“The horror. The horror.” Heart of Darkness has had a powerful influence on contemporary culture. If you have read Conrad’s classic novel, or have seen Apocalypse Now, the seminal Vietnam-era adaption, the chilling story of a boat journey into the depths of madness will remain etched into your brain. We are thrilled to welcome Scandal and Gallows Theatre‘s 5 star production of Heart of Darkness to the OSO next week, for what is sure to be a voyage to remember. We sat down with Guy Clark, the show’s star, to discuss his inspirations and the story behind the production.
What does a staged production of Heart of Darkness add to simply reading the novel?
It’s an intimacy, I think. In the book you read Marlow’s words reported by another character. In the play, you’re in the room with him. He’s talking to you. Also you see the toll it takes on him. Marlow leaves for the Congo a bright-eyed young adventurer and comes back a wreck of a man. That’s something the play can really show much more than the book
Your Heart of Darkness is a 1 man show- how have you found the pressures of being alone on stage throughout the show? Similarly, what nuances of the novel have been brought out by it being a 1 man show?
It is still scary every night. For the rehearsal process, the weeks leading up, I forget. But then without fail the nerves kick in about 30 seconds before I have to say the first line. It’s only at that point it dawns on me that once I’ve started I don’t get to stop until its over.
The most interesting nuance for me is how rubbish Marlow is as a narrator. He doesn’t know how to tell this story properly. He keeps interrupting himself because he thinks that he’s doing a bad job, that the audience won’t understand, but for some reason he keeps trying anyway. There’s something really human in that, in knowing you’re failing but refusing to quit.
Heart of Darkness is now over 100 years old. What makes it relevant to a modern audience?
As Brexit provokes a great deal of enthusiastic talk about ‘returning to Britain’s roots as a global trading nation’ Heart of Darkness is a useful reminder of what European ‘trading’ really involved. More than that, so much of its content is still depressingly current. Institutions that treat black lives shockingly cheaply and multinational corporations exploiting third world countries are obviously not things of the past.
Finally it’s an intensely personal story. That keeps it exciting, I think. It’s not a grand drama, it’s one story told by one man who played a relatively small part in something far bigger and scarier than he knew how to deal with.
Aside from the novel, what are your other influences for the show, and for your performance?
Weirdly, quite a lot of what goes into Heart of Darkness has come from my comedy background. I do a fair bit of standup, cabaret, sketch-comedy. Unlike most straight acting, those styles involve engaging directly with your audience, talking to them, responding to them, just like Marlow does in Heart of Darkness. Though admittedly he doesn’t tell many jokes.
In one sentence, why should people come to see the show?
It’s an exciting, personal, extremely relevant story and Conrad’s writing is absolutely beautiful.
Heart of Darkness runs from the 3rd- 8th April. Don’t miss out on Guy’s powerful and emotional performance in this classic story.