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Interview with David Morrissey 2011

David Morrissey

‘Macbeth? It’s very much a play for today.’ Liverpool born and bred, David Morrissey explains why he’s looking forward to returning to his roots at The Everyman in Liverpool and why he can’t ever see himself picking up a pen to write his own work.

Over the past three years, several of the Liverpool Everyman’s favourite sons have retaken the boards of the theatre’s famous Shunt Stage. Jonathan Pryce starred in Pinter’s The Caretaker in 2010 and both Matthew Kelly, in Beckett’s Endgame, and the late Peter Postlethwaite in King Lear, revisited in 2009 and 2008 respectively ,and all of whom received much critical acclaim. Though not quite a “daughter” of the Everyman but undoubtedly a “daughter” of the city, Kim Cattrall can be added to the list also, following her portrayal of the Queen of the Nile opposite Geoffrey Kissoon in Antony and Cleopatra at The Everyman’s sister theatre in the city, The Playhouse, last year.

Now another leading light and Prodigal Son of the theatre itself, David Morrissey, is set to take on arguably one of Shakespeare’s most challenging roles during a five week run through May and June that sees him play the flawed king Macbeth.
‘I’m very, very excited to be back,’ the actor famed more for his TV roles in Blackpool, State of Play, Thorne and most recently, BBC Television’s South Riding.  ‘It’s about twenty years since I last acted here and it is a great privilege to be asked. The Everyman has a real place in my heart as it is where I started out as an actor and, really, where I first got the bug watching the likes of Bill Nighy, George Costigan, Julie Walters, Tracy Ullman and, of course, Peter perform in some great plays. The thing that sticks in my mind, probably more than anything else, is the generosity of those guys and the way they devoted so much time to those of us who were aspiring to do what they were doing on a nightly basis.  I also think that sense of belonging is integral to what The Everyman stands for. It has a huge commitment to not only classic plays such as Macbeth, but also to nurturing new writing and new actors which reflects its passion for the community in which it stands at the very heart.

‘When I started here in the Youth Theatre we were given license to tell stories that reflected issues that concerned us and for the first time in my life I was surrounded by adults who, rather than telling me to shut up like I was used to, were instead telling me to speak out and raise opinions. All of that was incredibly liberating and was and remains a really important thing to me because I was surrounded by people who had come from similar backgrounds to my own so there were egos involved. No barriers, if you like.’

Morrissey last appeared on stage in 2008 at The Almeida in London, starring in Neil la Bute’s In A Dark, Dark House, directed by Michael Attenborough. Before that, however, one has to go back to 1999 to find him on stage at The Donmar so it might be easy to assume that he has fallen somewhat out of love with theatre; a notion he is quick to refute.

‘For me it’s about time more than anything else. Appearing on stage is a big, big commitment. This production has been in the offing for around a year but it only became real, so to speak, in around September 2010 because of other commitments I’d undertaken. I have my own production company and, of course, a family. I do enjoy working in film and television and it is what my company involves itself with. With that said, although it would be true to say that theatre has been placed somewhat on the back burner recently, hopefully I’ll be able to devote more time to the stage than I have done of late because it is very much something I want to do more of.’

David Morrissey as Macbeth and Julia Ford as Lady Macbeth © Helen WarnerThe character of Macbeth is one filled with complexities and flaws, with one of the play’s many themes being that of those at the top making decisions that are allowed to go unchecked and so ultimately lead to disaster and self-destruction. Once deceit or violence is used to reach an objective of power, the process becomes impossible to halt and these aspects are amongst the many reasons Morrissey is happy to take on the challenge of the role.

‘When you look at Macbeth and examine his psyche and the bloody, murderous journey he undertakes throughout the play, you recognise a man who is so steeped in blood he loses his mind as a result of his corruption and abuse of the power to the extent where, eventually, his people turn on him. Let’s be fair, you don’t really have to look that far to see the relevance of Macbeth because we see it every day sprawled across every newspaper and TV screen in the country.

‘When you look into the corruption of power and the madness that can sometimes come with first obtaining and then hanging on to power, you see that plays such as this are really mirror that is being held up so as to reflect the world as it is today from, what, four hundred and odd years ago. That’s fascinating to me. There is also the aspect that, environmentally, the elements seem to be conspire to take revenge on Macbeth and I think that’s an interesting layer to explore as well. So as far as trying to develop the character underneath all that, I don’t really have to look that far to find examples of how he should come across.’

With all of this going for the play, it is something of a surprise that Macbeth isn’t more widely produced, particularly as the play sees elements of the supernatural, murderous intent and corruption converge to create such powerful motifs for the modern age.  ‘There have been loads of Hamlet productions recently and the comedies – particularly A Midsummer Night’s Dream­ and Twelfth Night – remain incredibly popular. I know the RSC are doing Macbeth, but I really don’t think it’s as popular a play as people might think, which makes it all the more interesting for me.’

