INTERVIEW: Phil Hardie circus performer & entertainer on his original take on the Frankenstein tale

I had the chance this week to catch up with renowned circus performer Phil Hardie just as he embarks on a tour with his original take on the Frankenstein story: Welcome My Son.

Frankenstein is one of the best-known works in the literary world, tell us about your approach to telling this story in a new way in Welcome My Son.

The Frankenstein story is timeless. The moral and ethical issues it brings up surrounding humans playing God have not only remained relevant but have in many ways become more acute. With Welcome my Son I wanted to focus on the issue of neglect and how it destroys both parties in the relationship. How in the absence of love a human will turn to hate perhaps as the only possible alternative, but also how our apparent obsession to master control over the natural world can lead to our own isolation and ultimately our demise.

Tell us about your role…

I play both Frankenstein and his Creature. I wanted to give the Creature and the neglect he suffers real substance and ultimately I have sought to cast Frankenstein as the true ‘monster’ as it is his selfish neglect that creates a cycle of destruction.

How much preparation and rehearsal time did you get before the tour started?

The final rehearsal period has felt very short. I developed the show throughout June working over three weeks with my creative team. However, before the tour we have had just three days to re-rehears the piece and get it tour ready.

How has the work been received so far, has it been different in different locations?

I have performed the first development/version of the show in three different locations, Edinburgh, Banchory and Dumfries. Generally, I think it has been very well received every time. However, my use of dialogue and more traditional theatre acting in such a physically driven piece has had a mixed response. Some people would like to keep these elements separate from one another it would appear while, gladly for me, some are happy to see the genres mixed together. As we set off on the first dates of the tour, I hope that the show is well received but that is still to be discovered.

The amount of physicality in your work is astonishing, and I can image it makes huge demands on your body, how do you keep your performance fresh/look after yourself when you’re having to travel as well as perform on stage at night?

The physical demands of the show are punishing. Eating well and keeping well hydrated are key. For years now, I have started every day with a pint of warm water with half a lemon squeezed into it. It really helps to wake up all your systems. Of course coffee comes immediately afterwards. Obviously it’s critical that I warm up and stretch well before and after each performance. On tour I have a fantastic technical team to support me and they help to minimise the amount of physical work I do with regards to load in, rigging the equipment and setting up the stage in order that I am physically ‘fresh’ for the performance.

Can we go back a bit and talk about what inspired you to become a performer and the path you took to become one?

I have a very profound and clear memory of going to see a traditional ‘Big Top’ circus when I was about four or five years old. It included animals, tigers, zebras, etc. I had no interest in any of this but the clowns that segued each performance captivated me and the acrobats; both aerial and floor simply blew my mind. I remember saying to my parents as we left that I wanted to be an acrobat and I made them hang around just to see if we could catch a glimpse of the performers back stage…we didn’t. In honesty it’s not that I obsessed over this but I have always loved testing myself physically and throughout my life I’ve pursued street skating, skiing, climbing, basically any sport that you’re competing against yourself. I began performing professionally using circus arts in my first year of art school and have continued ever since. I’ve used juggling, balance art, clowning and character acting and acrobatics to create performances and shows since the year 2000. In the end I felt I needed to push myself to try and create a full-length show which brings all this experience together.

Any advice for aspiring performers?

My advice for aspiring performers is deliver your performance with uncompromising conviction and your audience will be drawn in.

Finally, why should people come along to see the work? 

Come and see my show because it is a new approach to creating theatre which draws on circus techniques as heavily as it does physical and traditional theatre. It is, I hope, a true collaboration of the performing arts. You can see it at Platform in Glasgow on Monday (9 October 2017) and the rest of the tour dates can be found below: