Currently, Stuart Thompson is performing at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre in the world premiere of Christopher Shinn’s play The Narcissist, which is directed by Josh Seymour and is running until the 24th September. Earlier this year, Stuart was playing Moritz in Spring Awakening at the Almeida Theatre, which saw him win The Jack Tinker Award for Best Promising Newcomer at The 2022 Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards for his portrayal of the character, and he made his professional and West End debut in A Taste of Honey as Geof. On screen, Stuart plays Seb in this year’s release of short film The Bower, which is written and directed by Marco Alessi, and he is set to appear in the upcoming Series 3 of The Witcher. Stuart spoke to us about performing in The Narcissist at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre, playing Moritz in Spring Awakening and making his professional and West End debut in A Taste of Honey.
Can you tell us about The Narcissist and your character?
It’s very difficult to boil down but it’s about the intersectionality of politics, technology and narcissism. On a human dramatic level, it follows one man and the different relationships in his life and him trying to manage all of them and then eventually going combust. As we all do when you stretch yourself too thin.
My character is called the Waiter. It’s set in the fall of 2017, so just after Trump was elected, and it follows a fictional senator who’s campaigning to get in for 2020. I meet Jim at a campaign event that I’m catering for, I give him my card and then we text back and forth. We then go on a date and I go to his house, and we have this magical scene. I think, initially, the idea was that there was maybe a ten-year age gap. I did a lot of research into my character as a democratic socialist, as opposed to an establishment democrat. I kind of serve as Jim’s antagonist but I think it runs deeper than that. If we were allowed to see how the play goes on, or if there was a sequel, I think we’d see a deeper connection. Jim is bound up about sexuality at the point where we seem to open into that.
How are you finding your time in Chichester so far and how was it meeting the rest of the cast for the first time?
I love it! It’s a very singular experience and, as an actor, to relocate feels heavenly. It’s sort of like having a summer stuck in America because we’re all here together for six weeks. There are no distractions, you can be totally off grid from real life and just totally focus on the play and elevate all the work that we’ve been doing back in London. I really love it. Everyone in the theatre has been very friendly and welcoming.
The company are gorgeous, there are eight of us and we’re all different ages and backgrounds. It was lovely meeting the rest of the cast. As it happens with actors, there were lots of mutual friends and connections, but I don’t think any of us had met or worked together before. As a company, we are incredibly tight and in tune with each other, which obviously helps with the energy of the play. I feel very fortunate to feel so in tune with a group of people very quickly.
Was there anything that drew you to The Narcissist and what was it like rehearsing for the play?
Yes, I’ve never been professionally part of something new or something that I felt had such a relatable part of ourselves in this modern world. The scenes are interrupted and interspersed with texts. If somebody has a phone on the table and you’re having a coffee, it does interrupt and block normal conversation. I found my character’s stance and opinions and where he was coming from fascinating and I really wanted to delve into that. I couldn’t agree with all of it but I could understand and I wanted to give him a voice.
The rehearsals were great. It’s fascinating working on something new and we’re very fortunate to have had Chris (Shinn) in the room for most of it. We are discovering it together and figuring out the language we have in the real world and then the technology texting world. It’s been great. It’s really collaborative and it’s fascinating learning about the American political system.
What’s it like working on the world premiere of a Christopher Shinn play and how is it being directed by Josh Seymour?
Very cool and very surreal. To be at the inception of something is really fascinating. Again, it was great having Chris in the room to be able to refer to and ask ‘what was the initial stimulus for this?’ or ‘do you have a feeling about this?’, and he gave us so much room to make it our own. He said that he writes from an auditory place rather than a visual, so he doesn’t really see the characters as you would with fiction, and I thought that was really fascinating.
Josh is great and, again, similarly, he’s given so much room to play and be a true advocate for your character. He’s really there for you if you need to initiate a dialogue about something. At the beginning, we did detailed table work of the whole play, which was super helpful for anchoring ourselves the whole way through. It’s sort of a dream team with Josh and Chris together.
What are you looking forward to for continuing your run in the show?
I’m really looking forward to seeing people’s different responses to it. As actors, we have a job to do and a storyline to focus on and then it will be what it will be. I think the beautiful thing about theatre and the art is that it’s subjective, and everyone will find something and take it their own way. We had a few people in the room for our first couple of run-throughs and it brought in a bit of energy.
Why would you recommend booking tickets to see The Narcissist at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre and who do you think it will appeal to?
There is something in it for everyone. Each time we either work on it or run it, I watch the other actors in scenes that are either in the relationships or in the frustration with technology and how that’s infiltrated our lives and it’s maybe slightly bleak. But I think the play is also hopeful in the sense of it’s something we can deal with and we can still have fully-fledged relationships and get through it.
You played Moritz in Spring Awakening at the Almeida Theatre, what was he like to play?
It was wonderful. It was a part that I’d dreamed about playing when I was a kid. I didn’t know whether I could honour his story truly or fully, so it was a challenge and it was really hard. Obviously, I’m still right at the beginning of my career, and you’re dealing with such delicate and dark material, then having the practicality of a theatrical schedule which is eight shows a week… you do have to look after yourself. You also have to sing and go to the downward spiral that he has, so it was definitely a challenge. I was very grateful and honoured to get to tell his story because I felt very aligned with him and very protective of him by the end because I feel, within that story, he is very misunderstood. The adults are not letting him reach his full potential and that’s what leads to his demise.
