Lucian Msamati talks about Toof, Iago and the RSC

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015 by Tricycle

Lucian Msamati stars as Archbishop Tardimus Toof in our current World Premiere production of Marcus Gardley’s A Wolf In Snakeskin Shoes, before which he made headlines with an ‘outstanding’ performance (The Guardian) as the first Black actor to play Othello’s nemesis Iago at the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Left to right: Michelle Bonnard, Ayesha Antoine, Lucian Msamati, Wil Johnson and Karl Queensborough. Photo: Mark Douet

We spoke to Lucian about his time at the RSC, and how he made the transition from playing the villain in a Shakespeare tragedy to playing a villain in an adapted Molière comedy. This is what he had to say…

What is it like working at the RSC? This is, in all honesty a very frustrating question to try and answer — and that is not to pooh-pooh the question! — it’s frustrating because I don’t know whether there is ever a satisfying or insightful way to put another at the heart of that experience. It would be like me asking Cristiano Ronaldo, ‘What’s it like playing for Real Madrid?’ What does he say, ‘It’s cool!’ ‘It’s fantastic!’. It is not as if those answers are ‘wrong’. But for me? Not entirely satisfactory (And just to be clear, I am not comparing myself to Ronaldo; we are the same height and that’s it.) For one thing this is my job as well as my passion so I don’t ‘change’ or ‘adapt’ who I am or what I do to suit the company I happen to be employed by at any given time. On the other hand, of course there is obvious excitement when you’re playing for one of the ‘Big Un’s’. But when it comes down to it? The really noticeable and notable contrast is always practical. The bigger companies seem to have more of the two things most of us perhaps crave: time and money. There is a certain security in that; there is a big difference in having four weeks to mount a production and having twelve weeks; a massive difference. But it doesn’t lessen the pressure! It is the difference between reading a book by a renowned scholar and being able to fly the author over to speak to you in person. That is fantastic! And cool! But either way you still have to get down and do the work: rehearse, learn lines, adapt, absorb, finesse, create and repeat.

Transitioning from ‘Iago’ to ‘Toof’ was quite straightforward. I was incredibly privileged and proud to have had a director and fellow cast at the RSC full of trust, respect, intelligence, fun, grit and camaraderie. It made it easier to shake off the darkness and intensity of that particular character. I have been blessed to walk into a very similar situation with ‘Wolf’: many fine folk that I have had the privilege of playing alongside before. Other than Karl, I have worked with everyone else before; that really is a blessing to be treasured and allows us all to take the material much further.

But actually? Iago and Toof are not that dissimilar: they’re both frustrated by their position in life; they both feel they’re worth much, much more; they both have marital issues; they’re both witty, insightful and resourceful but turn their ire in the wrong direction; they both see the audience as their confidante/accomplice. But the biggest split (other than the fact that Iago is very good at killing his way through certain problems) for me is that when faced with their moment of reckoning, Toof confesses his full, dark and ugly truth to the world. Does it absolve him? Not necessarily. But we perhaps understand his motivation a tiny bit more. But in the same moment, in a parallel universe, Iago keeps quiet; we see and perceive glimpses of what that mania is, but in the end, it is possible to understand why people don’t entirely ‘get’ him. Maybe they ought to share a cell — but not in my head, thank you very much!

A Wolf In Snakeskin Shoes by Marcus Gardley is on stage at the Tricycle Theatre until Saturday 14 November. Book your ticket today!

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