Herringbone at KXT

It's been a few years since we have seen Independent Musical Theatre company, Squabbalogic, take to the Sydney stage but they are back with a one man show, Herringbone, starring Artistic Director, Jay James-Moody. We spoke with James-Moody about the complexity of this multi-character/one actor play and why audiences shouldn't miss it. Have a read below:

Jay James-Moody

Herringbone sounds like a complex web of history, memory, deceit, family and revenge. What can you tell us about this show and how, as the actor behind a multitude of characters, each of these figures finds their place within this tale?

Herringbone is a kind of memory play. We’re reliving the events of thirty-years past and our narrator is inhabiting all of the characters to tell that story. The characters are created from his perspective so there’s perhaps a little uncertainty about how accurate his portrayals are and if indeed the events he describes happened the way he tells it. I think there is a sense that he is a little confused about that himself, but it’s certainly a very diverse group spanning from a family in Alabama, to an English-accented vaudevillian, a frightening and malevolent spirit with a soft spot for show-business and a naive Californian woman, so physicality and accent play a big part of the transformations.

Do you identify with any of these characters more than others? What is your process in allowing each character to fully evolve and follow their own arc as you tackle them all?

I don’t necessarily identify with any characters directly, but thematically there are certainly perspectives and experiences that resonate. I think one of the core themes that appeals to me is an artist’s drive to create - in this case performing. Lou, a murdered vaudevillian, is so driven to express himself creatively that his spirit lingers until he can find a vessel to continue his craft. The flip side is young George, who ends up being that vessel. He is kind and compliant and feels the pressure of everyone around him to be something special and questions his own ability. The characters are very well drawn in the text, which is obviously very helpful in keeping theme clear and allowing each character to breathe. Right now I’m just learning the text and voice, and physicality will play a fairly crucial role once we’re in rehearsal to realise each of them completely.

The one person play is a very intricate art form. What is gained in this piece by having one actor share all aspects of the story?

This form of story-telling I think suits the themes of the play much better than if it was a full cast production. For one, it is about a performer - someone who becomes someone else for a living. There’s a lot of subtext around the contradiction of a lot of performers who can be quite shy and reserved but also have the ability to be bold and extravagant through their art, so having one actor portray that duality enhances the concept. There are also aspects that are very surreal and unsettling, and I think leaving the question open as to the truth of what our narrator tells us, and how he presents the characters in his own story, adds an additional layer of mystery for the audience. Rather than 11 actors playing their own agendas, we have one who is using 11 characters for a single agenda, whatever that may be.

As both actor and co-director how have you juggled the two roles during the rehearsal period for this show?

There’s a balance there of conceptual direction, which is more my domain and includes shaping the design and the overall tone of the show, and spatial direction, which Michael Ralph will handle. That will be putting me in the space and being that detailed outside eye. So I’m looking after much of the internal, acting, reasoning side of things and Michael the external, visual side of things. At the end of the day however I have to trust Michael completely to make sure what I’m doing is clear so I can focus on investing as much as I can into the performance.

Why is this piece relevant to 2018/2019 audiences? What can they expect to take away from this production?

I think there are themes we can relate to about the contradictory desires to be public, admired and appreciated, and our need for privacy, solitude and comfort that are explored in interesting ways in the show. Especially in this very social media driven world we are in, there is a constant expectation to ‘perform’ for the rest of the world through the content we put out there, and many of us - whether performers or not - struggle to keep up with that: loving the attention it brings us but loathing hollowness it can often bring. But that is deeply subconscious. I hope the audience will be amused, enthralled and a little unsettled by Herringbone.

RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS

Favourite production you have ever seen?

Jesus Christ Superstar with John Farnham and Kate Ceberano is the reason I’m in theatre. August: Osage County is the only show I’ve walked out of and immediately bought a ticket to see it again.

You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?

I’m getting on a plane as I write this and I’m off to California to see wonderful Australian friends make their US musical debuts.

Dream role to perform?

That I’ll never play: Mamma Rose in Gypsy.

That I hope to play: Seymour Krelborne in Little Shop of Horrors.

That I have played: Man in Chair in The Drowsy Chaperone.

Plays or musicals?

They’re both theatre and that’s all that matters to me.

A hobby you have beyond the theatre?

I struggle with this question because theatre is my hobby and my career.

What’s next for you after this show?

Two original shows of my own go into presentation development, Good Omens with Merrigong Theatre Company in May and The Dismissal at the Seymour Centre in June.

Herringbone opens on January 18th at KXT and tickets are available here.

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