Beirut by American playwright Alan Bowne opens at Park Theatre this month. The play, directed by Robin Lefevre, makes its UK debut the 12th June and will run until 7th July – so bag yourself tickets while they’re hot.
Ahead of opening night Push caught up with actors, Louisa Connolly-Burnham and Robert Rees, to talk nudity, script, nerves and taking on a two-part play that addresses some pretty heavy themes.
When Louisa and Rob pitch up in the showroom between rehearsals they’re full of it – it being the play – and a little clammy having been thrashing around on the stage all morning. The chemistry between the two is apparent before we even broach the subject of the butt lick scene, and their resounding enthusiasm is particularly infectious.
Read about the much-anticipated play and the A-team behind it.
What’s Beirut about?
Rob: It’s a dark, fantastic story about two people that have a genuine love for one another. A darker Romeo & Juliet.
There’s a virus that has broken out in Manhattan, New York that can be passed on through touch so those who have tested positive are quarantined in an area of the city nicknamed Beirut. My character, Torch, has been sent there and is being held alone in a dark cell until Blue, his girlfriend, breaks in. The play is essentially the couple’s stream of conversation in this holding space.
Louisa: You really feel for Torch and Blue as their love is forbidden; they are not allowed to see one another, talk, touch, have sex but they are so in love that none of that matters – it doesn’t stop them.
The play’s language is very provocative; is there a particular line or moment from the script that you love (and have already shared in a WhatsApp group chat)?
L: Yes! And it’s a line from the script that our Director, Robin Lefevre, loves; “You gotta tell the men EVERYTHING.”
R: I’d have to say the line that reads; “A dick is a dick, is a cock, is a penis.”
L: I also love the line, “I can live without sex and feel dead or risk death and feel alive.”
R: There’s a moment where Louisa has to lick my left buttock, which sounds gratuitous, but it’s actually quite funny – and the first time Louisa did it she let out a scream in front of everyone so that really sticks with me.
Is there nudity?
L: Well, we’re both in our underwear the whole time. The play has been described as raunchy which I suppose it is, but it’s also incredibly romantic.
When I first got the audition details through there was the warning about the script including nudity – and sexual assault – but when I read it through, and really analysed the strength of Blue’s character that overshadowed any qualms I might have had about nudity.
As an actress, I have been waiting for something to really push boundaries and take me out of my comfort zone and I am so lucky to have that opportunity with this role. I wanted to step it up a notch and be challenged.
R: Louisa does such a brilliant job; Blue is a strong and feisty character so it’s such a great part for a woman in 2018. It’s Blue’s play as much as it is Torch’s.
Is it date night appropriate?
R: Yes definitely, you’re not going to get bored. It goes a hundred miles an hour, there’s a lot of the unexpected and it’s a really interesting piece of theatre. It’s sexy, intense and you’ll definitely be talking about it on the tube home.
Describe Beirut in three words?
L: I want to say hopeful. Torch and Blue have love despite being in this dilapidated world.
R: I think with everything going on in the world at the moment (Brexit, Trump, Syria…) the portrayal of these characters really gives audiences a sense of hope – even in the fact of this disaster.
L: It’s also very lusty.
L: I’ve got it! Hopeful, passionate, provocative.
R: It’s also great fun, there are some good laughs – especially when Torch and Blue are arguing and throwing insults around.
Did you always want to act?
R: I did, yes. If not acting definitely a role in the creative industry.
L: Yes. I used to drag my grandparents to plays and my grandma would film me; so from the archive of footage I have, yes the acting thing was always there.
Best thing about rehearsals?
R: Louisa. No really, it’s great to have someone who really throws themselves at it 150%. Robin is fairly old school so is meticulous about detail and, due to the physical nature of the characters’ relationship, we’re chucking each other around on stage repeatedly to get it just right. A lot of actresses would complain or be difficult but Louisa just isn’t like that.
L: It definitely feels that within this production – with Rob and myself, our director and the tea, – that there are no limits. The room feels so safe. We can’t talk to the playwright Alan Bowne because he died of aids in the 80s so this is our interpretation and some of the ideas we’re putting into it are bonkers, but we’re never told they are stupid. There are no restrictions and as actors that is so exciting.
Best part of opening night?
L: I’m excited to see when the audience laugh and cry. My experience is mainly TV and film, I did my first theatre performance last year and this is my second so this still a new world for me. We had someone new watching rehearsals today and he was laughing at parts I hadn’t even thought about being funny so that was really interesting.
I am also looking forward to talking to people after the show to see what they thought.
R: It’s always great to see the audience’s reaction. Also, to actually use the set and props as we have so little time to do this ahead of opening night.
Do you obsess over reviews?
R: I don’t ever read them as I don’t want them to effect my performance. Reviews are so subjective so I tend not to take too much notice. I know it;s human nature to want to read them but it can be dangerous.
L: I have no self control so yes I’ll probably obsess over them.
If you could co-star with ANYONE who would it be?
L: I love Emma Thompson. I love Emma!
R: Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Cillian Murphy, Ben Whishaw.
Best piece of career advice you’ve received to date?
L: Actually, in the first week of rehearsals for Beirut – a particularly tough week getting to grips with the play’s dark themes – our director said; “We sweat in here so that we don’t bleed out there.” That really stuck with me as no matter how hard it gets in the room rehearsing, I want to really push myself in there so that when we get on stage we don’t bleed!
R: I agree, with Beirut there’s no respite as we’re both on stage the entire duration.
I’d also mention something that Matt Rixon told me; “If you make a mistake onstage, you cancel and continue.” So don’t fall into the trap of making a mistake and then obsess about that mistake throughout the scene, and make another mistake – and another mistake. Whereas if you just say fuck it, and move on it allows you to stay in character.
All time fave film/play/novel?
L: Lost in Translation because I like films about relationships and, similarly to Beirut, it’s about a man and a woman in love. I like small casts – and I just love Japan. It’s simple, visually stunning, and Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson are fantastic.
R: I’d have to say the film My Cousin Vinny. It’s such a clever comedy starring Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei (who has actually played Blue in the original performance of Beirut ).
What do you have lined up after Beirut?
R: Someone at drama school once said to me; “The thing about an actor’s life is that you can have absolutely nothing planned, you can be desolate and beside yourself with worry, and then you can get a phone call at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and your life changes the next.” And acting really is like that. Sometimes it’s not ideal when you have a mortgage to pay but it is so exciting when you get that call. You have to be resilient.
I’d love to do more with this play though, it would be great to go on tour – especially as it hasn’t been done in the UK before and the script is so strong.
L: I have three films out this year so I’ll be in the US a lot doing press. And at the moment I can’t even audition because Beirut is taking all my time, but it’s normally towards the last couple of weeks of a job that you start getting calls for the next one. So who knows what’s to come but I am loving theatre in every way.
R: Until then we have 28 Beirut shows (29 including press night) across the next four weeks…
How do you switch off after rehearsals?
L: Well, Love Island has just started. And Ii do like my reality TV.
R: I have had previous parts that have given me trouble sleeping and effected my diet so I try and go to gym a lot. I also meditate which really helps. We’re a strong, small team and that also takes the pressure off.