13 September 2010

“Like Theatre Heaven”: Shipwrecked!

Acclaimed actor Nick Blake takes a break from amazing audiences as the fabulous fabulist Louis de Rougemont to tell drama on the waterfront all about what a “joyous experience” it is to work on Shipwrecked!.

DOTW: Please tell us about the story of Shipwrecked!

NB: Shipwrecked! is based on the story of Louis de Rougemont who became very famous worldwide when his life story was serialized in a magazine in 1898. His life was a breathtaking Boy’s Own adventure of shipwreck in the south seas, encounters with a giant octopus, deep sea turtles, courage in the face of adversity, marriage with an aboriginal princess, and rather too may acts of heroic bravery. Eventually his story wilted under scrutiny of experts and he was written off as a fraud. He was a resourceful man who made numerous failed attempts to restore his good name. He died penniless in the 1920s. To this day the truth or otherwise of his exploits is still debated.

DOTW: What are your thoughts on your character, Louis de Rougemont?

NB: I am very fond of this man! If, as is believed, his story is only partly true, then he is right up there as one of the great storytellers. He had a great zest for life, self belief and, despite being a real Victorian imperialist in his views, had genuine respect for the abilities of the Aborigines to survive in what seemed to him an unremittingly hostile environment. In the play he is recreated as a showman in the vaudevillian mould, a show off and charmer who underlines the truth of his narrative at every opportunity. I relish every moment I spend in his skin. I love how he uses gymnastics to impress people- I do the same.

Nick Blake

DOTW: The part of Louis is a huge role in this play – how did you prepare?

NB: First I made sure I was fit as a fiddle as I figured stamina would be needed. I do yoga on an almost daily basis and mix in a bit of pilates and swiss ball to keep myself in condition. Also this role features some acrobatics. Back in the day I was an acrobat, having trained at the National Circus School of France, so I was able to dust off a few of the less life-threatening moves for Louis to do. I had fears my brain would blow a gasket learning all the lines so I launched into that task weeks before the rehearsals and did so well I rehearsed without the book in hand which freed me up to interact with the other actors and work on the rapport with the audience (a row of empty chairs most of the time!).

DOTW: What was the rehearsal process like? How was it to work with director Peter Hambleton?

NB: Without trying to sound ingratiating it was a fabulous process. Peter was very rigorous about what was part of the world of the play and what was not. We settled on the idea that Louis has just bowled into town that afternoon, found a couple of people interested in performing at  Work and Income, may or may not have gained permission to use the stage at all and is whipping through the performance at speed so he can take the money and run. So there are no stage lights, no fancy sound systems, and a few random props that have to serve everything in the story. I believe the more restrictions you place on an idea the more imaginative the solutions are likely to be- so this approach is like theatre heaven to me.

DOTW: What can you tell us about your fellow cast members, Jackson Coe and Darlene Mohekey?

NB: These two are jaw-droppingly talented. Right from the auditions with them I knew they would be great playmates in this world. They bring effortless skill to the multiple roles they play. Shipwrecked! would be unbearable if people only had me to listen to all night. Darlene has vocal abilities like no-one I have ever met- and what she does in Shipwrecked! only scratches the surface. Jackson brings such soul to my dog Bruno that I am gutted when he dies each night.

Blake with co-stars Darlene Mohekey and Jackson Coe

DOTW: I understand that Gareth Farr composed the music for Shipwrecked! What do you think the music adds to the production?

NB: Gareth has enriched the style of the production very subtly by using the abilities that we each have on a range of instruments to create a range of atmospheres and haunting melodies. He taught Jackson and Darlene to play Balinese Gamelan and that is used to magical effect. He encourages creative exploration then shapes it very precisely. Though the style of the production is apparently simple, Gareth has woven musical motifs through it with great skill.

DOTW: Finally, what else should audiences know about Shipwrecked!?

NB: An audience member said it was a joyous experience and I can’t think of anything better than that.

Shipwrecked! is on at Circa until 25 September. To book tickets, call the Circa Box Office at 801-7992 or visit www.circa.co.nz.

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