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“The theatre’s not for being careful”: An Interview with James Alexandrou

1 June 2018 | Emily May

A new play by Oliver Bennett, and recent winner of the Mercury Theatre’s 2017 Playwriting Prize, Europe After the Rain is set four years into the future of a post-Brexit Britain. We caught up with former Eastenders star James Alexandrou – who plays Will – to discuss his role, the point of art, and mixing comedy and politics.

Culture Calling: Europe After the Rain aims to explore immigration, globalisation, love and loss, and is inspired by topical affairs. How have you found dealing with these topics as a performer?
James Alexandrou: To be perfectly honest, if you watch the play you probably come away thinking about that, but as a performer you’re more concerned with the human relationships that are going on… So I don’t really have an answer to do with globalisation or political themes, because for me it’s more about the relationships that I have in the play.

Image Credit: Robert Day
 
CC: Your character is called Will. Can you describe him and what his role is in the play?
JA: Will - up until very recently – has been living alone dealing with the grief of his dad passing away. He’s returned back to his family house, and when the play starts, we find him having taken in two refugees - a mother and a daughter. The play for me is a struggle with Will’s feelings for Yana the mother, how deeply he feels for her, and how conflicted he feels politically. It’s set about 4 years in the future, and there’s a wave of right wing sentiment sweeping the country. The play is set around a general election, which may see this new right wing party take power. So kind of contradicting my answer to the first question, the play definitely does have political themes and explores post-Brexit Britain, but it all boils down to human relationships.
 
CC: Are there evident parallels between the play and elements of reality? Will the audience notice any references to real life?
JA: I think Brexit is mentioned once actually. The play is very good because it’s not propaganda in any sense. It doesn’t come down one way or the other on left or right wing politics, or on Brexit. But I think people get the sense that it’s commenting on the fact that Brexit was a 49/51 split down the country. I don’t think plays should be propaganda and I don’t think this one is. It doesn’t wear its politics on its sleeve, it just deals with the background. I think you’ll see characters that you’ll impulsively align yourself with, but by the end you’ll question that alignment, and I think that’s why it’s a very clever play.

Image Credit: Robert Day
 
CC: You say the play’s set in the future. Do you think it’s a hopeful portrayal, or is it a bit dark and ominous?
JA: The play itself, as I said doesn’t come down on one side. I think depending on the lens you use to look at it, you could come out of it either way.
 
CC: That’s the good thing about art isn’t it, that it’s subjective…
JA: I think that it’s the point of art actually. The point of art is to explore questions and not provide answers, it’s about exploring that which we don’t understand. Ollie (playwright Oliver Bennett) was exploring something when he wrote the play, and I’m exploring some things that before doing this play I wasn’t aware of within myself. People mistake art for being a left wing or liberal tool of change, but I think that’s propaganda and not art.
 
CC: On a lighter note, Europe After the Rain is also described as a comedy…
JA: This is the awful thing, you start talking about politics and Brexit, and I even feel myself talking now getting my defences up. But the play itself is very funny, and it does satirise certain political views. I think everyone’s bored of hearing about Brexit anyway, and there are ridiculous characters from either end of the spectrum politically. This play does a very good job of making that very funny.

Image Credit: Robert Day
 
CC: Do you ever feel like you have to be careful when you’re mixing comedy and politics?
JA: I don’t, no. And I don’t think people should be careful, ever. We had an audience member the other day in one of the previews who was aghast at the play, and was horrified. We were all waiting with bated breath as to why. Was it the politics? Was it the fact that the play at times is quite extreme? Oh no, it’s because we’d sworn. And I just think, well don’t come to the theatre then. The theatre’s not for being careful. It’s very funny, and it has a political edge. If you don’t like it don’t come.
 
Europe After the Rain is showing at The Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 9th June 2018.
 
 
 

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