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Interview with Jason Barnett – The Seagull, Harold Pinter Theatre

Following on from the return of the critically-acclaimed, five-star production of Cyrano de Bergerac, The Jamie Lloyd Company brings Chekhov’s tale of love and loneliness to the Harold Pinter Theatre from 29 June for 11 weeks only.

Read our interview with Jason Barnett

Jason Barnett
Jason Barnett

Q: Can you tell us about this production of The Seagull?
Jason: Oh it feels incredibly radical, like a new way of approaching this beautiful and complex and funny piece. No scenery or props to speak of and the lightest nod to costume. The text is front and centre and it is exposing, petrifying but thrilling for the Actors.

Q: Written in 1896, what makes this production of The Seagull ‘watchable’ in 2022?
Jason: I think watching people fucking up love is always watchable. This gang of people try so hard not to give themselves away but every word of Anya’s version leaves them raw and exposed and totally relatable. They are us. And they are us today. This version is relentlessly contemporary yet utterly true to the spirit and structure of Chekhov’s original.

Q: You play the role of Shamrayev. Can you tell us about his character and how they fit into the storyline?
Jason: He’s hilarious and so tenderly drawn. Crass, bad-tempered, inept and so beautifully unaware of how deeply in love he is, that he can barely see straight. I’m in love with him actually, I find his situation so real, so sad. He can’t see the fulfilling life that he could have that is staring him in the face, resulting in a wife and daughter that despise him and the object of his desire barely recognising him as a life form. Tragic….and funny.

Q: What is at the heart of the production?
Jason: While daring to ask what is theatre for I think it also asks us to make some decisions about what life is for. That we nearly always have choice, that a bad day doesn’t inevitably extend to a bad life, that we can change destination, but to do so can be the hardest thing we might ever ask of ourselves. I think Jamie is keen to show us that even today, anyone watching, listening can see and hear so much of themselves in each character and their individual and intertwined stories.

Q: How does The Seagull fit into your catalogue of stage credits?
Jason: I’ve worked as an actor for 30 years and in that time have been able to do some incredibly diverse work both domestically and abroad, with incredible talent and directors. I’ve been fortunate enough to be in different theatre productions throughout the lockdown years, we came to a juddering halt halfway through our production of The Visit at the National at the start of it all but due to the determination, brilliance and creativity of buildings that have managed to keep producing, recently I’ve been able to work on productions and developments at The Bush, The Kiln, The National, The Royal Court and other places and yet, it feels like we might be doing something new with this gang.

Q: The Seagull runs until September 2022. What next for you after then on stage or screen?
Jason: An untitled Netflix science fiction epic is on the way and a feature film called SEIZE THEM! (Nick Frost, Aimee Lou Wood, Lolly Adelope, Jessica Hynes, Nicola Coughlan) should be out very soon, currently, the fourth series of Agatha Raisin is on Sky1 so I get to return to playing DCI Denzel Wilkes with Ashley Jensen, Mathew Horne and the rest of the gang. My writing partner, Matt Steer and I are currently in talks about two projects, #LadLikeLucas a sitcom about a mixed-race kid trying to make sense of the world through his phone, and very conversely a comedy-drama based on real events about the untimely death of a 16-year-old South London boy who is hung out to dry by the legal system, the police his community and friends. There are a couple of theatre projects in the offing too.

Q: With regard to stage and television, do you have a favourite production from each?
Jason: I don’t have a favourite but perhaps among the most impactful was being in the original cast of Warhorse at the National Theatre. We rehearsed and created over 12 weeks and it still feels amazing to have been part of crafting that show, contributing all those extraordinary moments. It was a very inclusive cast, which rubbed some critics up the wrong way, I played Auctioneer Carter and remember one critic being unable to reconcile there being a black Auctioneer in turn of the century Devon… but he was fine with the bamboo horses strolling about!

As regards Telly, I played Jefferies, The Duke of Hastings’ butler/factotum in the first series of Bridgerton, I think his name was a jokey nod to Will Smith’s butler in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and, Regé Jean Page is possibly the most beautiful person I’ve ever set eyes on, so it’s memorable for that, moving the discussion on about inclusive casting (not colour blind!) and I think at last count having been watched by well over a 100 million households.

Q: Why should everyone get along to see The Seagull.
Jason: The cast is wonderful, Emilia Clarke, Indira Varma, Robert Glenister, Sara Powell, Sophie Wu, Daniel Monks, Mika Onyx Johnson, Gerald Kyd and Tom Rhys Harries. Anya’s version is truly brilliant and Jamie is doing something new and dangerous, it’s funny, tragic and challenging. Honestly, I’d be going if I wasn’t in it.

*****

A young woman is desperate for fame and a way out. A young man is pining after the woman of his dreams. A successful writer longs for a sense of achievement. An actress wants to fight the changing of the times. In an isolated home in the countryside where dreams are in tatters, hopes dashed, hearts broken and there is nowhere left to turn, the only option is to turn on each other.

The Seagull
Harold Pinter Theatre
Booking to 10th September 2022

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  • Neil Cheesman

    First becoming involved in an online theatre business in 2005 and launching londontheatre1.com in September 2013. Neil writes reviews and news articles, and has interviewed over 150 actors and actresses from the West End, Broadway, film, television, and theatre. Follow Neil on Twitter @LondonTheatre1

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