Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Holy Warriors - The Globe

A FEW cuts and bruises are par for the course for any actor but avoiding being clobbered in the midst of a series of sword fights whilst on stage is currently uppermost in Jonathan Bonnici's mind.
The Bermondsey-based actor is one of the stars of a new play, Holy Warriors, a kaleidoscopic tale of war and bloody revenge that spans continents and centuries and which opens at the Globe on July 19.
Written by David Eldridge it takes in Richard the Lionheart’s third crusade, Hamas suicide bombings, the Roman army and George W Bush - and as you would expect there are plenty of fierce battles to recreate.
"It's a huge swashbuckling epic and really exciting," enthuses Jonathan. "We are opening soon and so we are in the final stretch - it's at that stage where there is a mix of nerves and excitement that builds as it all comes together!"
We chat as Jonathan takes a well-earned break from rehearsals and it's clear he's enjoying his first season at the Globe.
"I love it here and this is a great production to be part of," he says. "It's exhilarating, interesting, fascinating and there is a real energy about it that we are all really enjoying.
"I love all the swashbuckling that goes on," he adds. "The choreography is really important but you still have to be careful because it's easy to become complacent and then accidents happen. I've been caught a couple of times but it comes with the territory.
"I remember at drama school getting hit all the time - once I ended up with a hole in my cheek during a sword fight training session and it really hurt."
Sword fights and injuries aside the 31-year-old says the play is an entertaining "swipe through history" with a serious message.
"It centres around the third crusade with Richard the Lionheart," he says. "It starts when he went over to the Holy land and met Saladin and it explores their relationship and the battles they had.
"Their struggle is used to talk about the whole history of western intervention in the Middle East.
"It is fascinating because it asks some interesting questions about history repeating itself. And of course it's very timely with all that's happening in the region at the moment.
"It shows how much western influence is bound up with the experience of the Middle East and how much of a concern it is."
Jonathan plays Al-Afdal, son of Saladin and he says in developing his portrayal of the character he looked in part to the relationship with his own mother for inspiration.
"Al-Afdal's like a child in many ways because he's very headstrong. However, he's also a war monger and is constantly pushing and encouraging his father to engage in bloody battles with the invaders while Saladin is telling him to calm down and shut up.
"Al-Afdal tells his father he is stupid and has no technical ability to fight a battle and that he has lost control, is not fit for power and needs to change strategy.
"In dealing with the character I thought about how when they are growing up children think they know everything and tell their parents what to do - I was no exception!" he laughs.
"Sometimes with my mum I feel I know best and tell her what she should do. She constantly disputes that of course because I don't.
"But it's interesting how kids sometimes think they know better than their parents when really they have no idea because they've not had that life experience - so I'm channelling a bit of that feeling."
Holy Warriors is the second play Jonathan is in as part of this current Globe season - he is also in Antony and Cleopatra - and he says the ability to have fun and interact with the audience is one of his favourite things about being on the Bankside theatre's stage.
"The Globe is a big old stage but I love it!" he says. "It's a very special place - they look after us and there is always a really buzzy atmosphere. There is so much support especially with all the voice and movement people so it's a fantastic place to be.
"It used to feel very intimidating as the audience is on every side and there is nowhere to hide. If you are standing on stage with the audience looking at you you can feel exposed.
"To begin with it was a bit nervewracking but now I've got used to it I love the eye contact and interaction you can have with the audience - that's what makes live theatre so special."
And he says theatre is where his heart lies.
Indeed it was an outdoor production directed by a family friend that Jonathan saw when he was nine which inspired his love of Shakespeare and set him on his chosen career path.
"I was just entranced by the whole thing," he remembers. "It was a production of Taming Of The Shrew and I just thought the language and storytelling was amazing.
"I love film - I'm fascinated by it and would like to do more in the future but there is something special about the immediacy of theatre, the fact anything could happen on any given performance and that you can interact with the audience and ad lib a bit. It's great."
For the time being though he says he's very settled at the Globe although he admits being in Holy Warriors can be exhausting. However he has found a way to deal with it.
"I live in Bermondsey near the Finnish Church and there is a sauna there which not many people know about," he says.
"It's a proper Scandinavian sauna so it's quite brutal," he adds chuckling. "But after all the running and leaping about on stage and fighting battles it's great to go and let the steam get rid of all the aches and pains!"

Holy Warriors is at the Globe from July 19 until August 24. Tickets from £5. Visit or call the box office on 020 7401 9919

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