I was invited to perform I Bought a Blue Car Today at the Sydney Opera House as part of the Mardi Gras Festival. I had previously played at the Opera House twenty years before with Victor and Barry!
I really enjoyed the shows here. I felt more relaxed and whereas the performances at the Lincoln Center in NYC were my concert debut, these were very definitley cabaret. The material was the same, but the atmosphere was different. I started to enjoy the interaction with the audiences and got more confident.
Whilst I was in Australia i went down to Melbourne to appear on Rove.
In June I returned to Glasgow to re-rehearse The Bacchae for the National Theatre of Scotland. I realised I had never really gone back to a theatre show before in this way. (I had done Cabaret twice but there were four years separating the two productions and none of the other cast was the same). Sometimes when something has gone so well the first time - and of course it probably has otherwise why do it again? - it is a little weird for new people to come in, and to try to rehash something.
However, what was great about doing it again was that the new people came in and instead of recreating they brought a whole new energy and approach, and it was actually really exciting to find new things in scnes that had never crossed my mind before. Also the director, John Tiffany, made lots of changes and tightened the show up and it felt like we were doing a whole new thing.
Cal Macaninch, who played Pentheus, brought a totally different tone and that made me have to think afresh. I loved it! Also I loved that we went to Aberdeen and Inverness in Scotland before bringing the show to NYC as part of the Lincoln Center festival. I had spent a lot of time in Inverness as a little boy as my Granny and many relations lived there, and I also knew people in Aberdeen too, so it was another summer of coming home. And then I got to bring it to my new home to NYC where all my friends were able to see what the fuss was about!
I love Chekhov, but this was the first time I had ever done any of his plays. However I thought of The Seagull often, and had even toyed with the idea of making a film of it set in a country estate in Scotland. I always thought that the Scottish temperament would be a good fit with the Russian one, and also we really understand what it feels like to be isolated in the sticks, longing to get away to the big city.
So I was thrilled to be asked to play Trigorin opposite Dianne Wiest's Arkadina for the Clasic Stage Company in New York City. Dianne is a brilliant actor and my first meeting with her showed me what an amazing person she is too. At our next meeting I met the director, Viacheslav Dolgachev, formerly of the Moscow Arts Theatre and I knew that this was going to be an extraordinary experience.
The thing I have always felt about Chekhov is that everyone is a drama queen. Really. Every singly character moans, complains, is self-absorbed and selfish. And I think that in the UK and the US we get Chekhov wrong, and make all the characters very tortured and internal, thereby losing any hope of making them the comedies they are supposed to be. So I was really interested to work with a real live Russian, as well as a Chekhov expert, to get a chance to experience how Russians actually go about doing it themsleves.
It was fascinating. First of all Slava asked us all to be bold in our interpretations but at the same time was incredibly detailed in his direction, down to the tiniest movement sometimes. Best of all was having several Russians in the room (interpreters mostly), and feeling the Russian temperament close at hand. There was no leap neccesary to see how these charaters operate when you watched and listened to the dramas and elaborate stories and the sheer volume going on in that room!
For me it finally made sense, and although the production had some problems, it certainly made people sit up and notice.
Here's a little interview I did for the NY Observer about the play..
Alan Cumming was excited to play a “real man” in the Classic Stage Company’s production of Chekov’s The Seagull. Mr. Cumming, the Tony Award-winning Scot with saucer-size blue eyes and a sly grin, recently played Dorothy’s scarecrow Glitch in the TV miniseries Tin Man and, um, a spacey scientist called Fegan Floop in those Spy Kids movies. (He also had a delightfully sleazy role as a gay nightlife impresario on The L Word.) But in The Seagull, he appears as Trigorin, a broody famous writer who woos Dianne Wiest’s character Arkadina and seduces a budding actress (played by Kelli Garner). “He just seems like a real man,” Mr. Cumming said over the phone, walking to Prana Power Yoga for his regular stretch after a recent play rehearsal. “He’s got everything, but he wants to destroy it. I’ve never played anyone like him.”
Mr. Cumming decided to take the part last year when the writers’ strike loomed and his agent was pushing him to sign movie projects. “All the films I was looking at, I was like, iiillck,” he said. Plus, Mr. Cumming, 43, had longed to appear in Chekov’s study of impossible love and creative torture—though he hoped to play the much younger, avant-garde playwright Konstantin (that role went, appropriately, to Ryan O’Nan). “The years have gone by and I missed my chance,” sighed Mr. Cumming.
B&w photo by Yelena Yemchuk for The New Yorker, others by Joan Marcus.
