The company always presents a varied repertoire of productions, exploring known titles through theatre. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a title as famous and profound as all but a few of Shakespeare’s plays. So we thought we would present it in Vietnam as part of its world tour — 20 countries in 22 weeks!
Why do you think it’s important to bring English language theatre to countries such as Vietnam? Where else has TNT performed in recent times?
We bring theatre in the English language because it is, by luck, the global language and also because literature in English is so rich. We also create theatre in Spanish and French — I have also worked recently in Mandarin. Vietnam is important for us because it is a rapidly developing country with a sophisticated cultural history. We feel we have put in the hard work of ‘development’ tours to the country and are now building a loyal audience. Culture and arts are important, they combat the commercial and digital age in which we live, offering more satisfying human values.
How well have your previous shows in Vietnam been received? What are the highlights? How have the previous performances here affected the way you are preparing for your present round of shows?
It is impossible to generalise — our audiences in Vietnam vary so much. My favourite personal experience was going to a normal public school in Ho Chi Minh City and talking to a class that was studying King Lear. They asked excellent questions in English and then came to see the performance. They were very excited to meet the actors afterwards. They really understood the play and enjoyed the performance. I found it amazing and humbling. What potential these young students have, and how thrilling it is to fire them with enthusiasm for Shakespeare.
We do not change our productions for the many countries we tour to — we believe an audience in Vietnam or Costa Rica wants to see a performance that might and is performed in Britain. If we eat pho in London or a croissant in Hanoi, we want it to be as much like the original as possible — that’s the same with theatre. Anything else is patronising — we respect our audiences.
You always choose to stage your plays in the Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City Opera Houses. What is the reason for this? Have you looked at other venues?
We have also performed in Danang and in various schools, but the two opera houses have a certain prestige and anyway, are some of the most beautiful venues in Asia. Why not present our work in such stunning environments — isn’t that part of the thrill of going out to see theatre?
Physicality and physical theatre in general is becoming increasingly used in theatre around the world. How have you managed to incorporate this into your present production? How complicated is such an incorporation?
Our style of theatre concentrates on the actor. It is certainly hard work, and more like sport sometimes than art! I was trained in the style of the Polish director Grotowski who is said to have invented physical theatre (I had direct contact with his company). We have since developed our own style, but we aim to combine physical theatre with specially composed music, comedy and tragedy to create a true synthesis of the performing arts.
Jekyll and Hyde is quite a dark story and is very melodramatic. What techniques are you using to create this ambience in your adaptation of the story? How important is the set, music and lighting?
Music and lighting are important but our set is simple — the imagination of the audience is the greatest resource of theatre, so we try to use that. Yes the story is melodramatic and that lends itself to very well to theatre. We are also very true to the story — most films invent a fake ‘love interest’, for example and skew the original. This is a horror story, a thriller and a detective story about good and evil, and the language is fantastic.
You tend to use a small number of actors all playing numerous parts. What are the benefits and difficulties of going down this route?
Large casts seldom create fine theatre because the actors in lesser parts do not have the same drive and energy as the actors in the main roles. When you have the actor playing Hamlet also play a soldier in one scene, that soldier has drive and energy. If you bring an actor on to play that soldier he has been sitting in the dressing room reading the newspaper or been on Facebook for an hour — of course he does not give the right energy. Audiences like to see versatile actors, too.
Normally theatre productions promote the actors, but in your scenario, it promotes the people behind the show — Paul Stebbings, Phil Smith, yourself (Grantly Marshall) and the choreographer, Eric Tessier-Lavigne. Why is this the case?
We are the consistent members of the team, we fix the style and take the risks. Yes many actors are veterans who stay for years (Richard Croughan as Dr. Jekyll has even toured Vietnam before with Romeo & Juliet and Macbeth) but we are not a star system theatre company — this also skews art. What we offer is our company’s unique style. That is more important than any one individual, including me.
TNT have performed a number of times in Vietnam with performances of Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth and Gulliver’s Travels.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde will show at the Hanoi Opera at 7.30pm on Mar. 4. The production will then move to Ho Chi Minh City for four shows — 7.30pm on Mar. 6, Mar. 7 and Mar. 8 as well as an 11am matinee on Mar. 7. For more information go to adg-europe.com/JEKYLL_HYDE