Patrick Walshe McBride is set to play Ian Tracy in exciting new thriller, Blackmail at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester. He kindly took some time out of the rehearsal room to talk to me about the show ahead of its premiere.
MR: Blackmail was originally written by Charles Bennett in 1928, which later became a pioneering early sound film directed by Alfred Hitchcock – and now this is a new stage version of the classic thriller that has been adapted by Mark Ravenhill; so what can you tell us about this production?
PWM: This production is the premiere of Mark Ravenhill’s new version of the play that the Hitchcock film was based on. First and foremost, it’s a thriller, so it’s got all the suspense and danger and dark humour that made the original such a smash hit. It also feels really modern – it brings the play up to date and draws out themes that feel incredibly relevant to now.
MR: You’re playing Ian Tracy – what can you share about your character?
PWM: My character is quite a mysterious figure, but I can say that he’s an outsider, he’s had a fall from grace, and now he’s fighting for his life.
MR: What do you think it is about dramas, and in particular thrillers, on stage that has such appeal?
PWM: I love thrillers. There’s something about them that’s such an easy pleasure to watch: the suspense and excitement just carry you along.
I think there’s also something in us that is attracted to stories that make us face our fears, in the same way that our dreams sometimes do. And this play is very much like a nightmare – it has the same sense of breathlessness and claustrophobia. You can’t believe how things have turned out like this, and you ask yourself what you would do in that situation.
Finally, thrillers so often have great parts for women, which obviously has huge appeal. ‘Blackmail’ is no exception.
MR: There are also timely themes surrounding questions about women’s safety, how does this show cover that?
PWM: Hopefully it deals with the issue truthfully and in a way that will make the audience think and feel something about the character is going through, and what too many women go through. The central character is a young woman and although she goes through a lot, I think the play does a great job of giving her agency and letting the audience see things through her eyes. It’s also worth saying that the play isn’t preachy or heavy-handed; the issues really feed into the dilemma at the heart of the story.
MR: It is a small cast and team, and you open the show very soon, so how have rehearsals been?
PWM: Rehearsals have been a joy. There’s only four of us in the cast and we’ve become a really tight unit. We’ve worked together really well in the rehearsal room, along with our director Anthony, our deputy stage manager Emilie and our assistant director Mike, as well as the writer, Mark, when he’s been in. Working with such talented actors is brilliant because it (hopefully) helps you raise your game to match them. And it’s a pleasure to work with a director as generous, self-assured, and darkly funny as Anthony.
MR: Have you ever been to the Mercury Theatre in Colchester before, how are you finding it?
PWM: I’d never been to the Mercury before, but it’s a fantastic theatre. The atmosphere is so friendly, the people are completely on it and incredibly welcoming, and the building has just been refurbished, so the facilities are top notch. I love it when a theatre is really at the heart of a town, and the Mercury is a great example of that.
MR: You must be so excited to be back on stage – what have you missed most about performing?
PWM: Theatre is such a collective experience, so it’s lovely to be able to come together with a big group of people and share that. Especially with ‘Blackmail’, because I think it will really get people talking and arguing with each other afterwards, asking: ‘what would you do??’.
I started off in theatre but haven’t been doing as much over the past few years. It’s such a pleasure to be able to really dig into a script during the rehearsal period, which is much, much longer for theatre than for most screen stuff.
MR: Tell us why audiences should snap up tickets.
PWM: Buy a ticket to see if you can work out which one of us will be dead by the end. Or because the play will make you sweat, make you jump, make you laugh, make you think, and make you argue about it afterwards in the bar.
MR: Lastly, if you were to commit the perfect crime, what would your weapon of choice be?
PWM: Surely it would have to be a knife made of ice. Which would then melt away, leaving no evidence or finger prints. Not that I’ve thought about it…