Artist of The Month- April- William Mann






Despite been new in town, William Mann hasn't wasted any time. A former resident of Shenzen, William has already staged his one-man show twice already, and he's looking forward to performing One Man Shakespeare again next month. Find out more about his process, ideas and upcoming show!


1. Name, Birthplace, age: 

I was born in London and read Classics at Trinity College, Dublin. How old am I?

Nice try!



2. How does where you were raised affect your work?

There was no theatre scene at all when I was a teenager, not in the town, not in the school. I tried to direct a production of Othello for my final year class; I cast some friends and started rehearsals, but one by one they all pulled out under pressure from their parents to concentrate on their final exams. At University, I went to a few shows but didn’t like the style of the staging, so I stayed away. At that time I was concentrating only on writing my own plays -that’s all I had ever wanted to do - so acting wasn’t essential to me back
then. I was always interested in a more “aesthetic” theatre, shall we say - Shakespeare, Greek tragedy, Strindberg over Ibsen, for example. 

Political themes, social issues, current hot topics in theatre don’t interest me at all. As a writer, I prefer being alone and being left to my imagination, so when I wanted to try directing it seemed natural to me to begin by doing it alone through research.



3. Where did you train?

In books and DVDs. I remember watching Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet one night, and I hated it so much, I stopped it, went to my room, and started working on my own production of Hamlet! I read every book I could find about theatre, I read every review of Hamlet I could find on the internet, and bought every production of Shakespeare on film I could. For years I studied them. I went to Oslo for my brother’s wedding and loved it so much I moved there.

Then I got involved with an English theatre company there. I told them I had worked on many productions in England and I had a production of Hamlet ready if they wanted. They approved it but said I couldn’t be the actor,
director and producer, I could only be one. I agreed. I then played Hamlet, directed it and produced it. I was able then to put into practice a lot of the ideas I had worked on for years before, and I learned even more from
working with actors. The show was a great success and only after did I tell them it was the first show I had ever acted in or directed. They said if they had known that then we would never have agreed to you doing it. I said: I

I’ve been lucky enough to work with a core group of actors on two occasions: in Oslo (for 3 years) and in Edinburgh (for 2 years). We had access to a stage where we would rehearse together every week and that was a really great opportunity to experiment with everything! Also, I never really enjoyed the plays I saw at the theatre, for example, I hated the lights going out and then people moving furniture around on-stage while
the audience pretended they couldn’t see anything; fake blood, awful deaths -so a lot of things I saw in shows taught me to do the opposite.




4. What is your favourite style of theatre? Why?

I loved Greek Tragedy so much I went to University to study Greek! I also absolutely loved Japanese Noh when I discovered it and this influenced me a lot. For years I gathered everything I could find on the internet about it and
from books in libraries. All I had to work on were pictures and descriptions -YouTube wasn’t like what it is now back then, which actually was a blessing in disguise for me. Because I only had pictures and words for years, I had to use my imagination a lot to piece things together and imagine what it would be like, and this inspired a lot of ideas which I was able to use in my productions. When I actually finally got to see a full production of a Noh play, many of the ideas I had about it were absolutely wrong. So if I had started by watching a Noh performance I never would have conceived the ideas which I still use now.



5.  What was the best show you EVER saw?
I’ve never seen a Peter Brook production live, yet his Mahabharata I still watch again and again to this day! I know it’s not very original to say Peter Brook, but I have to be honest and say he is the director from whom I have learned most. 

Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet was probably the most influential one since it is the one that inspired me to act and direct. When I was watching it, I remember groaning at some of the choices he made but I thought - at least he made his own Hamlet, you’ve done nothing! So I stopped the VHS tape - yes, that’s how long ago it was! - marched into my room and started working on my Hamlet.




6. What was the best show in HK you EVER saw?
I haven’t seen any! But since I’ve been here a few months now I’ve managed to make friends with some people who work in theatre so I’ll be going to see their shows to support them.



7. What piece of work are you the proudest?
Probably my first play, Hamlet, because I had no idea what I was getting into, and yet I worked with a great group of actors (well, some of them!) and we were all proud of what we had accomplished. There’s nothing quite like the first time!

I’m also quite proud of doing Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello and King Lear in one evening. Other actors have done one-man Shakespeare shows before, but nobody has ever tried more than one play in one night, so I decided to do all four! That is definitely where I am heading now, I want to be able to perform all these plays together at any time and any place. Hamlet and Macbeth, I’ve worked on a lot. Othello and King Lear still need some work, they’re not quite finished yet. Unfortunately, they will never be as popular as Hamlet and Macbeth, so it is difficult to actually perform them alone for an audience.



8. What is your process like?

I think you have to find the perfect balance between the actor and the character. Bad acting on stage is usually an actor being asked to do something they cannot do. If you can find the actor’s natural groove, and
mould that into the character, you can have a far more successful interpretation.

For example, when I first directed Hamlet, we were rehearsing the scene when Horatio, Bernardo and Marcellus see the Ghost. The Ghost was invisible so I needed the three of them to project the fear and shock that the
audience should imagine. But Horatio just couldn’t do it at all. Afterwards, I went for a beer with him - that’s another part of my process, beer with actors! -and he explained to me that he actually believed in ghosts and that if he saw one he wouldn’t be scared, he would be happy. And then it clicked! Okay, we’ll play Horatio like that. It’s an interpretation which is still true to the character - Horatio is a scholar, what dark books has he researched! - and it was true to the actor also. In that same production, we had a Laertes who had difficulties when Gertrude tells him that Ophelia is dead. He just couldn’t get the right emotion, his face was all over the place! So I had the idea of him just sitting down and lowering his head into his hands so no one could see his face. It was perfect, it seemed natural and it made him more comfortable.

When I’m rehearsing alone, I practice my lines everywhere, and I always advise my actors to do the same. I practice them in the shower, while washing the dishes, cooking, walking to the shops, everywhere. You need to get the lines to you so they become a part of your body, so when performing them your body can react naturally to the words because they have become symbiotic. This allows a much more organic performance on stage - and stops it becoming stale, as you can move in a different way because it feels natural at the time.



9.     What is your dream project?
So many! I would love to do some more Greek tragedy. I did a production of Oedipus which I translated, it was ok but I would like to do it again with a group of 3 actors in masks, and a Chorus to the side doing the voices for
these actors who would only mime. The Oresteia - now that would be a challenge. I’d like to direct an opera, preferably Wagner. Hell, I’d even finally like to get around to doing one of my own plays!



10. What do you think about the arts and theatre scene in Hong Kong?
Since I’ve been here I’ve been lucky enough to meet quite a few people involved in theatre, including writers, directors and actors, most of whom have helped me already in some way. So I have to say I find the scene here very friendly and encouraging - everyone seems genuinely eager to help everyone else.


One-Man Shakespeare will rerun in May at the McAulay Studio, For more information, click here


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