Even before its inception in 2005 I had been talking with the National Theatre of Scotland's artistic director, Vicky Featherstone, about going back to Scotland to work with the company.
It is very exciting when any theatre company is formed, especially these days, but for national government to found one is a really amazing thing. Also the NTS really benefits in not having a base building. It is a theatre without walls, and therefore it is not bound by the normal confines of where performances take place and where art can flourish.
It's opening piece Home was performed in ten different locations around Scotland including down the side of a high rise building in Glasgow. Obviously it performs in theatres of all sizes but also village halls, forests, on ferries and in airports.
Another thing that excited me was the breadth and scope of the actual work. Too often in the past Scottish theatre has been defined by its obsession with itself: a parochial approach that only rarely lights the spark that turns heads and ignites spirits. More often it merely reinforces national cliches and encourages self-absorption and jingoism.
So here is a company that is looking out to the world instead of into its own navel, challenging and inspiring, confident in itself and knowing it is only as good and will only suceed as much as it wants to. You could say it is a manifestation of Scotland itself, or the new Scotland that has emerged since it was granted devolution from the London parliament in 1997.
So, as you'll have guessed, I was very excited to work with the NTS. I had long admired both Vicky and her associate John Tiffany's work.
We toyed with a couple of ideas which didn't work either logistically or artistically and then they came to me with The Bacchae. I had never performed Greek tragedy apart from a few exercises at drama school but I have always been fascinated by it, both in how it has influenced drama through the ages, and also in how primal and basic and bawdy it is. I find that with Shakespeare too: it's easy to get florid and fancy with him but you're never far from a fart joke.
So the idea of playing the god Dionysus really appealled to me. John was directing; David Greig, an amazing Scottish playwright whose version of Casanova I had almost done in NYC with the Art Party was on board to do the adaptation. Also the production was to open the Edinburgh International Festival.
I had spent many Augusts in my youth performing at the festival, but at the much bigger and egalitarian fringe festival, never the official, posh, international festival! Victor and Barry cut their teeth there and came back to the Assembly Rooms many times. I also did a play at the Traverse in 1988, The Conquest of the South Pole which transferred to the Royal Court in London and was kind of my first big break. Also the first film I ever appeared in (Passing Glory), my first film as director (the short film Butter) and The Anniversary Party all had their UK premieres at the film festival (whihc used to take place at the same time as the other festivals) so I have great memories and connnections.
The Bacchae turned out to be a really amazing experience, both in terms of me going back home but also in terms of the process of wroking with John and the cast, and feeling really excited about making something which is ostensibly perceived as ancient and with little to say today into something dynamic and contemporary.
Here's an interview I did about the play and returning to Scotland for Scottish Television
As I was nearing the end of the Broadway run of The Threepenny Opera, I was asked to play Max in Bent at the Trafalgar Studios in London's West End. I had actually decided I didn't want to do any theatre for a while, but opportunities like this don't come along very often.
Bent is one of the most amazing plays I have ever been in. It tells the story of a gay man, Max, who is living with his boyfriend Rudy in Berlin in the 1930s. The play begins the morning after the Night of the Long Knives - a Nazi purge against Ernst Rohm and his SA - which effectively ended the decadent world of the Weimar era.
Max and Rudy are forced to go on the run and are eventually captured. On the train to Dachau Max is forced to beat Rudy to death to prove to the guards he is not a homosexual. Later in the camp he falls in love with fellow prisoner Horst, whose ultimate death makes Max accept himself and his homosexuality as never before.
The reason I think the play is so great is that audiences have a visceral reaction to it. It is a very rare thing in the theatre. It is of course a harrowing thing to play someone who is going through what Max goes through, but I used to feel sorry for the unsuspecting audience who had to go down the road to hell with him and are spat out at the end.
The play was first performed in 1979 at the Royal Court in London and Ian McKellen played Max. It subsequently moved to Broadway where Richard Gere played him. Ian came to see a preview with Micheal Cashman (who had played Horst in the last London production) and ended up coming with me and the rest of the boys to make an appearance at the club G.A.Y. and exhorting the throngsto come and see us.
When Bent was first performed it did a great deal to highlight the treatment of gays under the Third Reich, a topic that had been swept under the carpet for generations. It still is very shocking and because of the intense nature of its subject matter in all aspects, it is able to evoke very violent reactions in people. As much as it was ardous and exhausting, I loved every minute of it.
The cast were amazing. Maybe because of what we had to do onstage every night, off stage we had an absolute blast. The Bent boyz regularly reunite in London to party on. The oldest bent boy but always the last to leave was Martin Sherman the playwright (we call him the Sherminator), an amazing man with stories that you will not believe!
