Simon Harrison interview

LCO is thrilled to welcome Shakespeare actor, and regular at The Globe, Simon Harrison to narrate William Walton’s thrilling score to Laurence Olivier’s 1944 film adaption of Henry V on Thursday 20 October at Cadogan Hall. We asked Simon about his love for Shakespeare and his upcoming collaboration with the London Chamber Orchestra.

Simon Harrison (credit: Pamela Raith Photography)

Simon Harrison (credit: Pamela Raith Photography)

1. At LCO we like to break down barriers between performers and audience – you must be used to that at Shakespeare’s Globe too! What is it like performing with the audience practically draped over the stage, right in front of you?

I can honestly say that performing at the Globe is the most exciting time I have had working in the theatre, for that exact reason. The proximity of the audience, and the fact that you can look everybody in the eye means that you cannot pretend that there is any sort of “Fourth Wall”. It is an extremely honest exchange. All you have are the words and your physicality – no lighting, no electronic sound and often very little set. The connection between actor and audience, as a result , becomes essential to the storytelling.

2. What is your favourite Shakespeare role?

My favourite Shakespeare role has to be Richard III. I was lucky enough to play the character at the Globe in Henry VI in 2013. As I’m sure your readers know, the part originated in Henry VI Part 2 and then dominates Part 3. He was so popular Shakespeare then gave him his own play soon after. He is often seen as the archetypal villain, a psychopath even. However, through the three plays you see with great psyhcological detail how he becomes the cold blooded killer you see in Richard III. The smartest and most king like of all the Duke of York’s sons, he is continually overlooked and ridiculed because of his physical differences. He is the most affected by their father’s death and no one in his family capable of ruling as his father would have wished. He has been made to feel inhuman for his whole life and so by the end of Part 3 he consciously decides that seeing as the rest of the world sees him as a devil, he may as well act like one.

3. Do you have a favourite film version of Henry V?

Of the three screen versions I have seen of Henry V, I would have to say the Olivier version is my favourite. It was the first I ever saw and I was blown away by the charisma of his performance.

4. What do you see as the big difference between preparing for a straight play and for a project with music?

I am not a musical theatre actor, so my work on plays with music has been limited. However I think all works have an inherent musicality to them. Certainly there is a rhythm to any good writing (with Shakespeare the prime example) that an actor should ignore at their peril. I performed in Michael Frayn’s  farce “Noises Off” a few years ago and the timing had to be so precise. The comedy is so expertly plotted, and the laughs build and build, that If you miss a beat you run the risk of messing up the rest of the act. You quickly learn that motivation, inner life etc mean nothing if the audience aren’t laughing at one of the funniest plays ever written!

5. We understand you have stage combat training. Have you ever been, or come close to being, hurt in a stage fight?

I have had many stage fights in my career and they are great fun to do. You tend to choreograph them early in the rehearsal process, and then practice at least once everyday so that by the time you are performing it both you and your partner are completely in sync. It is very much like learning a dance, albeit a dance with swords, shields axes and maces. They are always real weapons that have been blunted , and so you always run the risk of getting hurt if hit. I remember playing Hector in “The Last Days of Troy” by Simon Armitage. The battle between my character and Achilles was the centre piece of the play and had been brilliantly choreographed. We had worked tirelessly on it, practising two three times a day, desperate for it to be perfect. However when it came to opening night, we were so full of adrenaline, we forgot we were two namby pamby actors PLAYING warriors and thought we WERE warriors. Within twenty seconds I had a dead arm and he was limping, having hit one another for real.  One of the swords and both shields were broken. We crawled through the rest of the fight, in genuine pain and having to make it up as we went along. It looked more like drunken pub fight than a clash of titans.

6. What music do you like to listen to?

I am a big fan of American music. Acts such as Ryan Adams, The National and Bon Iver are my go to artists. However as my daughter is nearly two I spent most of time listening to her music.The Grand Old Duke of York is a particular favourite at the moment!

7. Tell us about the first concert you ever attended as a listener 

In all honesty I haven’t listened to much classical music live. However, I had the  privilege of working with members of The Sixteen at The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. We performed a play called “Thomas Tallis” by Jessica Swale, that detailed a fictional account of the composer’s life. Listening to the six incredible singers night after night was one of the greatest pleasures I have had. It was magical.

8. When can we see you next on stage, TV and film?

I have recently been filming on a number of television shows. So watch out for me in episodes of Channel 4’s Humans, and ITV’s Fearless and Grantchester. And a small role in the movie Transformers 5!

Simon narrates William Walton’s Henry V on Thursday 20 October at Cadogan Hall: click here for info and to book tickets.