Clint Dyer’s acting career has spanned over two decades and the full trinity of stage, TV and film. Having won various accolades including a Screen Nation Film and Television Award for his role in feature film Sus, Dyer is one of our most acclaimed actors. He also happens to be a skilled writer, director and producer; his directional debut being the first ever black west end musical The Big Life.
The rather proteus artist admits that being accepted as a creative as well as an actor has been challenging, and says that all of his working roles come from his acting. Returning to the stage for Robin Soanes’ new play Perseverance Drive, I am curious to know what it is about this play that enticed Dyer to take up the role.
In your own words, what is Perseverance Drive about and how would you describe your character Josh?
It’s a play that centres around family dysfunction under the watchful eye of a strict religion. While the mum was on holiday in Barbados she passed away and so the family attend the funeral in Barbados, but the rest of the play is all set in London. Josh is the prodigal son. After six years away he’s received with distrust and concern. Also worry and jealousy. There’s a little bit of sibling rivalry going on; there’s three brothers jostling for the dad’s eye. Madani (Younis- Director and Artistic Director of the Bush Theatre) has a very strong hand on the wheel. He’s been rigorous on getting the script to a well-oiled and tuned machine. Rigorous is definitely the word. I haven’t necessarily worked with someone before who’s so mindful of the writers.
It’s a play that centres around family dysfunction under the watchful eye of a strict religion and there’s a little bit of sibling rivalry going on.
So is it very much a typical family situation?
It is and it isn’t. It’s such a church household that everything is intensified in terms of rules and regulations of the family so there’s not much room for manoeuvre. So it does look at the hypocritical nature of having to accommodate oneself to a normal family life and be devout to the scriptures. That’s the heartbreak of it all really. That as a family they probably they could have got on, but as a religious family it’s very difficult to live under such strict rule.
Do you have any personal experience of religion that you’ve drawn upon?
I was brought up Catholic, so I’ve got experience of Sundays being taken up and having the bible in the house and trying to follow a religious path. I actually thought Catholicism was one of the loosest ones, in the sense that you can do what you like but go to church on a Sunday and confess your sins and everything’s alright again.
Did you ever find it limiting growing up in a religious family?
Limiting? Well, I’ll quote Marcus Garvey to you, “There’s as many forms of Catholicism as there are Catholics.” So no, but I can understand it under a family structure. I suppose what Robin Soanes (Writer) has done is created a normal family that has its issues, but having a religious overtone on it means the same things are experienced just more dramatically.
You started out as an actor. How did your work as a director come about?
Well the first thing I directed was The Big Life. It was a ridiculously big thing to start on to be honest with you. (Laughs.) It left me a bit frazzled. It had a weird effect on my acting because I started with such a success everybody immediately assumed ‘Ok he’s gonna stop acting now’ so I’ve had a problem over the years doing the balancing act of acting and directing and people accepting that that’s what I do. Which is why I’ve been very lucky to have been taken under the wing of the Royal Court; I’ve had quite a few commissions for writing and directing gigs there and am under commission there now. They’ve managed to keep me afloat as a writer/director while still pursuing all the acting stuff.
Clint Dyer (Josh Gillard), Frances Ashman (Ruth Gillard), Leo Wringer (Eli Gilard) by Richard Davenport
Do you have a preference?
No, not at all. It’s a weird one. It just depends on the story that I’m telling; there’s some stories that I only want to be in. Then there’s some stories that I want to tell myself because I have a specific spin on it that I want to express. I think fundamentally I’m an actor that writes and directs. Whether or not other people see it that way I don’t know, but everything comes from my acting in some way.
Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve been directing and wanted to get on the stage yourself?
Oh all the time. (Laughs.) I loved directing Kingston 14 but watching it I often though ‘Aww, I’d love to be up there now!’ The reaction was so strong and the parts were great.
I think Perseverance Drive is likely to be an important play in the canon of Black British writing. It’s not often enough that we see work that reflects our society. We have work that reflects black people across the world, but I still don’t feel there’s enough reliance upon English black storytelling. So I think from that perspective Perseverance Drive will be something that should entertain, enthral and educate and connect with a wide black audience here.
What interested you about Perseverance Drive?
I wanted to work at the Bush again. I worked there a while ago under Mike Bradwell and I was interested in the new building and the new buzz around it from what Madani has created. We were talking about me having my play Emergency put on there, and during the conversation he mentioned there was a part in a play he thought I’d be right for. Ironically that isn’t the part that I’m doing now! (Laughs.) But Josh seems to be the right part for me. I’m a fan of the Bush; I’m a fan of what his philosophies are and how he’s trying to push theatre in a slightly more even way. The Bush hasn’t been known for putting on pieces of work that pertain to Black or Asian British people so it’s great to see someone like Madani who realises that England is so multifaceted and we have our stories that need to be told as well.
Do you think there’s a lack of multiracial representation on the stage?
I think you’re asking the wrong person. I get asked that question a lot as a black practitioner and I’m of the mind that really what journalists should be doing is asking the play or film directors or artistic directors. If there’s a company or piece that doesn’t have any parts or jobs for black or Asian people, you should ask them what their feelings are on that. Ask them whether they feel that the balance is correct, fair, right. Is it how they want it to be? Can theatre sustain itself being like that? I’ve been in this industry for 25 years and I remember doing marches 25 years ago about lack of roles; lack of directors and writers, and we’re still having the same conversation.
Leo Wringer (Eli Gillard), Clint Dyer (Josh Gillard). pic by Richard Davenport
Obviously you had great success with the film Sus. Is movie work something that you hope to do more of?
Yeah, yeah; there’s always plans. Always trying. (Laughs.) There’s a few things circling that may land, there’s films in progress that have a portion of the money attached and actors attached, but you’re always trying to get that last piece of money and make it happen. There’s a few things that I’d like to see happen next year. I’m certainly still moving in that direction.
Why should people come and see Perseverance Drive?
I think it’s gonna be a great night out in theatre. We all experience to some degree the experiences that these characters go through. I think it’s likely to be an important play in the canon of black British writing. It’s not often enough that we see work that reflects our society. We have work that reflects black people across the world which is great, but I still don’t feel there’s enough reliance upon English black storytelling. So I think from that perspective Perseverance Drive will be something that should entertain, enthral and educate and connect with a wide black audience here.
Info: Perseverance Drive is at the Bush Theatre from July 4th until August 16, 2014. / book tickets