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Lauren Gauge interviews lead actors Brian Martin and Joey Akubeze on their on stage relationship in SNAPSHOT by George Johnston.

Snapshot is George Johnstonís debut play after his short play Heart of Darkness garnered great acclaim at the Arcola Theatre. True to form Johnston's play opens at The Hope Theatre with a great buzz and audience reaction...

Snapshot is an insightful relationship play that challenges stereotypes and places a stark and important subject matter of self-worth and ownership in the spotlight against the backdrop of millennial economic struggles. Sharp and raw on the page, I interview Brian and Joey about how they landed the roles and lift the words and characters from script to stage, which became a highly personal and political journeyÖ

LG: Brian, your recent roles include Juno and the Paycock at the National Theatre and Titus Andronicus at Shakespeareís Globe Theatre, what is it like coming to a smaller space on the fringe and how does that experience help you navigate the space and vibrancy of Londonís Off West End theatres?

B: The Hope Theatre is an incredibly intimate space (the audienceís feet are literally on the stage), which I absolutely love as it allows you to perform much more naturally. But the Globe can also feel very intimate – if you speak directly to one of the 1,500 audience members it can suddenly feel like thereís just 2 of you in the room. But itís a different type of intimacy. The Globe is more like the filmic equivalent of watching The Dark Knight in a cinema packed full of people, while The Hope is more like watching The Blair Witch Project at home, alone, in your bedroom, with the lights turned off. It can be terrifying. Thatís certainly how I felt watching Brimstone and Treacle, the show that was on before ours, directed by the Artistic Director Matthew Parker. It shook me to the core, and Iíve never felt that way leaving a larger venue before.

LG: As actors we are told regularly that we are defined by the roles we take and to choose those wisely, but so often this industry being so competitive does not offer that luxuryÖ what was it about the production of Snapshot that made you want to audition for the roles?

B: I first met James McAndrew, the director, back in November 2016 when I submitted a Rapid Write Response (RWR) piece to Jay Taylorís The Acedian Pirates at Theatre 503. We were randomly paired together and we hit it off straight away. He directed my RWR piece, while George Johnston, the writer of Snapshot, was performing in one of the other RWR pieces. Thatís when I first heard about the play. I absolutely loved the script, it felt like a cross between Cock and Betrayal, and I was thrilled when James asked me to audition for it. Having just come off the back of a 5 month world tour with the Globeís production of The Merchant of Venice, I was hungry to do some new writing in London in a completely different venue. So this production was perfect. And the script takes risks, which seem to be paying off, and thatís what the theatre should be all about. Iím really excited by that.

J: I graduated from drama school quite recently, and since graduating Iíve really just been looking to collaborate on as many interesting projects that I can get my hands on; things that allow me to explore different sides of myself as a person and actor, and luckily my agentís been really supportive and nurturing in the sense that they donít pressure me to simply take whatever comes my way. In terms of Snapshot George and I have been friends since university. He actually directed me in my very first play. So he sent me a really early draft of Snapshot to read, and I really took my time before I got round to reading it, but when I read it, I was definitely interested, and hoped he would ask me to audition, and he did. Iíd never played a character that experiences the things ďDanielĒ experiences. His experience with sexuality and mental health, I was also really drawn to how he switches between being quite camp and more aggressive and masculine.

LG: The world is changing at a very rapid pace and peopleís sense of self-worth is attributed now through not just human contact but also occupations and social influence. How do your characters navigate this world and process their own self-worth?

B: My character, James, is the perfect example of this. He is a struggling photographer who has been living in London (Hounslow) for 7 years. His career has gone nowhere and so he works in a call centre (of course). Thatís when he meets Daniel, a successful city boy who owns his own flat in Pimlico. Daniel offers for James to move in, rent-free, so that he can focus on his photography. At first James is thrilled. He spends his days working on different projects and trying effortlessly to get his career off the ground. But to no avail. Turns out you donít just need financial security to have a successful artistic career. No. More importantly, you need contacts, something which Daniel has in abundance due to his extremely privileged upbringing. Soon James becomes bitter and deflated, but the devil finds work for idle hands. Thatís when he meets Frank, an older gent who promises to fast-track Jamesís work to some of the most powerful gallery owners in London, but in exchange for one thing – sex. Torn, James complies, andÖwell, if youíre interested in finding out what happens next then you should come and see the play.

