David Hayman, one of Scotland’s most acclaimed actors tells Westender about his latest role at The Pavilion Theatre
By Tracy Mukherjee
It’s a blustery old Monday when I make the call to speak to an actor that I have genuinely admired and followed for as long as I can remember. David Hayman, ‘Star of Stage and Screen’ (well he actually is, so I have no problem using a cliché) has agreed to speak to Westender Magazine about his upcoming production Cyprus Avenue at the Pavilion Theatre.
Cyprus Avenue is coming to the Pavilion Theatre in February for a six day run. But this isn’t the first time David has been in this production. Such was the reception when it made its Scottish debut at the Tron Theatre last year that David’s performance was award-winning. After some pleasantries, it’s off to a good start as I call his play Cyprus Hill, for no reason whatsoever; I’ve done my research and have it glaring up from my note pad “CYPRUS AVENUE” – with TWO underscores. Things can only get better and thanks to lovely David – they do!
David, could you tell our readers a little about the narrative of Cyprus Avenue?
Well, the character I play is Eric. He’s a Belfast loyalist. He’s got an absolute undying faith in his culture, his beliefs, his ideology. He believes in the union, in unionism. And he is absolutely terrified because he thinks his culture is being eroded around him – he’s losing his power base.
Catholics are in the ascendancy in Northern Ireland. There will be more of them when they vote than Protestants, so eventually it may very well be a United Ireland. Which is his worst nightmare. But he’s so convinced by 30 years of the troubles in Northern Ireland that he has like a post-traumatic disorder; he’s losing his mind. So much so that he’s convinced his young granddaughter is in fact Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein Leader. He believes he’s infiltrating his family.
Now this is Theatre of the Absurd, not a normal narrative. It’s extraordinary; it is one of the most powerful pieces I’ve ever read. It is challenging, shocking and it’s hilariously funny! I mean the audience just howl with laughter in the first half hour. Then that changes, gets darker. By the end they are in a state of shock. It’s an extraordinary piece of theatre – I’ve never been involved in anything like it in my life before.
It’s written by the fantastic Northern Irish Playwright David Ireland and it’s played in many cities – Dublin, New York, Sydney, now Glasgow?
I would love to take it into the belly of the beast – Belfast. Belfast and Glasgow are the two cities that I feel would respond wholeheartedly to this play. It’s something we all have in common.
Living and growing up in the West of Scotland as you have and I have David, we’ve grown up with sectarianism around us. Are we able to find humour in it?
We have to find humour in sectarianism. We have to find humour in everything. Otherwise life is too bleak. I remember asking Fred McAuley, is there any limits to comedy at all and where you can insult? He said no, no – that must be one area of public life that has no filter.
It’s a difficult subject to cover, but as you say where would we be if we couldn’t laugh at it…
I think that’s why David Ireland has made it Theatre of the Absurd. The premise is totally absurd! His baby grand-daughter is Gerry Adams, is infiltrating his family and trying to tear it down. So of course you are going to laugh straight away.
You grew up in a working-class background, in Bridgeton, in Drumchapel, then working in the steel works. Sectarianism must have been all around you. How is it now playing a part like Eric?
It’s brilliant because you are given the opportunity to lance a boil, to hold a mirror up to your own society and say, ‘look guys this is absolute madness.’ We can’t keep going down this road. Where is it going to take us? I remember when the American documentary maker Michael Moore came to Glasgow and was being driven through the city and there was an orange march. And he said ‘They are dinosaurs. They are part of another age. They should now be extinct.’
So how do you find that, when you hear the audience roar at the absolute insanity of it all? When spending time on TV, in film, getting back to live theatre must be a real thrill...
It is, that’s why every two years I do a piece of theatre. I spend my life in front of a TV or a film camera and I need to get back to basics, because real acting comes when you are on stage in front of a live audience. Making movies and making television is a technical process, it’s a technical medium and you do it in bits and pieces and then join them together, and you have a finished product. Theatre is completely different. You rehearse for weeks to get the whole show working and then you launch it in front of an audience and it’s just so exciting. I mean your adrenaline is pumping. And to have that response from an audience is just wonderful. You know to be able to raise an eyebrow, to have a look, and they’re off. It’s just brilliant.
But (the play) it’s not really about sectarianism. It’s about any kind of blind faith or ideaology. It’s not just about Protestants or Catholics… It explores the deeper recesses of that kind, of those kinds of twisted minds. Living their lives with a blind ideology with no other means to sanity.
And with blind faith comes an inability to see the other side, an inability to walk in someone else’s shoes. Surely no-one comes into this world despising another side…
Nelson Mandela said ‘Every child is born to love. No child is born to hate. Therefore, every child that hates must have been taught to hate, must have been taught to be prejudiced, must have been taught to be bigoted or racist or sexist.’
Do you know there is a great moment in the play when I question what it is to be a Protestant; what is a Protestant? ‘I am just what I was told I was’ and I look at the audience and I want to go, ‘You are what you were told you were.’ And it’s only with a level of maturity, in our 20s and 30s, that we can reflect and say, ‘Am I what I was told I was, do I really believe in this, do I accept it?’ So it’s a brilliant play for challenging people’s blind faith. Make them a bit shoogly, make them question.
And it’s playing at the Pavilion. Which is not the usual kind of production that we see there, or that a Pavilion audience might expect. A different audience from the Tron, an audience more used to variety?
And that’s what’s exciting about that. It will hopefully bring in a different kind of audience. That’s what Trafalgar Entertainment (who acquired the theatre in April 2023) want to do with the Pavilion. They want to change the ethos. There will still be variety, pantomime, tribute acts, but they can also bring hard hitting plays like Cyprus Avenue. They are already lining up other productions to come in as well. I think that’s a really exciting move. I mean to go from a 225 seat theatre (The Tron) to a 1400 seat theatre. It’s hugely exciting.
And so, from a steel yard in Possil to our TV, movie screens, directing and a 1400 seat theatre! How did you make that first step to acting David?
I found it easy. I knew I wanted to be an actor. It was my subconscious that took me up the steps of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in my boiler suit, still stinking of engineering grease and iron filings. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world for me and once I started acting I thought ‘Yes, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’ So the rest of it was easy and I just see directing as an extension of my acting. You just have more responsibility, you’re still a story teller.
And with this new venture by The Pavilion’s new owners we could hopefully see more productions from The Tron Theatre company on the larger stage of The Pavilion. A new relationship with new beginnings. And what a way to begin David with Cyprus Avenue. The last words, over to you…
A brilliant cast, a brilliant play with everyone going to have an exceptional night at the theatre!
Well, who could put it better than David Hayman!
Cyprus Avenue, a Tron Theatre Production, will be presented at The Pavilion Theatre from Mon 26thFeb – Sat 2nd March. For Tickets click Here
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