Entertainment & Arts

Thrones actor brings Dostoyevsky to Notting Hill

Image copyright Publicity
Image caption Dostoyevsky's short novel of 1864, Notes from Underground, is regarded as one of the early classics of existentialism

In Game of Thrones Harry Lloyd played Viserys Targaryen. In America he's currently on screen in the TV drama Manhattan and he'll shortly appear both in the BBC version of Wolf Hall and in the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything.

But Lloyd's immediate concern is his new stage version of a 150 year-old Russian novel - an adaptation he's performing in a suitably 19th Century venue in London.

Lloyd and director Gerald Garutti sit at a small table in a large crumbling attic several flights of stairs above a theatre in west London.

As they discuss their new staging of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground the last light of day fades behind them and we are left in something approaching darkness.

The gloom isn't artistic affectation but because parts of the large Coronet cinema building in Notting Hill are without electricity.

Built in 1898 as an 1100-seat theatre, the Coronet was used as a cinema after 1916. Until recently the intriguing warren of upstairs rooms was sealed.

Image copyright Publicity
Image caption The Coronet's audience will have to get used to part of the venue changing from cinema to theatre

The architect WGR Sprague also designed some of the West End's most attractive playhouses such as the Noel Coward, the Novello and Wyndham's.

The Coronet became a frail and forgotten cousin going quietly to seed in the suburbs.

Now the fringe theatre the Print Room, founded in 2010, has moved in from a smaller location nearby. It's an ambitious undertaking which sees the cinema's former Screen Two adapted into an intimate 100-seat auditorium.

Opening this week, Notes from Underground is the first production.

"In some ways it's the perfect venue," says Lloyd. "It has the feel of somewhere not quite of today's world. It's a fantastically evocative building to be in."

The show was seen in France earlier this year. Lloyd says that whole experience is now a jumble in his mind. "Gerald and I agreed on the idea and then it was just a whirlwind.

"A month later I woke up on Eurostar having somehow done the show. I'm not sure how it all came together."

Dostoyevsky's short novel of 1864 is regarded as one of the early classics of existentialism. It begins with the central character, a 40 year-old civil servant in Saint Petersburg, querying at length the point of human existence.

Image copyright Publicity
Image caption Harry Lloyd (l) has seen his career go from strength to strength and is currently in the Oscar-tipped movie The Theory of Everything

"I read the book at the beginning of 2013 and I was fascinated," says Lloyd. "Then I was talking to Gerald discussing how we could work together.

"His diary is very full so we knew it would have to be something manageable that we could achieve quickly.

"Gerald said well maybe there's a one-man show we can do - and I mentioned the Dostoyevsky.

"I was forced to think very fast on my feet."

Garutti is an established director in France who also enjoys working in English.

He had been impressed with Lloyd, now 30, when they worked on a project for the RSC in 2011. But they lost contact.

"And then Harry wrote me a letter - and you should know that Harry writes beautifully. I was really impressed with his desire as an intelligent actor to know where he is going, with all the international career he has now. He was interested in going back to the theatre but he thought a French director might give him a new perspective on drama."

Lloyd did the early work of adapting the Russian original. "I went to Paris and we spent two or three days talking and checking that we had similar feelings about it. Then I went away and wrote an overlong, waffly adaptation based on six or seven translations. I presented that to Gerald and he came back to London and we cut that down by a third.

Image copyright Publicity
Image caption The majestic Coronet cinema in Notting Hill is a famous London landmark

"Later in rehearsal Gerald pruned again and helped shape my script. We ended up with barely half of what I wrote originally."

Garutti smiles. "I have to confess that Harry wanted a three-hour show but that would not have worked. I was the butcher and we are down to rather over one hour and we're both happy with that."

The director's usual base is in Vaux-le-Penil, south of Paris. He's currently in rehearsal with the 180 year-old classic Lorenzaccio.

"It's a play about disillusion and failure in a way. So it has a link with the Dostoyevsky. The difference is that Lorenzaccio has 30 actors on stage. But every play has a different challenge. It's why I love theatre."

Lloyd has already appeared at the Old Vic and in the West End - so will he miss having a company of actors to play off?

"I think for me the company is the audience. They're the people I riff off and who come in and make it different each night."

He's decided that doing the show in such a hurry has ultimately been an advantage. "Time pressures mean you don't dither endlessly about the options before you: you get on and make decisions. Which is an irony as the story is partly about a man paralysed by life's options.

"My screen roles in Wolf Hall and Manhattan and The Theory of Everything all have connections between them but this piece is so different - I'm not sure I can even classify what it is. We have to make it entertaining on stage but really it's about finding your way through your life and finding a meaning."

Notes from Underground runs at The Print Room until 1 November.

Related Topics

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites