It’s late in the afternoon on a weekday. I review the limited information that I am able to accumulate about my interviewee prior to our conversation – listed on his profile is only his vocal range: Bottom C to Top C, Strong Falsetto. Additional efforts at investigative journalism produce only a demonstration of impressive schooling in jazz, ballet and tap. A young actor whose previous accreditations feature Legally Blonde, and whose most recent role was that of C.C White in the West End Production of Dreamgirls, I am expecting an exciting and excitable character. A single ring and he answers; my suspicions are confirmed.
However, while enthusiastic, he does not greet me with the quintessentially musical theatre-esque soprano C that I had anticipated. Contrary to my prediction, I am greeted by dulcet tones posited more on the lower C end of the spectrum, a pleasant and collected voice more applicable to the title character of Christopher Marlowe’s dark sixteenth century Elizabethan tragedy. Containing a foundation in Germany folklore, the original work, entitled ‘The Historie of the Damnable Life, and Deserved Death, of Doctor John Faustus’ explores a scholar’s transactions with the Devil as a consequence of his insatiable lust for omnipotence. The price of this exchange? His soul. Interested to learn how and why Liburd made the transition from comedy to tragedy, I ask him a few questions.
Why did you commit to portraying such a challengingly wicked and unpleasant role?
“Faustus is pretty complex – the character is one who possesses a thirst for both knowledge and power, but one which is not inherently evil. He is only a man, so it is the promise of power that corrupts him, but his attraction to power is quite understandable” reasons Liburd, justifying Faustus’ quest for knowledge as impressive instead of worth condemning. He continues to explain, repeating “Faustus is only a man,” and that “as a man wanting more, the theme of greed for power is not outdated but rather still relevant to today and I find that interesting”. His response encourages me to re-evaluate my position that Dr. Faustus is too traditional in its concepts to be adapted to culture today. I pause only momentarily to reflect before I offer my approval, for the passion demonstrated by this man for his role is as impressive as his response itself. It is apparent that he understands the social and cultural context in which this play was crafted, certainly recollecting the history to an extent with which he is able to cultivate a character that retains the concept of the title role while being advertised to me as innovative and fresh.
To what extent have you communicated with the other members of this project to establish a collective vision?
His response is immediate. “The entire process has been extremely collaborative, each person involved listens to one another and shares ideas.” When prompted to provide an insight into his relationship with Lucifer, a key character with whom he interacts throughout, he states, “In the way that we portray the story, Lucifer evolves as a friend to Faustus, as opposed to an evil and un-relatable character. One must remember that Lucifer originates from Faustus initially, originating as the manifestation of his desires. Such a relationship formulated in an unfavourable condition is quite susceptible to becoming toxic, but it is not so in our play,” Liburd assures us. Despite portraying the devil, I’m told that the version presented by the performance of his co-star is both human-like and relatable rather than a “crazy larger than life spirit” at the request of the director, so it appears that the work of the senior creative team too has significantly impacted the manner in which the characters have been constructed. While it is suggested to me that the artistic director, Anna Coombs, has been critical in directing the development of Faustus’ character, I interpret that it is perhaps beneficial that the executive director of the company, Deborah Baddoo – who is producing this piece – is also a performer and choreographer in her own right. With such a creative team providing support to Liburd, I imagine that this is a work by lovers of theatre for lovers of theatre.
Who is Dr. Fautus, a magician or scientist?
He hesitates. “That’s an interesting question, um…” Yet even as I catch him unprepared, with the skill of a professional, he is quick to recover. “I think that while he initially begins as a scientist, he yearns to be a magician, and he certainly is by the end… I think.” This is his nonchalant answer, his amusement audible as he laughs. The answer does not sound rehearsed, for it is not. The same is true of his previous answers, for the entire conversation thus far has remained a discussion among two individuals with a love for an old folklore. Unlike so many interviews I’ve conducted in the past, whereby answers have been calculated and confirmed pre-interview, the answers I receive are his own, assuring me that his performance too will be his own – albeit influenced by the individuals formally credited – and causing me to wonder how Liburd will transform the old German myth into a contemporary character.
Regarding the production aspect of the play itself, how does the company hope to incorporate and translate the indispensable elements of the supernatural into the play?
“Tricks of the trade,” he responds, providing no further elaboration. When pressed for a more detailed explanation, he claims he does not want to lose the “magic” of the performance; that the only way to find out would be be for me to attend said show. With the promise of a musical revitalisation of a classic story, attend I shall. Tangle, who identify themselves as an African Caribbean Theatre Company operating in southwest England, features the work of artists of African, Caribbean and additional minority ethnic heritages. With support from the Arts Council England Southwest as a National Portfolio Organisation, Tangle’s mission statement includes ambitions to exhibit diverse cultures in the interest of improving cultural understanding through theatre. This objective is particularly pertinent as the company primarily operates across the southwest, the UK’s most rural region where there exists limited multiculturalism. Completely in awe and support of their aim to educate through entertainment, I therefore cannot wait to see this celebration of black and minority ethnic theatre and talent, and await as eagerly as Joshua did my phone call.
Following an opening run at Exeter’s Bike Shed Theatre, Tangle is currently touring the southwest as part of a UK tour, which terminates in London’s Arcola Theatre.