J: I think Daniel growing up realised how ridiculous and superficial many of the symbols that we often use to validate ourselves are so the usual external things donít really do much for him in and of themselves. Thatís not to say that heís managed to find value from within, itís more that he places his worth in the validation of specific significant relationships. So initially his parents, later on in life his dad specifically, which is in part why he is where he is, and why he only allows himself to meet someone like James at the stage in life that he does. By the time he meets James, heís realising that the life that heís chosen in order to live up to othersí expectations isnít really the one he wants. Then he meets James, who opens him up in a way that nobody has before, and he has a new person who he can look to for worth and validation. And it works. For a time.

LG: You both had to create chemistry very quickly for the piece to work, how do you approach doing that in a way that is intimately believable to an audience?

B: The first time I met Joey we filmed the trailer for Snapshot which, if you watch it here, youíll soon realise is a very intimate way for two complete strangers to spend their first few hours together. But I couldnít have been put more at ease by Joey. He is an incredibly easy person to be around and very professional. During rehearsals we talked at length about how intimate James and Daniel would be together in certain scenes, depending on the different stages of their relationship. And from there weíve tried to be as physically and emotionally truthful as possible. You have to trust in each other, and trust in the work youíve done with the director. Thereís a lot of respect involved, and the more you give yourself up to it the more you get back. I think. Weíve done two previews already and people have specifically complimented us on our onstage chemistry, so we must be doing something right.

J: A lot of actors can be quite emotionally available, and for me thatís all thatís needed really. Iíll keep myself open, and if the other actor can reciprocate weíll probably be fine.

LG: In many plays surrounding sexuality there can be a tendency toward the sexual and the explicit, but Snapshot seems to capture a much more authentic relationship, albeit in some senses a three way relationshipÖ what is that like to embody and explore?

J: James is Danielís first love. Itís huge. For me exploring that has been both infectious, in that I find myself thinking about my own experiences, and painful in terms of significance and where their relationship ends up. Itís also the first time heís explored his sexuality in this way and in this much detail, and to be able to create that kind of liberation is in itself liberating.

B: I think sex is easy to put onstage – send someone to the gym, take their clothes off, put them up onstage and boom! Youíve got a peep show. Thatís not to say our play doesnít have elements of this, but I was eager to find the emotional truth of everyoneís relationship first, and from there you can play around with the flirtatious aspects much more believably and to stronger effect. James, the director, was keen on this approach also. So much of the chemistry comes from whatís happening between the lines, and I think itís remarkable that George, for his first play, has placed that much trust in his actors to find the sexual tension without always spelling it out. We had so much freedom in the rehearsal room to explore this, and for an actor to be given a script like that, thatís not something that comes around very often, and so you relish it and make the most of it.

LG: Joey, how does your upbringing and sexuality inform how you create and play characters like Daniel in Snapshot?

J: I was raised as a very devout Mormon. I spent two years as a missionary on Reunion Island and Mauritius, the whole shebang. So my own experiences, in terms of scope at least, in some ways arenít always that different to Danielís. Iím no longer Mormon, but interestingly, being raised that way meant that I didnít have many experiences that people had as teenagers. There was one particular rehearsal where we were going over a scene that we had done once already, and this time we were just looking at it in more detail. As we went through it, the others were discussing some of the events of the scene and I realised that the meaning of a number of gestures had completely gone over my head, purely because I just had no experience similar to that. We had a good chuckle.

LG: What do you hope that the audience will experience when they see Snapshot at The Hope Theatre?

B: I hope they experience a story that is relatable and accessible but also challenging, not just in itís content but also in its theatrical form. The play is comprised of 22 different scenes told completely out of sync over the course of 75 minutes. This non-linear fashion means the audience really has to work to join the dots, to place together the different major events that happen in these charactersí lives. And there are plenty of clues thrown in there for the audience to be able to do this. And only when the final scene is finished, when youíve been given the final piece of the puzzle, will the whole story make sense. And after that, I hope the audience will leave the theatre feeling both satisfied and intrigued in equal measure.

J: I mean I canít say more than I hope that the audience will experience the highs and lows that we as characters go through. Itís a big ask because, as Brian says, the story is told out of sequence. But if the audience can experience any of what we experience, then thatís great.

Catch SNAPSHOT at The Hope Theatre before it closes on 10th June 2017. Tickets and more info.
Follow @SnapshotPlay

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