn't have time the first time around, and so you take a second look. It's about slowly whittling it down to something that you feel is really good and is worthy of an audience paying money!
DOH: Do you feel that extra pressure acting in something that's so close to home and is your Dad's play?
JC: Well yeah absolutely – I don't think there's as much pressure just because it's my dad, I think there's more pressure because it's one man. It lives or dies on how you are - there's no one else to blame! If it goes well it's great and if it doesn't it's down to you and no one else.
DOH: You've already starred in one of your Dad's plays - one of my all time favourites 'Little Voice'...
JC: That's right! Little Voice was a real honour for me – that was like a homage to the old man. He said to me he wrote it when I was in a rocking chair – I must have only been a couple of years old at most. He said "I remember writing it whilst babysitting you and looking at you so twenty years later it's a really touching thing" – and it was a really lovely moment.
DOH: How are you finding being in a one man show?
JC: It's a funny thing the one man play really because it's a really lonely procedure. Usually when you're acting you learn the lines on your own and then you have the pleasure of doing them with other people, but really you learn it on your own, rehearse it with someone then go on and do it on your own. You're on your own in the dressing room before it stars and then you're on your own again at the end! I think tour will be really fun – it's great that it's been put together. Often a piece of theatre comes into London and people don't always get to see the same cast doing it in the bigger cities outside. It gives the idea that London is the centre of all good theatre but it's only fair that other people get to see it I think. It's a really great thing.
DOH: Do you think the audience response will be different in say, Scarborough than it'll be in the West End?
JC: I think it's a very interesting question. The subject matter is about young people and feeling disenfranchised which is universal. It's not uncommon for me to have friends who still live at home, and I'm 31. The audiences still get that. It'll be interesting to see how it'll be perceived in London where maybe a wider scope of people will come and see it.
DOH: Can you just tell me a bit more about your character?
JC: Of course. Shane is in his late 20s. He's one of our generation who is just stuck in a rut. He's got a job but not a career – they always say that when you've got a career there's not enough time and when you've got a job there's too much time. There is no chance of progression, it's day in day out. I've very much got friends who live like this, and it becomes all about the weekend. There's a phrase 'weekend millionaire' – you get your 300 quid on a Friday, give your mum 40 odd for the board and then you have absolutely no intention of having a penny left on Monday! You go out buy a shirt, buy some drugs and then just get pissed! Taxis everywhere, eating out. It's that kind of life really to a point. What else are you going to do? Say you need 10 grand for a deposit and you can save 50 quid a month – how far away can that seem? How am I ever going to get there, you know? A lot of that lifestyle is born out of frustration, not having anything and not being able to go anyway. Politically it's very easy for people to say there are plenty of opportunities but it's not that simple really. You can't just create a job or create a role for yourself, it's not that easy.
DOH: What was it about that subject matter that drew your Dad to the project?
JC: My dad had just seen a lot about it – the pictures of people lying out pissed on the street. These images, we're no strangers to them but my dad was mystified by them. He said "in my day, don't get me wrong they liked a drink, but there wasn't these scenes of madness". It's very much like a medieval painting – these scenes of hell, everyone just lying there. So he asked me to have a chat with him about it, obviously I'm closer to it all than he is. He said "talk me through a night out", and we chatted about it for a day or so, the people I knew and then he went away and weaved the Cartwright magic and that's where it came from!
DOH: And which aspect of that lifestyle do you feel the hardest to portray?
JC: The hardest thing really is the feeling of helplessness. Towards the end it all starts to come undone. That thin veneer of what we think is a good time actually isn't. I think that's quite hard to change in the course of an hour to go from having the time of your life to suddenly not very nice at all. The one man play is a challenge in itself – it's like going on a sprint. It's a one act sprint with talking. A real mammoth! I'd think twice about doing it again! It's been really wonderful and such a great experience, I can't wait to get going and I think audiences will love it.
DOH: Do you think that pressure on our generation is increasing?
JC: All of us both men and women, we are constantly bombarded by images of perfect lives. The majority of it is personal PR and an idealistic life that we can't possibly live. With social media we give these things currency that it's actually worth something when it's not. That age old thing that you can put a status up on Facebook about going on holiday – 150 people will like it but no one will offer to give you a lift to the airport! It's vacuous really and the people give it currency and self worth. I think there is a lot of pressure and for men there's a physical pressure that we've all got to be tanned and buff. I don't think there's ever been a generation before that's ever had the pressure we've had. It's terrifying – there's nothing worse than feeling insecure and we're constantly made to feel it every day. I don't think there's ever a day when people wake up and think “god I look so great today” - you don't, you look in the mirror and think “oh my ears are too big” or “my legs are far too skinny”. If we all stick together we'll be alright!
DOH: Now you're no stranger to film, TV and of course Radio. Do you find yourself always drawn back to the stage?
JC: Always stage for me. There's nothing like theatre to get you up in the morning, to get you motivated to get you working hard. It's the purest form of entertainment – it's been going for thousands of years. It's unfiltered and there's nothing between you and the audience. It's so wonderful to be able to follow a story with an audience in chronology – from the start to the finish – with film it's all over the shop, but you go on a journey with the audience and I always enjoy that the most.