Understandably, Morrissey is more than a little nervous about appearing in his home city, particularly following such a lengthy hiatus. ‘Incredibly nervous,’ he smiled. ‘but also incredibly excited and I’d be more worried if I wasn’t, whilst understanding that it’s important not to be crippled by it. This is what I want to do – to take on the challenge –and I need those nerves and that excitement to drive me on towards what I want to achieve.’

Macbeth © Helen WarnerBeing Macbeth, it is only right to ask whether the actor has any superstitions of his own. ‘I’ve been asked that a lot because it is sort of intrinsically linked with superstition and the thought that you’re not even supposed to mention the play by name in the confines of a theatre and all that. I’ve sort of decided I can’t allow to be restricted by all that, though I do have superstitions of my own, most of which revolve around football it has to be said. Actors are naturally superstitious creatures I think, but the superstitious aspects that hang around this play are a measure of the dark forces that are at work within it’s telling. It should be frightening play and Liverpool and its people are such that they will understand the sense of magic and dark forces that are very much beyond our control. It is also a play about self examination and I don’t think there’s a city in England that has been forced to re-examine itself more often or more successfully than Liverpool following times of extreme adversity.’

As well as starring in, producing and directing some of television’s most successful shows of recent times, David Morrissey has also established a charity, Creative Arts School Trust, which enables children in deprived areas of the world to express themselves through theatre. ‘CAST is going incredibly well. I’ve just come back from South Lebanon where we held a workshop in what they call a Gathering rather than a camp because they are quite small. The place we were in was really dilapidated but, together with around eighteen teachers, we were able to put on something that everybody was able to enjoy and forget their surroundings for a little while at least. I’m hoping to go back in July.’

One of the major difficulties he faces, however, is fundraising and never more so than in these austere times. ‘We are constantly having to work at it, but so far things are going well and we’ve been able to fulfil our remit which is fantastic, but there’s so much more we want to do and we’re hoping to be able to set something up in Sri Lanka next year as well.’

With his past record made up almost entirely of success, it might be difficult to ascertain if Morrissey has any regrets about those parts he allowed to pass by. Equally, it may be difficult for him to pinpoint his most satisfying moment. ‘There isn’t a part, really, that I regret not taking but I have seen shows that have made me think that the actor who has taken it has done such fantastic job that I wonder if I could have ever done it, not necessarily better, but differently and added something else to the character.

‘At times like that, though, you have to remember why you turned it down and move on.  As to my most satisfying moment, I really like being surprised by what drops through my letterbox and I really enjoyed playing and producing Thorne. We’re currently developing another alongside Mark Billingham, the author of the best selling novels, and working on that project has been incredibly rewarding and I’m incredibly proud of it because it’s my production company, Stage Reel, that’s developed it from start to finish so getting it re-commissioned has been fabulous to say the least.
‘Mostly though, I’m proud of the fact that people actually want to employ me. My ambition when I started out here at The Everyman was to be employed as a professional actor. The fact that I’ve been able to do that and to be able to carry on challenging myself in ways I could only dream of back then is very satisfying. It’s also quite humbling that people enjoy watching the things that I do. I usually turn parts down to work on other projects, not always acting wise but in other areas of my career, or to spend time with the family. Saying no , though, is always a very difficult thing for any actor.’

And family is very important to David Morrissey and having taken on many of the roles associated with television and film production alongside his acting career, is there perhaps the thought that he might, at some point, follow his wife, the best selling author Esther Freud, and pen something for the stage or screen himself? ‘It is very difficult for me. I have tried it and I have written things – I was co-writer on the film Don’t Worry About Me – but the discipline of being a writer is something I don’t have. I am a collaborative person and I like being with people I can bounce ideas off, whereas great writers really need to be able to spend time on their own and need to enjoy being on their own so as to create whole, rounded characters from scratch. I’m much happier being an inceptual artist rather than a conceptual artist and I deeply admire those who can do the kind of writing that inspires people to bring such characters to life.

Everything I do starts with what is written on a page, so for me it is about protecting that person and encouraging them to get into a place where they can work successfully. For instance Mark Billingham is totally hands on with the adaptation of Thorne and he is very much at the forefront of what takes place because, at the end of the day, Tom Thorne is his character and it would be unfair for it be any other way. It also helps that we get on so well.’

Although it has been twenty-plus years since Morrissey has acted on a Liverpool stage, he did appear on stage at the city’s St. George’s Hall in November 2010, answering questions in a Desert Island Discs style event organised by Club Geek Chic and Little Atom. ‘You were asking me earlier about nerves and on that night I was incredibly nervous because I really had no idea what I was going to say or how many people would be in the audience, but the night turned out to be really, really enjoyable, particularly the music. The songs were all my choices but hearing them being performed live by some absolutely amazing Liverpool artists in a way I’d not heard before was simply astonishing, that was what really blew me away. There are a lot more planned so, if you take my advice, you’d do well to grab your tickets early.’

For More Information Regarding CAST: www.creativeartstrust.org

Please also visit:

Macbeth review from Liverpool Everyman Playhouse Theatre 2011

Interview with David Morrisey 2010

 

 


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“Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
break the rules as I see fit.” - Chris High 2003.
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