David Burnett on playing Brave New World's Henry

David Burnett on playing Brave New World's Henry

3 December 2015

by Charlotte Bee

'Life is far more mystical, soulful and full of juice than what we’re being directed into.' David talks to Young Reporter Charlotte Bee about his role in Brave New World

Young Reporter Charlotte Bee with David BurnettI met David who is currently playing Henry in Brave New World. The interview took place in his dressing room, which was nice, as like I explained to him, I myself had not been in the dressing rooms for a year, since my own performance I did with my street dance crew FY Wings! It always feels very nostalgic going back to the Grand Theatre dressing rooms, as growing up, I performed there every other year, for about 12 years; so for me, the Grand Theatre is very special to me.

We had a chat about theatres, and how beautiful and ornate this theatre is, other theatres he’s performed at, what I did, and just generally got on well, which for my second solo conducted interview, put me at ease! He was a pleasure to talk to and his answers were so interesting, he clearly has an intriguing mind, so I thoroughly enjoyed interviewing David.

How would you describe your character in 3 words?

  1. Self-assured
  2. Ambitious
  3. Individualistic

What similarities or differences do you and Henry have, and how did they affect your approach to portraying him successfully?
There are strains in the characters when doing this play, which are incredibly individualistic, focused, driven and very pragmatic in a way. Human relationships are kind of pragmatic as there’s no love, there’s no hate, it's all about use and consumption, and I think we all have that. There would be nothing to play and no point in doing the play if we didn’t have a big part of us which is kind of greedy and just very hungry for praise, for status, for gain. There’s no genuine compassion, that’s the soulfulness that we have that sets us apart, as 20th century humans. I, of course, like many people in my generation and generations before, often sink into individualism, thinking ‘what can I get out of this person, what can I get out of this thing’. Especially when we have social networking, which isn’t an inherently bad thing, but it can make you very direct in your relationships with people, very calculated and it can easily become something that isn’t looking someone in the eye, and there’s nothing like looking someone in the eye and communicating with someone, and sharing yourself. So I’m a victim of that, and in terms of how that influences you building the character, I think you always have to work with your own apparatus. You work with your own vulnerabilities and you start thinking what does the character really not want, and for Henry, he just really doesn’t want a single crack to appear.

Are there any situations Henry faces that you think are present in today’s world?
Hell yeah! I mean it's not really a play of situations, cause’ the situation is just brilliant, the circumstances of the play for Henry are just, everything is there for him, so it's not a very tempestuous journey for him. It can be frightening, there’s not a week that goes by that I don’t see a headline where I just think ‘oh my goodness’, we could talk about many themes that the play brings up to do with genetic engineering, media, advertising, conditioning, but one thing that really leaps out to me is, talking about that kind of society of consumption and utilitarianism and what you can get from stuff.

You have to really cling on to yourself and each other because of everything now, like technology, is great but it can really switch you off, and life is far more mystical and soulful and full of juice than what we’re being directed into. It's very hard for us to escape from the deafening voice of the sensationalist media, from the kind of circus of politics, junk food, computers, ‘get a job’, the whole Trainspotting thing. I think we all face it, and the thing is, it's not like George Orwell's 1984 because we’ll go there willingly.

There's this line from Brave New World  'order, stability, happiness', and you look at that and then the way the media treats ‘the other’, the foreigner, the terrorist, the communist, it's designed to frighten you. You can’t live your life in fear. It would be all too easy for this world to come about because like Margaret Mond says ‘no one cares about equality when there are dirty bombs dropping’.

Do you have any special processes or rituals for getting into character?
I think you're constantly finding whatever it is for whatever you’re working on, for whatever character you’re playing. It tends to change for me; it’s normally music, just anything that your imagination gives you for free. I do the warm up before every show, just to try and get myself focussed, but sometimes you’ll do everything, you’ll listen to your music for half an hour, crouch around the back of the stage like a panther and glare at people, and you’ll go on and it just feels like it's not there.

Sometimes the magic is there, and sometimes it's not, so that’s where your technique is there as a kind of safety net.What I’ve found so far is, the best thing you can really do is relax and just be open and focus on what you’re getting. The moment you start really kind of searching for it and burrowing around inside trying to find something to string out, you get stressed and it’s not worth it. It’s so much better if you just open up, shake off whatever business you’ve got, and just get on with it.

Henry embraces Lenina on stage What was it that made you want to get into acting?
Lunacy, beautiful lunacy!
I never had any 'Road to Damascus' moment, and neither did I come out of the womb with a cravat round my neck crying how much I wanted to be an actor, I think it’s just the aliveness of it; it’s such an alive thing to do. It grew very apparent to me that it was just the joy of expression, and it really took me a while to just have the confidence to do it. I did it because I just enjoyed it for ages, I never really intended to get any money out of it. It was kind of a side track, but then I just enjoyed it more and more and it started to engulf anything I really had a focus on. It made sense to pursue that because it was the most enjoyable thing, and it's such a privilege to be able to stand in front of people and be in a room with them, and try and share an experience with them. I think it's awesome.

There’s no glamour and glitz to how I got into it, I was at university and studying English Literature, which was great, but it was very intellectual and felt very self-elevating writing these endless thousand word essays into the night. I realised that the genuine stuff is on the page, the genuine stuff is your experience to something.

What was it that drew you into wanting to play Henry?
Ah, I wish I was in a career where you can kind of pick and choose, that’s kind of a luxury that if you’re lucky, you get afforded at one point! Henry was so exciting when I first read the script, there’s something radiant about playing him, it's really joyful because most of the time he’s just there, he’s really immediate, he’s just having the time of his life, whether you believe his happiness.

His happiness is dependent on a lot of things. Is he genuinely happy or is he not? That’s a different discussion, but there’s a lot of joy in playing someone with swagger’, with charisma, who gets all the girls, and has nothing to worry about apart from people's opinions of him, which are almost invariably full of praise because he’s an Alpha Plus, the top of the pile! It’s lovely playing someone who’s absolutely top of the pyramid!

Brave New World premieres at Royal and Derngate, Northampton, where it runs from 4 to 26 September 2015. It then tours to Edinburgh, Blackpool, Nottingham, Cheltenham, Wolverhampton, Darlington and Bradford where it concludes on 5 December.