What was it like being part of the cast and performing at the Almeida Theatre?
It was great and really incredible. It’s not very often that you get to be part of a company and an ensemble that are all similar ages and have similar levels of experience. We all felt like we were right at the beginning and that was right for where our characters were at because it’s all about discovery and exploration. Again, it was a beautiful company and it was a real privilege to be part of it because we were supposed to do it before the lockdown. I remember that first preview, when we walked out and there was a full audience with no masks and it was wonderful!
The Almeida Theatre is a theatre that all of the work they put on really inspires me and galvanises me as an artist. To get to do that part, in that show, with that company, and that director was just all the ingredients coming together.
Your portrayal of Moritz saw you win The Jack Tinker Award for Most Promising Newcomer at The 2022 Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards, how did this feel?
It was really, really encouraging. Obviously, it’s glorious to have your work recognised in any capacity, but the part was such a challenge and to feel that it had reached people in some way was great. Theatre is a real love of mine and I love all aspects of acting, art and performance. There’s something about it that’s magic, and the fact that it continues to survive after the pandemic. To be recognised in that way is so great and it makes you really want to go on to bigger things and to be given more challenges and to be trusted with parts that you maybe don’t even know that you can do yourself.
What are some of your stand-out highlights from your time in Spring Awakening?
There are so, so many but I would say the first preview because I remember it so viscerally. It was really something to walk out all together, after we’d started the show and finished the show together. It was very joyous, as much as what went on in between was a bit hard and dark, it was such a company piece. Also, again, we had the writer, Steven (Sater), with us for some of it, which was wonderful.
How was it making your professional and West End debut in A Taste of Honey and what was it like playing Geof?
That was wonderful. I don’t really know what I believe in with the universe and things like that but when an acting job comes along that you feel connected to, it does just feel right. I think, the fact that it was my first job and the part was northern, working class, queer, the play was a real seminal piece. It really felt like exercising my muscles a bit and it felt like a bit of extension of training for six months. Again, it was a story that I really wanted to tell.
Geof was great and he is really misunderstood. I played him for six months so you found new stuff all the time. I don’t want to speak for Shelagh Delaney (writer) at all, but it is written as quite reactionary. He has his name called and he doesn’t really get to stand up for himself. I’d never seen a relationship like him and the lead girl Jo have. What they have is so unique and I’d never seen it written down. It was so much fun to get to play with Gemma (Dobson), who was my Jo.
Can you tell us about this year’s release of short film The Bower, in which you play Seb?
The story runs dual storylines in modern day and 1991. It follows a character who owns a florist in London, and her best friend is my character Seb. They’d planned to open the florist together but Seb unfortunately dies. My character is HIV positive. They would go on a pilgrimage each year to Derek Jarman’s cottage, and that’s where a lot of the action is set around. It was wonderful and, again, a glorious experience.
Marco Alessi (our director) put so much care and beauty into the preparation of it. I learned so much about the AIDS crisis and the science and activists. I got to meet Jonathan Blake and he was really integral in learning about what it was like to be diagnosed at that time, and to be a young man surrounded by friends dying and nobody really understanding what was going on and trying to get answers from people. It was wonderful and everyone on it was glorious.
How did you find the experience working on screen opposed to your previous work on stage?
I really enjoyed it. I hesitate to say it’s a very different thing but it is a different thing in the sense of the technical elements of stage and screen are very, very different. The whole experience from an actor’s point of view is very different. It was lovely and very refreshing. It was a learning curve, and that’s what I’m enjoying at the moment. I hope, throughout my whole life and career, that each thing is a challenge and has a new set of things to try.
We understand you’ve worked on Series 3 of The Witcher, how was this?
It was really wonderful. Again, it was such a different experience. We were outside for all of my scenes and it was like Disneyland. You realise that each person is looking after their own thing and it was a great learning curve knowing how it all works. Everyone was really supportive. Also, it was so much fun because I got to knock a guy out and figure out how to do that on screen and it was glorious!
Where does your love of acting come from and what encouraged you to train at LAMDA?
I think I’ve always been curious about people and observant of different characters in real life. I find it so interesting because theatricality exists in real life, so when you look around, people are very unique. I started in dance and I did ballet from when I was five until I was about 18. When I moved to London for sixth form, my curiosity shifted into acting and that’s what led me to LAMDA.
Do you have any favourite films, TV and theatre shows to watch and how do you like to spend your free time?
I saw Jerusalem, with Mark Rylance, just before it closed and it was one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen. It was absolutely spectacular, I thought it was perfect. I’ve never seen anybody do anything like that on stage. It’s so frustrating because I can’t recommend it because it’s closed!
Film-wise, 120 BPM is a brilliant French film about the HIV crisis in the 90s. On TV, I’m watching The Office (the American Office), and I’m loving it!
I like to spend my free time at the cinema as I watch a lot of films. Or I like to read or be with friends.