Nocturne, onstage at Alexander Upstairs from 10 to 21 September 2019, sees Francis Chouler taking on his first solo show, under the guidance of Emily Child who makes her directorial debut.
In anticipation of this exciting staging of Adam Rapp’s acclaimed Nocturne —an honest and unconventionally moving story of a man dealing with the effects of a life-altering incident— Chouler answers some questions about his love for theatre and the production.
1. Where did your love for the theatre start? Did you always know you wanted to be a performer?
At school. I was fortunate to go to a very creative school; Lee Ann van Rooi, much loved South African actress, was our drama teacher in grade 7. I had ‘too much’ energy and didn’t enjoy sport, so found my home on stage. I took a gap year to be sure, but there wasn’t ever really any doubt as to what I wanted to pursue. Theatre is the place where my madness finds sense.
2. You have said that since graduating you’ve been looking for a one-man play that speaks to you to such a degree that you simply have to perform it. What about your first encounter with Nocturne set it apart as that special play?
Well it came from a beloved friend and colleague Amy Louise Wilson, which was already a great start as we have a similar taste in theatre and a shared love of language. The sheer impact of the piece hit me in my gut. It seems innocuous at first, the story given away in the first line. It's so simple in its story telling and then you find yourself reeling; the story has gathered inside you without you knowing. I particularly loved that it was unsentimental and straightforward, I knew that was right for me; the right challenge.
3. What best describes Nocturne style wise?
There is a forthrightness to the style, nothing is hidden or pretended, there is no fourth wall. It's an arresting style, but also charming in its lack of pretension. There is some Tenessee Williams in the stark America of the story and characters, there are Brechtian elements to the telling of it. The closest thing I can compare it to, oddly enough, is Hannah Gadsby’s ”comedy” special Nannette, which is another example of exquisite storytelling that is centred around the audiences' experience, not the performer’s.
4. Your character is nameless, yet very real in the setting of this play. How do embrace and portray an unknown as such a complex character?
He is the narrator, and from the first line you do understand that he's telling you his story, and somehow that is enough, more than enough. He offers you a look into the darkest and brightest parts of his soul; perhaps that’s only possible without him mentioning his name. It's somehow not relevant, and nothing is extraneous in this play.
5. Critic Elyse Sommer of CurtainUp described Rapp's Nocturne as “a labyrinth of detailed descriptions festooned with brilliant similes and metaphors.” Is this how you experience it? What can audience members expect?
Well, if you love language you're in for a real treat. The playwright and indeed the Narrator take great pleasure in the language, but for me it is never indulgent. The specificity of the metaphor and simile come from a need to communicate something that is un-sayable. Words can create and destroy worlds, and in this play they can take but also, ultimately, save a life.
6. It’s an exciting production, not only in the general appeal of the play itself, but also in this not only being your first one-man play, but also Emily Child’s debut as director. How has it been collaborating with Emily on this? How does your approach to theatre compliment her style and vice versa?
It’s very special for us to be breaking new ground in our respective careers alongside one another. There is a courageousness in the text, it's bold and unflinching, so it's fitting that Emily and I are also taking a risk and mustering our own courage to mount this work. Emily and I share the goal of honouring the story and text first, and our choices are all in service of that goal. Emily directing is a natural step I believe, and she has stepped up to the role in a beautiful way. There's a huge amount of trust and shared vulnerability between us, which is so important as this is a big challenge for me. Emily challenges me to drop affectation and actorly habits, to trust the text and to give it, relentlessly, to the audience. I think this is the right approach for this text; but that doesn’t mean it's easy to execute.
7. If you had to describe Nocturne to potential audience members, without giving too much of the context of the play away, how would you characterised it?
Dark Chocolate with lashings of Heroine.
8. How has it been working with set designer, Niall Griffin, in bringing your Nocturne vision to stage? Without spoiling the magic of the first reveal, how excited are you about the space he’s created within which your character can come to life?
We're particularly fortunate to have a designer of Niall’s expertise join the team. He fell in love with the text, as we all have, and brought us an exquisite design concept that cut right to the heart of the play. I love that theatre communicates on multiple levels and his design both contains the space and illuminates the subterranean landscape of the play. It's certainly not something yet seen on the Alexander Upstair stage.
9. What would you like audience members to take away from Nocturne?
Theatre is a crucial space for individuals to gather for a shared experience. In our fractured society the collective experience of our humanness is perhaps more important than ever. The play, in all its brutal-ness and tenderness and humour is viciously alive. It's s this sense of life that I wish audiences to take away from Nocturne.
10. What does theatre as a lifestyle mean to you and how does it translate to the potential impact of Nocturne?
Acting for me is in fact its opposite; it is showing up in yourself, with all of yourself, no part left out. Nowhere is this more potent than in the theatre where the courageous act is witnessed live by an audience. One man onstage, the audience as his scene partner –it doesn’t get more intimate than that. Showing up wholeheartedly, that’s a lifestyle I guess, but either way, it’s a pre-requisite for this type of work. I hope it is infectious.
This engaging solo drama will play at Alexander Upstairs (Alexander Bar, Café & Theatre) from 10 to 21 September 2019 at 7pm. The South African premier of NOCTURNE is by arrangement with United Artists. Tickets are R140 per person, with a R20 discount for prepaid bookings. Tickets can be booked online at shows.alexanderbar.co.za.