Brave New Worlder: James Howard on inspirations, Shakespeare and being in Edinburgh
‘I am channeling Steve Jobs’ reveals James who is playing Thomas the Director in Brave New World. In our interview with him, he shares insights into his character, rehearsals and being in Edinburgh this week
Why did you want to accept your role in Brave New World?
I’ve been really fortunate to work on a huge range of theatre projects, but I had never read anything as exciting and intoxicating as the script for Brave New World. I knew immediately that I wanted to be a part of this fantastic project. Last year I toured a two-man show around the country, so I was really excited to be a part of a bigger company again!
Tell us about your character Thomas, the Director.
At the start of our story, Thomas is the Director of the London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre. He is responsible for overseeing the teams of engineers, technicians and psychologists and for introducing new trainees to the work at the Centre. He is very much the man in charge, but he also has a dark secret…!
Thomas is an Alpha. What does that mean?
Not only is he an Alpha, he’s an Alpha Plus! Within Brave New World there are five conditioned castes of decreasing importance and intelligence – Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon. I guess you could say that means Thomas is top of the pile!
The play opens in the Hatcheries, with a speech from Thomas. How important is this for grounding audiences?
It’s really crucial that our audiences are given a chance to understand how this society operates, so I guess it’s very important that Thomas welcomes the audience into the world. Dawn – the adapter – has done this brilliantly by making the audience a part of the story, and I am channeling Steve Jobs to “sell” them this glorious lifestyle!
Had you read Brave New World before getting the job? What, if any, research did you do to prepare?
I’m ashamed to say that I hadn’t read the book before starting the job, so the rehearsal process involved lots of reading, and lots of investigating. We spent the first week of rehearsals doing a lot of research, and I studied a lot of material about technology, which led me nicely to Apple and Mr Jobs!
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned so far on this job?
Every day of the rehearsal process was a learning experience! We worked very closely with our movement director to create the many intricate routines in the show, and I particularly enjoyed our fight rehearsals. I can now add whipping to my CV!
You’re active on Twitter. Anything viral that’s caught your eye recently?
I do spend a lot of time looking at social media (research, honestly!) and Twitter is particularly good at keeping me up to date with all things in the industry – news, reviews, interviews etc. At the moment I’m loving #15secondshakespeare which is actors reciting song lyrics in the style of Shakespeare. It started as a bit of fun, but it’s now raising money for the Red Cross, which goes to show how powerful Twitter can be!
You’ve had three weeks in Northampton and now you’re setting off on tour, performing at a new theatre every week, starting with Edinburgh. What do you plan to do with your time off in Edinburgh? Any local attractions you want to visit?
We’ve had a great time in Northampton and we’ve had a fantastic response from audiences, particularly student groups, so it will be fascinating to see how different parts of the country respond. I’m thrilled to be coming back to Edinburgh, it’s an amazing city. I’ve performed here a few times and I always love exploring the area. Last year I was on tour with a play about Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, and when we came to Edinburgh we visited Craiglockhart Hospital, where the two poets first met, which was incredibly moving.
This week my wife is celebrating a significant birthday, so she’s joining me in Edinburgh and we will be making the most of our time off. A hike up Arthur’s Seat is a must-do!
You’re a bit of a Shakespeare buff. Tell us about your bard experience and how you honour him. What do you think Shakespeare would make of how Huxley has used him in Brave New World?
I was incredibly lucky to work for the Royal Shakespeare Company for 3 years from 2009 up to the opening of the re-modelled theatre in Stratford. Former Artistic Director Michael Boyd was passionate about ensemble companies staying together for long periods, and we worked on everything from Shakespeare to the Arthurian legend to the Soviet Space Race. At the end of our time together we spent 6 weeks performing in New York which was an incredible experience.
When I returned to the UK. I wanted to take everything I’d learned about Shakespeare and share my passion, so I created “Discover Shakespeare’s Way”, a guided tour from London to Stratford, tracing the route that Will would have travelled on his journeys home. We’re planning our next tour to celebrate the 400th Anniversary of his death next May. (www.shakespearesway.com)
It’s been a real treat to work on Brave New World and see how Huxley has used Shakespeare to show the difference between the old and new worlds. Give me the old world anytime!