current role as well as his time as a student in Trinity
current role as well as his time as a student in Trinity
Times are bad, prices are rising and recession is looming: sound familiar?
Before you jump to any justified
assumptions, this is 1930’s Chicago, not just another day in Dublin. Indeed the circumstances from which The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui arises strike an almost
uncanny parallel to that of the world’s current political and economic climate — this is not lost on Tom Vaughan Lawlor. A graduate of the Trinity Drama course, an ex-RADA student and most importantly the lead in The Abbey’s current production of Ui, Lawlor has a lot to talk about. We start with his time at Trinity.
“I spent a lot of time in the library mostly
daydreaming and looking at women,” he says, as he munches on a sandwich. “I wouldn’t call myself an academic though it was a brilliant foundation to go on and study acting. It’s a blessing and a curse, a blessing because you have all this knowledge of theatre
and plays, but a curse because you can sometimes become quite cerebral and it’s hard to leave that stuff behind. I wanted to be a writer first and foremost but having had to do so much practical stuff on the course, I found myself really enjoying it and that was that.”
Having gone straight to RADA after graduating
from the course, Lawlor found his calling as a stage actor but that didn’t stop the film buffs knocking on his door, and he accepted a role in Becoming Jane starring along side Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy.
“Being in that film,” he describes, “was absolutely surreal. I was doing Brian Friel’s Translations at The National in London, playing the English officer Yolland. The casting director for the film saw the show and called me in for an audition. It was bizarre
to go from working in a fringe theatre
to something like that where they just throw money at things. To get pampered and treated in such an amazing way, you can see how egotism can balloon in people and they can get carried away. Everything is at your beck and call and you can get ahead of yourself. I remember we were staying at this hotel, somewhere in the Midlands, a few of us were sitting at the bar when suddenly all this food started arriving. We said we hadn’t ordered anything and they said that they were leaving it out just in case, no payment required. You’re just given things without asking for them — it’s like living in a bubble. You step into the real world and things are really not like that.”
I remember sitting at the bar at a hotel when suddenly all this food started arriving. We said we hadn’t ordered anything and they said that they were leaving it out just in case, no payment required
One would think that, given the special treatment, Lawlor might prefer the filmic medium these days – not so. “Theatre is so humbling in a way,” he says – the poor chap can’t even watch himself on screen. “I probably
haven’t done enough film to compare but I’d say I prefer theatre. Rehearsals are so much more fun and you bond with the cast a lot more easily. You always feel a bit lonely after it’s all over. It’s a terrible withdrawal process. Actors live together and become so intimate on tour and then hardly ever see each other again.”
A theatre actor first and foremost, this is by no means Lawlor’s first association with The Abbey. He worked in The Abbey in 1987 for a production of The Field in which he played one of the Flanagan children. Then there was The Playboy of the Western World, School for Scandal, and Saved – definitely not a small list of credits. “It’s brilliant coming back,” he beams, “because I live in London.
It’s such an honour. The more I work here the greater sense of belonging I feel. English National theatre is such a dominant
force and I love to work there, but the pride in working here is amazing. Growing up looking at the Abbey as the highest of all theatres, it’s a dream to be here again. I always
feel like it’s a bit of a holiday and I feel bad for my girlfriend being left at home. The level of human contact and warmth is very special and quite different to theatres in England. It’s not all business here, there’s a real sense of community, a sense of family.”
Rehearsals for The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui are well underway and Lawlor gets excited
when we start chatting about the show. “It’s really physical,” he tells me, “and until
you get into rehearsals you don’t realise that it’s such a massive play. Ui is an amazing
part to get, a brilliant character. You get so dazzled and blinded by his charisma and charm as a leader. If you look at any big leader throughout history, I guess charisma comes into it. I mean Hitler had charisma by the trough load – hypnotic people say. You have to be really careful I suppose. Boys playing gangsters with guns, you can get too carried way with the bravado of the part.”
“What is informing the play most,” he suggests, “is the current financial crisis. The context of the play is so relevant it’s almost shocking. In rehearsals there is kind of a daily resonance between the news and what’s happening in the play. They really inform one another. We haven’t had to tack on or enforce any contemporary analogy, the parallels between the two are incredible anyway. The context is really the most important
thing. I mean it is The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui – entirely stoppable.”
One of Brecht’s most famous plays and a direct parable of Hitler’s rise to power, Ui is a play that will appeal to most tastes, and it will no doubt be interesting to see how it applies to the current financial crisis. If you know someone – a boyfriend or a grandfather
maybe – who doesn’t like the theatre, bring them along; this gangster-fest might change their minds. Lawlor tells me it will be a great show and I’m inclined to believe him.