Bent really challenged me. Physically I had to lose a lot of weight (annoyingly I had bulked up a bit to play Mac the Knife!) and Ann Yee the movement director put us through daily boot camp that gave me muscles in places I never wanted to get them, and Daniel Kramer the director pushed me to places that were not very pleasant to go to but utterly neccesary for the rawness and the pain that had to emanate from such a story. I will never forget it.
I played Mac the Knife in the Roundabout Theatre Company's production of The Threepenny Opera at Studio 54 on Broadway. Here I am talking to the American theatre Wing about the play and the production and my experience of doing it. I think it's better to listen to this instead of me droning on in print. Hey, we're living in the 21st century people! Click here for aural pleasure
In early 2002, I formed The Art Party with my then partner, the British director Nick Philippou. Elle was The Art Party's inaugural production. Sadly it was also its only production - the company folded in late 2003 (coincidentally so had our relationship!)
Elle was written by Jean Genet, and had never been performed in English before. I wrote a new adaptation of the play from a literal translation by Terri Gordon. Elle was directed by Nick, designed by Tim Hatley, projections were by Peter Negrini, and fashion legend Vivienne Westwood designed the costumes. The cast featured me as the Pope, Stephen Spinella, Anson Mount, Chad L. Coleman and Brian Duguay.
This was an amazing experience. Adapting the text was really intense, as the play is not only a debate about existence, but also has some very contemporary themes about our obsession with celebrity. It's also a sort of love story and a rites of passage...it's an unbelieveable play. Performing it was amazing too as I had to be on rollerskates and also had to hide from the audience that my costume had no back to it until a moment when it - and by it I mean my arse - was revealed, so that was a bit of a challenge. I played the Pope as a very weary and crabby Eastern European old man. The cast were great, the space at the Zipper was beautiful, the whole thing was really fulfilling, mostly because we had made it all happen ourselves.
Joe Mantello directed Noel Coward's play about three friends who are in love with each other, and who cannot seem to stay apart. I played Otto opposite Jennifer Ehle and Dominic West. The play opened at The American Airlines Theater on Broadway in March 2001.
I'd always wanted to do this play. I've seen it done, but never felt the true meaning of the play had ever come out. It was always one of these things that annoyed me. I thought it was such an extraordinary idea for three people to try and live together. Even now it's such a daring and provocative thing. To discuss it in the 1930s must have been an extraordinary thing. I also love Noel Coward and I love the subject matter. I love being questioned in my life and doing art that questions preconceived ideas.
It's a really hard play to do though, because you ask the audience to go on a journey that ends with them not really liking the main characters very much. I love that notion, but it's not a common one for most mainstream theatregoers to experience.
Broadway Bares is a yearly institution when the theater community in NYC gets down and dirty and raises a ton of cash for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. It is one of the most fun things ever, both to watch and to be in.
This was my first year and I was not quite sure to expect, but they eased me in gently...
I reprised his role of The Emcee in the Broadway production, with Natasha Richardson playing opposite me as Sally Bowles, and Sam Mendes was joined by Rob Marshall as co-director and choreographer.
The production was a huge success, and I won the Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Theatre World, FANY, New York Press and New York Public Advocate's Awards for my performance. Not bad, huh?!
Well, what can I say about this? It changed my life. Somehow or other, the show and my character entered the zeitgeist of American culture, and nothing will ever be the same again! It was completely overwhelming - I had no idea what success on Broadway was like, and I had the time of my life. The first night I was so tense because I felt that everything was going to change and it did. I remember being so stressed out because I got sent so many presents and things and my dressing room was so tiny. I didn't think I was going to be able to get ready because there was no room. The stairs backstage too were all lined with everybody's gifts. It was excessive. I got really upset and had a little cry with Ron Rifkin. I was so stressed out because of the weight of responsibility I felt for what was about to happen, and so I went next door and had a really good cry with Ron Rifkin. And also on my last day, it was a lovely thing. All the friends I'd made in New York were there to share it with me. I remember trying to start the show and walking out on stage and people wouldn't stop clapping. I thought, My god, I'm going to be standing here with the band vamping for hours. Afterwards there were hundreds of people outside the stagedoor waiting to say cheerio to me. It was so moving. I'll never forget it.
The production opened at the Kit Kat Klub (formerly the Henry Miller Theatre) in March 1998 and I performed until September, when I left to shoot the movie Titus in Rome. I then returned to the show in December at its new home, Studio 54. I left the show for good in June 1999. Cabaret finally closed on Broadway in January 2004.