Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Archive Interview • SUSANNAH HARKER • The Little Black Book • 2003

susannahharkerpic1_2037x2037_634281082740581250‘I haven’t found or read anything like this for years,’ says Susannah Harker. We are speaking on the telephone during rehearsals for The Little Black Book by French playwright Jean-Claude Carrière, translated by Solvène Tiffou. The play, in which Harker appears opposite Paul McGann, is at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith in a co-production between the theatre and Coup de Théàtre. It is directed by Marianne Badrichani who, with Tiffou, founded the company to produce new translations from the classic and contemporary French repertoire.

Susannah Harker made her name playing Mattie opposite Ian Richardson in House of Cards on British television. The series made such an impact that it is probably the first thing we think of in connection with the actress. Her career since, however, has encompassed a great deal more and she is now back on stage at the Riverside for a play that has been done all over the world except in this country.

Originally a huge success in Paris with Jane Birkin, the only production of The Little Black Book to have failed was in New York. It was apparently a ‘disastrous rendition’ on Broadway which Harker feels had much to do with the American translation. ‘It’s very literal and the whole point of the play is that it’s very enigmatic and strange and mysterious and funny. You have to observe the enigma in it and not deliver answers, which they did, of course, in the States.’ Such material is what all actors need: ‘It’s so often not there,’ says Harker, who was supposed to be doing something else that had been delayed. Her agent said he thought she should do The Little Black Book anyway because she was perfect for the part. ‘The producer had seen me in something and had wanted me to do it years ago.’

The daughter of actors Polly Adams and Philip Harker, her sister Caroline Harker is currently touring with Rik Mayall in Noel Coward’s Present Laughter, while younger sister, Nellie, is training at Webber Douglas. Susannah was one of those children for whom acting was the only thing she ever wanted to do. ‘Of course, you can’t avoid being inspired if your family are actors because you’re so much surrounded by that world… any theatrical family will always advise about the pitfalls and that it’s not an easy life. They probably want to guide children to do other things. It was unavoidable, I suppose.’ As with most true actors, it is something she cannot do without. ‘I have to do it, I have to do it. It has to be vocational because it’s so tough, and it’s so unpredictable, and it so messes around with you. And the highs are so high and the lows are so low, it’s got to be vocational. You have to be tough in ways you don’t have to be for other things.’

I ask whether she has worked on stage with her sister. ‘Well, you know, it’s funny working with Caroline. I mean, we have a very close sibling thing anyway which is kind of complicated, as people know. I’ve never worked with her on stage. I’m not sure I could. We played sisters in something [on television] years ago. And the problem is that I found it very difficult to suspend the disbelief. Actually, Paul McGann, of course, has got four or five brothers and he’s worked with them and has found the same thing although he enjoyed it very much. But I found it particularly with Caroline because there’s eleven months between us. I found it really difficult just to make that little leap. I kept looking at her and thinking of “I saw her when she was twelve!” I can’t kick that. But of course, if the right thing came up, it would be wonderful. It would have to be so right, you know, and strong. No, I’d love to do something with her and my Mum and my Dad. A family thing.’

Harker’s training at the Central School of Speech and Drama from the age of eighteen was cut short when she was picked for a television drama called The Fear. This took her down an unexpected path. ‘I suppose at the time [that] Shakespeare was my thing which, of course, I haven’t done any of! That was my strength when I was at drama school, that’s where I thought I was headed. I thought I’d probably be going to the RSC and things, so it rather took me by surprise when I went into a very different kind of career.’ Having come from theatre actors, she had expected to go into theatre and to be ‘that kind of an actor’. But the later House of Cards was certainly the big turning point: ‘That was the thing, yes, that gave me a different place, gave me better prospects.’

Harker considers herself fortunate. ‘I’ve had the odd lucky break come along,’ she says, acknowledging just how much luck and timing come into it. She stresses that timing is why The Little Black Book feels so wonderful. ‘It’s a very lucky job to be involved with because it’s such a rare jewel.’

Her enthusiasm for the play is palpable though it is virtually impossible for her to describe her character. Is the stranger who enters Jean-Jacques’s flat a squatter, a psychopath or a woman from his past? Harker explains: ‘You can’t describe her and I know when we went to see Jean-Claude Carrière in Paris to talk about it, he very much said he understands the man but he could not give any answers for the woman. It’s actually very important to maintain, which is very frustrating in interviews because people say, so come on, tell me, who is she, and I sort of can’t and I don’t want to. She’s symbolic, she’s a metaphor, the whole play is a metaphor for me. I know what I’m doing with it and I will stick with that and see what comes out. So I can’t say who she is.’

The trip to Paris revealed the source of Carrière’s inspiration. ‘When he was a bachelor living in Paris, a cat just broke into his flat and did that thing that cats do of moving in. And he tried everything, everything he possibly could to get rid of this cat, which is what happens with this woman, and she doesn’t go, and this cat wouldn’t leave. And eventually, of course, his heart is won over and he’s completely seduced by the cat. And he takes it over, and accepts it and feeds it. And then it leaves. And he had extraordinary cats in his house – a pure white one and a pure black one – and it was so interesting. [The play has] got a feline thing which I think is a female thing as well. It’s about male and female, it’s about men and women. And it’s about relationships and love. It’s about the human condition and searching.’

