London Theatre 2021
The Stonewater Rapture
By Doug Wright
15-17th Dec, 2021
Set on the front porch and in the living room of a conservative Texas home, the play tells the story of two teenagers whose sexual awakening has been severely hampered by the fundamentalist fervour that runs like power lines through the Bible Belt.
The New Current spoke with Harry Cornell who makes his London stage debut as 'Witney' in producer Henry Empson's revival of The Stonewater Rapture which also stars Mabel Hoskins and is directed by recent Cambridge graduate Ben Galvin.
Hi Harry thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?
It’s been so exciting seeing theatres back up and running, and the overwhelming excitement from audiences to return. At the end of the day, this industry relies on the people that come to watch it and it's up to us as theatre makers to create something worthwhile and memorable. I think theatregoers and creators alike are owed to having as much material presented to them as possible. We are all adrenaline junkies who’ve been stuck on the top of the cliff for far too long.
Congratulations on your London run of Doug Wright’s The Stonewater Rapture, what does it mean for you both to be part of such an important revival at The Etcetera Theatre?
It means a lot. Doug Wright is an exceptional writer but of all his plays, The Stonewater Rapture has probably seen the least limelight. It seems fitting for our first London production to be his first play and crucially, bring it to a London audience which I don’t think has ever seen it.
Are there any nerves ahead of your run?
There are always nerves. Good ones though - it’s normally a bad sign if there aren’t. The play deals with a lot of really uncompromising themes and there’s a lot of pressure to create something really remarkable and confounding but with sincere awareness and sensitivity.
Can you tell me a little bit about your character, what was the biggest challenges you faced bringing them to life?
'Witney' has no real sense of self. He knows where he wants to be and the people he wants to like him or involve himself with, but he’s persistently being taken advantage of. He’s largely oblivious to defamation. That being said, it’s a wonderful moment as an actor when you come across a script whose characters’ experiences align with your own and you can invest in it emotionally. We are two very different people but recent events in my life mean that there are profound emotional parallels in grief, betrayal or acceptance that are helping me to apprehend what drives 'Witney' and the actions he chooses to make. It feels very serendipitous.
What was it about The Stonewater Rapture that interested you so much as actors?
In about 45 minutes we discuss themes of sexuality, faith, ambition, adolescence, sexual assault, peer pressure, regret, pornography, parenthood, friendships (the list goes on) whilst all wrapped up in a deeply naturalistic and conversational script. It’s incredible.
"I did 17 productions at school and was unbelievably lucky with the Drama Department and our facilities."
This will be your London stage debut, does making this on the London stage add any extra pressure on you?
Definitely. All the productions I’ve done previously had controlled audiences, we knew who was coming in and out every night. Now there’s a paying, the public audience there’s certainly that element of giving people their money’s worth.
What has the experience been like for you working with your director on such a salient revival?
Ben Galvin’s amazing. It’s pretty obvious he read literature at Cambridge by just speaking to him for five minutes. He’s a real pro and breaks down the script so easily - it can be infuriating at times when your muscle memory implants a false motive or intonation because Ben will always catch you out on it, and relay instantly the actual goal of the moment is.
Where did your passion for acting come from?
I think it’s mostly from school. I just loved the idea of being someone else mostly because like any teenager I was still figuring out who I was - it seemed like an easy get-out from being me. I like how all the information about the character was on the page in front of me. I did 17 productions at school and was unbelievably lucky with the Drama Department and our facilities. They treated us like working actors as opposed to students; it’s those moments of not only feeling enormous pressure to achieve something; but to do it through creative expression and in front of an audience, that’s addictive.
Do you have a favourite theatre quote?
Yes. It’s from Peter Brook’s The Empty Space (obviously!):
"A stage space has two rules: (1) Anything can happen and (2) Something must happen."
And finally, what do you hope your audiences will take away from The Stonewater Rapture?
Hopefully, they’ll want more. But also to understand how transcendental adolescent complexities are and have been. It’s set 40 years ago but a lot of the issues and problems are still remarkably relevant and it’s perhaps not the simpler time we might think of it as.