When I called Canadian stage and screen actor Julian Richings on a Friday night just after rehearsing for his latest outing on stage, he was nervous, but in a good an excited way.
“We’ve been working on our own as actors, but now we’re just for the first time incorporating the musicians into the show,” he says, “and watching them struggle and try to figure things out is just a fascinating new part of the process to me.”
He needn’t be worried. The current production he finds himself involved in is one that garnered him considerable acclaim already. Richings, actor in such films as Hard Core Logo, Man of Steel, and Cube has teamed up once again with actor John Fitzgerald Jay, director Daniel Brooks and The Art of Time Ensemble for a remounting of Gavin Bryars’ I Send You This Cadmium Red (opening tonight at Toronto’s Enwave Theatre at Harbourfront Centre and running only through Saturday the 12th). A melding of music, visuals, and philosophical thought, the show was a huge critical success in 2011. But while there have been some changes to the show, Richings sounds positively thrilled to be back on stage to reprise one of his most widely heralded performances.
“It’s fun to hear all that wonderful vocabulary again and to be able to play with that,” Richings iterated to his previous point. “A lot of it is coming back to those rhythms and getting back to the way it operates, hence why those struggles are so great to watch and it’s so helpful. It’s back to square one in a lot of ways. Unlike a lot of other projects that I have come back to, this one doesn’t have a lot of grand dramatic moments that I can come back to. Lots of it involves us just talking about grand, deep thoughts for two to three minutes at a time. When it comes to those moments there’s a muscle memory that you can use to remember what to say, but you can’t always necessarily remember how to say it and convey it.”
Richings once again takes on the role of author John Berger, a writer and painter who enters into a series of correspondences with filmmaker and artist John Christie (played once again by Jay). The real life conversations between Berger and Christie had previously been published in book form by Christie, and it was later turned into a BBC radio play under Bryars’ supervision. When it was first mounted by The Art of Time Ensemble – already world famous for blending the theatrical and the musical seamlessly with every show – it was the first time anyone had ever attempted to do the show with live musical accompaniment.
The show bounces back and forth across over a dozen letters between the pair as they try to determine a project to work on, often talking about the significance of colour, light, and the human condition as it pertains to such matters. It’s not a long show, as Richings points out, but one that’s designed to stick with the audience long after the performance has concluded.
“It’s amazing to be able to do this again.” He says when I ask if it’s a role he’s thrilled to return to. “Gavin Bryars has such an almost abstract sound to him that it’s wonderful to play with and sort of gradually emerge from the material without having to hit the nail really hard on the head with the hammer. And with our conductor Andrew Burashko really gets and understands that. He actually has the musicians almost working like vocalists who have to play off of us rather than us taking our cues from them, which for me is a great feeling since I never usually get the chance to work hand in hand with music this closely. This year [on the film Patch Town] it was also the first time I ever was able to be musical and sing in a film, which is a weird experience in itself, but really gratifying because with music no matter what the medium there’s always something fun about being able to play to the back rows. This isn’t that particular kind of show, but the feeling and the nerves are largely the same.”
In terms of new things additions to the show, Richings states that the spirit remains generally the same as it did before. “There’s a new epilogue to the piece this time that wasn’t there before, so that’s entirely new to me. Plus, it’s always great to see it come together with the music, but there’s also a visual component as well that adds quite a bit and takes some getting used to, and this time it’s a bit different from the visuals we had previously.”
The spontaneity of the material itself, but not necessarily the writing or the performances, leads to an experience that can differ from night to night in subtle, but rewarding ways. “Ultimately, there has to be a structure that remains or it would all take on the appearance of a soup, but every night there are the subtle ways that I think the show can reverberate differently. There are always new ways to bring a different kind of energy to the show, and I think that’s what I like about it so much.”