The play is also funny. ‘Some of it we find very difficult to do without laughing. I hope that [the audience] laugh and it’s not just us who find it funny which can often be the case, as you know. You get out there and you think “here is that big comedy moment” and it’s complete silence!’

The conversation turns to congestion charging and war on Iraq; it is clear that rehearsals are proving a ‘welcome distraction’. ‘I’m so absorbed in this play – there’s too much to learn!’ Other people’s work has also been absorbing her and she is full of praise for the recent production ofThrough the Leaves at Southwark Playhouse with Simon Callow and Ann Mitchell. ‘Absolutely wonderful,’ she says. ‘It’s a two-hander which is good for us because it gave us the inspiration but in a very different style. And they [Callow and Mitchell] talked about the unique relationship that you have in a two-hander, the trust that’s needed.’ I reminded her of all those trust exercises at drama school: ‘No, I will catch you!’

If Harker had not had a burning ambition to tread the boards, she thinks she might have become an archaeologist. ‘I always say archaeologist, rather grandly, and I don’t know why I say that but I’m interested in old things and digging things up and history. But I know it’s a lot more academic than that and I don’t really think I could have put up with so many years. But something like that, something to do with history.’ She is also, not surprisingly, fascinated by psychology. ‘The more I do, the more I realize that eighty per cent of acting is psychology, and applying that. And the rest is technique etcetera.’

There can be no doubt that the London première of The Little Black Book is something Susannah Harker is thrilled to be doing. Archaeology’s loss is acting’s gain.

Sarah Vernon © 2003

Originally published on R&V25-02-03

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Life with an Illness

*Tips and tricks on how to get through life when you have a chronic illness*

The poor side of life

EXPOSING CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY.EXPOSING THE GOVERNMENTS WAR AGAINST THE POOR.FIGHTING FOR BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS. SANCTIONS KILL.

For the Love of Art

Create, Explore, and Discover, Every Day.

Politics and Insights

Public interest issues, policy, equality, human rights, social science

IWtheatre

Supporting the rich amateur theatre scene on the Isle of Wight

Robin Hoskyns Nature Photography - Blog

Images and stories of nature, science and conservation.

Sarah Ditum

Writing, etc.

The Müscleheaded Blog

"Nothing Exceeds Like Superfluous Jejunity "

Jots from a Small Apt.

Largely @ Liberty

Rethinking Life

Art and the philosophy of life

Croatia, the War, and the Future

Ina Vukic - Croatia: people, politics, history, economy, transition from communism to democracy

lynz real cooking

lynz real life

Pride's Purge

an irreverent look at UK politics

Pride's Purge

an irreverent look at UK politics

Tropical Affair

Observations of the illusion through the eyes of wonder...

barneyhoskyns.com

The home of writer Barney Hoskyns' books, poems, photos and more.

Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life

Blog magazine for lovers of health, food, books, music, humour and life in general

I didn't have my glasses on....

A trip through life with fingers crossed and eternal optimism.

Left Handed Lottie

Drawing and painting on an ipad

Atelier 88

More than just rooms

The Sleeping Hare

Art by Lottie Nevin

Pacific Paratrooper

This WordPress.com site is Pacific War era information

beetleypete

The musings of a Londoner, now living in Norfolk

Vegan Books For Children

books from Little Chicken, Honestly Books and Violet's Vegan Comics

Catherine Meyrick

Historical Fiction with a touch of Romance

Silver Screenings

an irreverent blog of old movies

My Life as an Artist (2)

Smile! You’re at the best WordPress.com site ever

Violet's Vegan Comics

Virtual Vegan Comics for Children

Two Rooms Plus Utilities

Written from the heart, this is the unadulterated truth of live with multiple chronic illnesses and being housebound. My life open for you to follow. Please join me

kickingthecat

How current policy is little more than kicking the cat....

Matt's History Blog

Hopefully interesting snippets and thoughts

David Hencke

Westminster and Whitehall news investigations

Notes from the U.K.

Exploring the spidery corners of a culture and the weird stuff that tourist brochures ignore.

BRIDGET WHELAN writer

August is archive month. Posts from the past

P.A. Moed

Creative Exploration in Words and Pictures

creartfuldodger

collage/mixed media artist

My Dad Is A Goldfish

Caring for a demented dad

Scope's Blog

Scope exists to make this country a place where disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. Until then, we'll be here.

Art Farm of a Country Woman

Painting My World with My Heart

e-Tinkerbell

Literature, books , sport and whatever intrigues me

AT A GENTLE PACE - Bridget Whelan's lifestyle travel blog

for people who would try anything except whitewater rafting (probably)

reviewdonkey

My personal opinions about.......stuff (as if you care!)

A Teacher's Reflections

Thirty Years of Wonder

The Theatre Guild Newsletter

Celebrating 98 years on Broadway!

Pen and Pension

Immerse yourself in Georgian and Regency England

%d bloggers like this: