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March 9 to May 11 2024

MARCH 28, 2024 

Harry Clarke has a secret. Well, Philip Brugglestein has a secret – but people only have eyes for seductive Londoner Harry Clarke

Hi David, thank you for taking the time to talk with The New Current. Now that opening night and press night is over are you able to relax and take in the experience of having Harry Clarke in London?


Yes. I’m in a state of delighted astonishment that it’s all happening.


Last night a rare sight in a London Theatre, a standing ovation! What has it meant to you to bring Harry Clarke to the West End?


It’s the first of my shows to be produced in England. I grew up in Luton, and worked as a stagehand on “Annie” at the Victoria Palace Theatre on the West End, with no aspirations to becoming a writer. So to come back to my home country, with this production, and see my name billed as the writer on a West End theatre marquee is quite an out of body experience. It’s a huge deal for me personally and emotionally, as well as professionally.


After you saw the performance for the first time at the Ambassador Theatre in London, what was the first thing that came to your mind?


I was startled that the audience around me jumped to their feet so spontaneously to give a standing ovation. Of course, Billy’s performance absolutely merits it, but I had no idea how a London audience would respond. So my first thought after the first performance and seeing that immediate reaction was, this is wonderful! And Billy was sensational from the first performance.


How important is the creative relationship between playwright, actor and director when working on such an intimate play like Harry Clarke?


All of my dozen or so solo plays to this point had been performed by me. Often directed by me too. I’d never worked on one of my solos with an actor. This was a radical departure. Billy was my first choice to play Philip/Harry. I even drew up a dummy poster with “Billy Crudup in Harry Clarke directed by Leigh Silverman”, before Billy had even read the script. Leigh was also my first choice for director. When they both said yes, after the elation, I did have a period of worrying that it wouldn’t work. For years people I trusted told me my scripts were dependent on me performing them. I never believed that was true, but before Billy, Leigh and I began rehearsals, I did think, what if everyone was right? Billy is such a beloved and highly-regarded actor in the U.S. that I thought, if it doesn’t work, my career is over. 


But, I think because I’ve been wanting to work with Leigh for years, I basically see everything she directs, so am extremely familiar with her work, and because I’ve been a fan of Billy since I first saw him in the film “Jesus’ Son” in 1999, I was coming in with a lot of artistic trust and excitement. Leigh is a fantastic script editor, and, as controlling as I’m used to being with my own work, if Leigh said cut something, or asked, what if this were expanded?, I completely did what she suggested. I trusted her and the script got better. And Billy never asked for other changes to be made in the script. He was enormously respectful of what I’d written. 

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"A solo show to me is like a dance with the audience, and the audience is my dance partner. You dont fully know what you have till your partner is in the room, dancing with you."

And what has the experience been like working continuing to work with your director Leigh Silverman and Billy Crudup on this play?


Leigh and Billy keep finding more and more in the text to explore, so it’s ever-evolving. They have a very intimate, deeply trusting collaboration. Parts of the script are landing very differently in London, and Billy, who’s very quick on his feet, has adjusted his performance, very deliciously, because certain parts are resonating in London so differently, and in some cases are getting a big response that they didn’t get in the U.S. I’m so intuitive that sometimes Leigh has to translate my thoughts into human speak. The first time we all met, Billy was asking me questions about the script and character that I couldn’t answer. Straightforward questions, but my lack of answers did make me wonder if he might be thinking, did this guy actually write this play? It comes from performing the scripts myself. I’m often completely unconscious of what I’m doing. 


What was the inspiration behind Harry Clarke?


When I was a child, I was introverted, and remembered saying to another boy at school, “I could be myself if I had an American accent.” I thought it would be interesting to flip that and apply it to an introverted American child. I was also very aware in the States of how some Americans treated English people with an immediate reverence or more focused interest. So the idea of an American guy who felt liberated while doing an English accent, who works his way into a family of anglophiles was intriguing. And I love movie thrillers and film noirs, like Philip in the play does.


There is an intimacy within your texts that is painfully funny but equally heartbreaking. How did you create this tight balance of pain and humour that gave life to Harry Clarke and Philip Brugglestein?


I work so intuitively. I often don’t know exactly what I’m doing, I just follow my instincts. So I’m not fully conscious of the full ramifications of what I’m creating. I do a lot of rewriting, but I’m of the school where if it feels right, it is right for me, and I don’t necessarily need to know why.


What was your favourite line to write?


I can’t say I have a particular favourite.


When writing a play like this do you draw from you own life/lived experiences or do you prefer to keep the personal out?


All of my work is emotionally autobiographical to some extent, even when the story leaves the facts of my life behind. Other shows of mine, like “We’re Only Alive for A Short Amount of Time” are completely autobiographical.


Have you always had a passion for theatre?


No. It grew over time. I’d originally wanted to pursue music and be a singer. I had a band in England that played one gig, in Luton, funnily enough on a bill with Paul Young. I sang in pubs, I busked on the London Underground. I only saw one play when I lived in England. A comedy with the great Billie Whitelaw.


What was the first play you wrote and how much has your approach to your writing changed over the years?


The first I wrote was a solo play called “The Redthroats”, which I also performed. I’ve written over a dozen solo plays, and over the years, I’ve become, generally speaking, more playful with the form. Also incorporating more songs and original music. 


As a writer do you ever find it challenging to hand over your work to audiences?


I don’t. A solo show to me is like a dance with the audience, and the audience is my dance partner. You don’t fully know what you have till your partner is in the room, dancing with you.


Music plays a important part in your life and work, and it also features prominently with Harry Clarke. Can you tell me a little be about the music that’s playing before the show starts, I found it really evocative, was that intentional?


That’s the sound designer Bart Fasbender. I believe it’s all Georges DeLerue music. All the music within the play is my choice. I come to a production with very clear ideas of what the music in the show should be. I think because I started in music, and I’m a music geek.


There is a scene in Almost Famous when Anita Miller is leaving home and she puts on a song that she hopes will explain to her mum why she’s leaving. Is there a song you’ve listened to that has forged that type of connection with you that if you played it for someone, if they really listened, they’d understand you a bit more?


“Here’s to Life”, lyrics by Phylis Molinary, music by Artie Butler, most notably recorded by Shirley Horn. I love life, and that song is a celebration of life.


Finally, what would you like your audiences to take away from Harry Clarke?


All the clothing they came to the theatre wearing. I’m kidding. I don’t think that way about the shows. People take away so many different things. I’m just trying to express myself, with the hope that what I come up with connects and resonates with people, and of course, entertains.

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