Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Brian Ferguson - Playing Hamlet

One could be forgiven for thinking that Brian Ferguson has just seen a
ghost. As he takes a lunchtime break from rehearsals for Dominic Hill's
new production of Hamlet, the actor playing the title role looks
suitably haunted and not a little drained from the experience.

“It's so big to do,” a breathless Ferguson reflects. “I didn't really
know, as a part, what it actually meant. Obviously every actor knows
the name Hamlet and the character of Hamlet, but I wasn't very well
versed in the play. I haven't seen many productions of Hamlet, so that
kind of cracking it open has been mind-boggling, really, to get the
opportunity to crawl around inside it has been incredible.”

Ferguson won't be drawn on Hill's approach to the play, nor to what his
own interpretation of Hamlet may end up as. All he'll admit to at this
stage is that, as the publicity photograph of him backed into a corner
sporting a contemporary dark suit on the show's flyers suggest, “It's
not done in period, but we're starting from the text, always from the
text, and I think that's one of the things to discover about how
incredible it is as you start uncovering what the text is doing, the
pictures that it's painting, and what it wants of a scene in terms of
the relationships.

“We're playing with the form a fair bit, we're playing with sound quite
a lot, and we're being quite bold, I suppose, in how far out we're
going in terms of trying out ideas. So the world that we have created
isn't set in any particular time. There's no strict concept on it, and
we've kind of gone the other way, and are being quite imaginative in
how we are exploring it, and allowing it to suggest whatever it
suggests. I still don't know where it's going yet, but the flavours
that Dominic enjoys as a director are great for this, and are very much
the same places that I like to go as an actor.”

Ferguson thinks long and hard before he chooses his words. He doesn't
want to give the game away about the production, and, as he's already
indicated, he's probably not entirely sure what that game is yet. When
he does find the right words, they sound like poetry, and what comes
through them is just how much he is relishing exploring such a rich and
complex play as well as the equally intense character he's in the thick
of finding out about.

“The time Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, there were these big changes going
on in society,” Ferguson observes. “The chivalry of Elizabethan society
and the knights were giving way to trading companies. There was also
this big change in religion, going from Catholic to Protestant, and
going from God being almighty and powerful to thinking about reason.
The idea of Heaven and Hell was still very real. Heaven was up in the
sky and Hell was beneath your feet, and what that does to your
imagination, and how colourful and vivid that makes the world of the
play, is really exciting.

“One of the challenges of doing Shakespeare, and one of the things
that's most exciting things to someone like me, whose done a lot of new
writing, is coming into this alien world where there's no subtext. It's
all, all, all in the language and the pictures he paints with words,
and the journeys that make you want to go on. So it's a very different
process. It feels like a more physical process as an actor. Heaven and
hell are things that I don't have a connection with today. I was
brought up an atheist, and there are things in Shakespeare that, 415
years after it was written, don't mean as much, but sometimes you have
to make your peace with the fact that the words you're saying might not
be understood.”

This isn't the first time Ferguson has appeared in Hamlet. Aged
seventeen, he played Polonius in a Scottish Youth Theatre production.
It was while at SYT, which his mother had taken him to, that Ferguson
decided he wanted to be an actor. While at drama school, he made his
Citz debut playing bit parts in Stewart Laing's production of Mae
West's little-seen drama, Pleasure Man. His
first professional job was also at the Citizens, in the theatre's
former artistic director Giles Havergal's production of Frank
McGuinness' play, Observe The Sons of Ulster Marching Towards The
Somme.  After a year out of work, Ferguson came into his own in Davey
Anderson's  debut play, Snuff.

“I felt like I'd grown up a bit when I did Snuff,” he says. “I guess it
felt more immediate and important to me, which was important to me as
an experience and a compass. I suppose after a year out I had more of
an idea of what it was that I was excited about as an actor. The things
that I felt strongly and more passionate about had been put to the

Ferguson appeared in Poorboy's site-specific show, Bridgebuilders, in
Dundee, and shortly afterwards was cast in John Tiffany's production of
Black Watch for the National Theatre of Scotland. This high-profile
appearance in a show that became a phenomenon opened even more doors
for Ferguson, who went on to appear in Dunsinane, David Greig's sequel
of sorts to Macbeth. Produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company,
Dunsinane was one of several plays Ferguson worked on with director
Roxana Silbert.

Ferguson first worked with Hill at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh,
on Zinnie Harris' play, Fall, and The Dark Things, by Ursula Rani
Sarma. Ferguson has also worked on more left-field work, including
Clare Duffy's interactive piece, Money, and a recent stint at the Royal
Court with Tim Crouch on a piece about two conceptual artists, Adler &

Such diversity, he says, “It's my lifeblood,” and acting in general is
a serious business.

“It's about seeking a deeper connection,” he says. “It's a place where
I get to move at the pace that I enjoy moving at, and get to ponder
over things and play and discover things. It gives me that space, and
to do that with other people in that space, to explore and be in that
place together, that's the point.”

Hamlet, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, September 19-October 11.


Brian Ferguson – A life onstage

Brian Ferguson grew up in Glasgow, where he studied at RSAMD (now Royal
Conservatoire Scotland).

While still a student, Ferguson appeared at the Citizens Theatre in
Stewart Laing's production of Pleasure Man by Mae West, and made his
professional debut there in Observe The Sons of Ulster Marching Towards
The Somme.

Ferguson appeared in Davey Anderson's play, Snuff, at the Arches,
Glasgow, which was later seen at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh.
Ferguson also appeared in Poorboy's production of Bridgebuilders in
Dundee, and was one of the original cast of Gregory Burke's play, Black
Watch, with the National Theatre of Scotland, with whom he also
performed in another Davey Anderson play, Rupture.

Ferguson went on to act in The Drawer Boy at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow,
and, under Dominic Hill's direction, Fall and The Dark Things at the

Ferguson appeared in Earthquakes in London at the National Theatre, and
in David Greig's play, Dunsinane, produced by the Royal Shakespeare
Company, with whom he also appeared in Shakespeare in A Suitcase,
Richard III and The Aztec Trilogy.

Ferguson has also appeared in Clare Duffy's Money, and, at the Royal
Court, Tim Crouch's play, Adler & Gibb.

The Herald, September 16th 2014


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