Love London Love Culture’s Emma Clarendon spoke to actor Ben Deery about his role in the world premiere of Hogarth’s Progress at the Rose Theatre in Kingston.
Thank you so much for talking to me. Could you tell me a bit more about what audiences can expect from Hogarth’s Progress? The first play, The Art of Success, brilliantly captures the sense of manic, almost anarchic creative energy of Hogarth’s younger years, set against a vividly rendered backdrop of the London nightlife of the 1730s. It’s almost like one of his more salacious prints – Gin Lane, say – come to life. The second play, The Taste of the Town, has a more reflective and elegiac feel, as you’d expect given that Nick has written it 30-odd years later, and set it at the equivalent point in Hogarth’s own life. But it’s still incredibly funny and has a delightful sense of the bizarre at times. So what we have here are two plays that are terrifically entertaining and amusing, whilst also being packed with meticulously researched detail, that both allow the audience to reflect on the nature of how art is created and what it is ‘for’. It’s a pretty staggering achievement on Nick’s part!
How do you feel about appearing in a double-bill of plays – is it more of a challenge or enjoyable? It’s both really! It means we have to rehearse two plays in the space of one – but the rewards are fantastic. As actors, we all get to play different characters in each of the two plays, which demands some ingenuity and versatility, but is a hell of a lot of fun. And it will be really rewarding to take the audience on the whole two-play journey on double bill days – there’ll be a real sense of us all sharing in the telling of a story that spans several decades in the life of this extraordinary artist.
Could you tell me a bit more about your characters? In The Art of Success, I’m playing Frank, who is the secretary of the superbly-named Sublime Society of Beefsteaks – which is essentially a very opulent drinking society. This was a group of twenty four society chaps, who got together once a week to devour vast quantities of broiled beef steaks and get absolutely hammered in the middle of the afternoon. Frank is a successful merchant – I imagine him as the son of an industrialist, who took his Dad’s money and made a fortune in the early days of joint-stock companies. Every time we see him, he’s either drunk or hungover.
In The Taste of the Town, I’m playing a character called Zachariah Blunt. He’s a former East India Company infantryman, a veteran of the conflicts against the French on the subcontinent. He was sent home as an invalid after being injured in a bizarre accident. I can’t really say too much more about him without giving too much away…
What do you think audiences will take away from Hogarth’s Progress? First and foremost, it’ll be a really enjoyable evening! These are brilliantly funny plays, and Nick has found a really ingenious way of taking what we know about Hogarth and weaving it into the form of a compelling and satisfying story. But I also think they’ll go away contemplating the very nature of art and how we determine its value – whether that be monetary value, entertainment value, social value or cultural value. These feel like important conversations to be having at a time when the arts are sometimes in danger of judged as of secondary importance. I also hope that it will prompt people to seek out some of Hogarth’s work if they’re not familiar with it; he was an extraordinarily gifted satirist.
Was there a particular reason why you wanted to be involved with the production? I’ve never worked at the Rose and have often thought how much I’d like to, so I was excited when the chance of doing this came up. I’ve always admired Nick Dear’s writing, and it’s a thrill to be working on a new play of his. I didn’t know that much of Hogarth’s output, but I knew I liked it – working on these plays has only increased my enjoyment and admiration of his work. Ultimately though, it was the fact that the scripts were so great, and because I enjoyed meeting the with our director Anthony Banks and casting director Stuart Burt so much, that made me really keen to be involved.
Why would you say that people should come along and see the show? Fingers crossed, the shows will be both extremely funny and thought-provoking, and also quite shocking at times. It’ll be really entertaining, but it probably won’t be quite what the audience is expecting. I can promise you that these won’t be dry, dense period pieces. The aim is make them feel as vivid and as contemporary as Hogarth’s own work still does today.
By Emma Clarendon
Hogarth’s Progress will play at the Rose Theatre in Kingston from the 13th September until the 21st October. For more information visit: https://www.rosetheatrekingston.org/whats-on/hogarths-progress