In the penultimate interview of the series, Leo Charlton talks to Joe Saxon about his role in Amazing Grace.
LC: I think people will be somewhat smitten with Mr. Hammond, perhaps the dark horse of the play. Before we get to that though, what have you done prior to Amazing Grace that you have been particularly proud of?
JS: I haven’t done any theatre in a long time and this is my first production in Leeds. I’ve only had a few roles in the past – Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream being my favourite by far – but I did write a horror play that was performed in Chichester called The Guest. Seeing the amount of work the production team and actors put into something I wrote was humbling to say the least!
LC: How has the process for Amazing Grace been different to what you’ve done before?
JS: I’ve never performed in an entirely new play and I wasn’t prepared for the open approach to improvisation. That’s certainly been a new and scary experience, as it’s generally much more comfortable to stick to the script. It’s possibly the most fun I’ve had in a role.
LC: How did it first come to mind that this is something that you might want to get involved with?
JS: It was mentioned in passing by a member of the LAC and my partner pushed me to audition. As well as wanting to act again, I really wanted to be part of a world premiere by a local writer. As a writer myself, that was an incredibly exciting prospect.
LC: You have a great sense of comedic timing. How did that come about?
JS: Thank you! I’ve never actually played a comedic role before. I think the humour is more in the script than in my portrayal as I’m trying to play the character quite straight. The scene is so surreal in its juxtaposition of naturalistic and truly bizarre interactions and I think that’s where the humour stems from.
LC: With Mr. Hammond, you were given a lot of freedom to shape him in your own image. How did you approach that type of freedom?
JS: Leo has encouraged me to play around with the character and insert my own strange interview questions, which has been a lot of fun. I really enjoyed thinking about what would be the most uncomfortable questions to receive in an interview and Leo has allowed me to really take that beyond the realms of reality.
LC: There is potential for a lot of outrage when it comes to Mr. Hammond. Does that excite you?
JS: It does! I just hope I don’t start laughing on stage. The main character Lockwood is larger than life, but he also represents the audience in a way, so Mr. Hammond’s intrusive interview technique represents how uncomfortable we all feel in that situation. Though I’d be surprised if anyone has had quite such an inappropriate interview…
LC: For you, what makes him such a funny and bizarre character?
JS: I think it’s all about how surreal the situation is. For me, Mr. Hammond is more a reflection of Lockwood’s fractured mindset than a character with his own motivations and feelings. I think of him as a pompous and slightly desperate businessman and it’s up to the audience to decide whether the stranger interactions between the characters really happen or if it’s all in Lockwood’s head.
LC: Is there anything you’ve learned from Amazing Grace that you would want to take forward to your next project?
JS: I definitely like Leo’s relaxed creative approach to the script and how open he is to playing around with it. Were I to write and direct a play, that’s definitely something I would try to emulate. I think that ‘workshopping’ process is important with a new play and leads to some inspired moments. This has felt very collaborative.
LC: How has the experience been for you, and what do you think people who come to see this play will get out of it?
JS: I’m extremely interested to know what the audience thinks of the play as it took me a while to understand it! The main character is so divisive and I’d be interested to know if people relate to him or dislike him. I also love the two sides of his conscience and I think audiences will be puzzled and intrigued by that side of the play.
LC: What do you plan to do after Amazing Grace is over?
JS: Eventually I’d like to write another play. Seeing this production come to fruition has made me realise that it really can happen, but in the meantime I want to watch more small productions. Leeds has such a good underground theatre scene and I’d love to explore that further.