Friday, 17 April 2015

INTERVIEW - Trystan Gravelle

IT'S 1649. In the aftermath of a bloody and brutal civil war, England stands at a crossroads. A period of restless volatility amongst the masses, food shortages, economic instability and a corrupt political system threaten to plunge the country into darkness and despair.
Fast forward to 2015 and some might argue the country still faces very similar issues thanks to a rise in the number of foodbanks, on going economic jitters following the 2008 recession, and a political system many feel alienated or removed from.
And with the imminent General Election at the forefront of the news agenda it is perhaps timely that a play which looks at these issues should be staged.
Said play is Light Shining In Buckinghamshire written by playwright Caryl Churchill and which opens at the National Theatre on Thursday.
It tells the story of the men and women who went into battle for the soul of the country during the English Civil War of the 1640s.
It shows how the Parliament men fought against the tyranny of the King and argued for stability and compromise and how the country's people were hungry for change. It speaks of the revolution we never had and the legacy it left behind.
Among its stellar cast is Trystan Gravelle, last seen as Victor Colleano in ITV's Mr Selfridge.
The Welsh born, but Camberwell-based actor plays a farm labourer who joins up as a soldier in the war, but becomes an agitator, a leveller and finally a deserter.
In a chat towards the end of rehearsals Trystan tells me the issues of social unrest, political activism and ideas of political reform within the piece have plenty of parallels with what's going on today.
"In many ways the play deals with issues which still feel very contemporary," he tells me. "It is a play about ideas and how incredible those ideas were for the time and if we'd just held on to them we might be in a different society today.
"Essentially, it tells of the build up to the war, what happens during the war and the effects it had on the people of different social standings afterwards," he adds.
"My character is a farm labourer who joins up to fight with Cromwell who tells them they are on a mission from God. It was a big thing to be told you have got God on your side.
"Being a soldier means more pay than a farm labourer so he signs up. He thinks the war will be over soon - but it lasts eight years.
"His journey through the play is quite sad in many ways. But as well as that we see the immense suffering that happened at that time - people lost their families, there was a lot of starvation and five million people became very transient during the war - wandering from village to village. It was quite desperate."
Despite the poignancy Trystan believes it's a play people should see, not least because it gives an insight into a slice of history that is not often taught in schools.
"It's a fascinating piece and is hugely enjoyable to be part of," he says. "It was an incredibly radical time because people wanted more of a say - we even got rid of our class system for a while which was an incredible achievement.
"In the play the politicians get into power and say they understand the issues of the ordinary people but then don't listen to them.
"They end up fleecing the country and don't care what the ordinary people say. Then there is a Civil War, a revolution and new people come in to power but the same things happen again.
"In that respect it's also a very timely piece especially with the election coming up and is a story that I think will resonate.
"Even now it still feels as though a lot of politicians who are from the upper echelons of society seem aloof and don't listen or care about the people they are supposed to represent."
And he says he hopes those who come to see the play are inspired to vote in the upcoming election.
"If you don't vote a general sense of apathy creeps in and if you don't vote you can't moan," he says firmly. "For your voice to be heard you have to vote. The more people that do that the better.
"I am sure a lot of politicians do what they believe to be right and I don't think they are all dining on swans and chucking us grapes but it feels sometimes that they get away with things, and think that no one is watching.
"If they thought everyone was they may do things differently. So the only way to get politicians to sit up and take notice is to vote - they need to see we care."
Despite his passion he draws the line that voting should be compulsory.
"I would have a problem with that," he says. "It's about attitudes. We need to make people want to vote.
"Everyone wants a free country where there is freedom of will and choice. People - like many who are the subject of Light Shining - fought so we could have a say in what happens to our country but the choice to vote has to come from within.
"We can't blame the politicians just because they went to a posh school. I grew up in the valleys of South Wales. We mustn't begrudge them - we all have to crack on with life!"
Given his passion for the subject I ask if he had ever thought about going into politics himself.
"It's not something that ever appealed to me," he laughs. "I actually find it weird that anyone would want to become a career politician."
Instead, Trystan says it was always acting that he wanted to do and on leaving school he won a scholarship to RADA and has since built a successful career working on both stage and screen.
And he says he's "glad to be back at the National" and working with director Lindsey Turner who gave him his first job there.
"Caryl Churchill is an amazing playwright and this play is brilliantly written so it was a no brainer to take on the role," he says warmly.
"It's also at the National which is the epicentre for important theatre and Lindsey is incredible - the attention to detail and the clarity she brings out of the actors makes it a real joy, so I'd have been a fool to turn it down.
"It's been tough though and a lot to take in but it's fantastic!"

Light Shining In Buckinghamshire is on at the National Theatre until Monday, June 22. Tickets from £15. Visit or call the box office on 020 7452 3000.  

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