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INTERVIEW: Actor Maynard Eziashi on human bonds and core strength in The Dead Wait.

Maynard Eziashi plays wounded black freedom fighter George in the latest production of Paul Herzberg’s The Dead Wait. Run-Riot's Emily Shipp spoke to him about the rehearsal process, getting into character and what it’s like to act with the writer in the room.

Emily Shipp: How have the rehearsals been going, has it been a long process?

Maynard Eziashi: We've had probably about four weeks, or that's all we will have had all in. But it does seem very intense because most of the work is to do with the psychology of these characters. That's why for me it's such a great piece, you know. The play is set amongst South Africans in Angola, but what you essentially have is a human struggle between four characters. You have George who's the ANC captive and ends up befriending the private who's in charge of carrying him through the Angolan bush and they form an alliance against the captain, Papa Louw. It's about this triangle and then afterwards that's complicated by the addition of George's daughter who returns to South Africa.

ES: It sounds like a really intense play. What interested you most about The Dead Wait? ME: You're right to say it's very intense but there's also a lot of humour within it and that balances the intensity. What attracted me foremost was the idea that you had these two individuals, who, although they're on opposing sides, through their humanity find a link and through that link end up becoming... I don't know if you'd say friends, but becoming bonded together. 

ES: So it's very much about the human bond then...

ME: Very much so. Well that's what's so interesting. The most overwhelming thing you're left with is the humanity and as I said the bond between these particular three characters.

ES: What was the most challenging thing about playing George in The Dead Wait?

ME: Well that's the other thing; you have two challenges in a sense. Because physically the character of George is being carried by Josh. Although it seems easy enough, I'm being carried so I don't do any of the actual work, in actual fact I have to do a lot of work in order to make sure my weight is as light as possible, so you use your core strength and so forth. So you're doing all of that while appearing relaxed as if you're being carried and then on top of that you have the really complicated stuff with the emotions that are going on because George is seriously wounded and through the pain of that wound he reaches out to his captor. So you have all these contradictions and that's what makes it very interesting.

ES: Is that what attracted you to the role in the first place then?

ME: Yes, very much so. Because it is quite rare where you get to play parts which have so many different facets to them and George is one of those characters. George appears beyond the grave to the audience as well as when he was alive, so you're playing two different versions almost.

ES: Does the role of George feel quite different to roles you've played before?

ME: There are some similarities. Some years ago I was in a film called Bopha! which was set in South Africa so there were some similarities there, although the character I played there was a bit younger and a schoolboy but he was very much involved in the Apartheid struggle. And there have been some similarities with other characters in terms of them being involved in a different type of struggle.

ES: Tell me about working with the rest of the cast - what was it like working with Paul Herzberg?

ME: That was a revelation. I thought at the beginning that this could be quite difficult because I'm working with an actor who also is the writer. All kinds of conflicts could happen; he may feel I'm not delivering something right or that I'm conveying the wrong meaning and so forth. But it hasn't been like that at all and during rehearsals he's been very much the actor. And occasionally if we need to clarify things he'll put on his writers head and we'll talk to Paul as the writer. And we've been very fortunate - normally you're doing a piece and you have to imagine what the writer intended, whereas we've has the writer in the room as it were. So that's been great and he's a very generous man, so he's allowed us to go off and do our thing and sometimes find new meaning within what he's written.

ES: And is there something then that you feel you've added and built in to the character of George?

ME: Mmmm... yeah, I'd like to think so. I think it's like anything, you create something and you give it a life and then they take on a character of their own and you can't always control it. And Paul has accepted that. And I think he's loved seeing his creations come to life.

ES: It must be a real experience for him seeing this all happen around him, in a play that he's so immersed in...

ME: Yeah! I think it has been. He seems pleasantly shocked let's say!

ES: And what about the rest of the cast? How's it been working with them?

ME: Great, I mean we're really fortunate with this cast, they're all supremely talented. I just hope that I'm holding up my end of the bargain!

ES: They're all very strong characters and in that way I guess the play is infused with lots of different personalities that come from different directions...

ME: That's right, yeah. And what's been lovely is that we've approached it as an ensemble in that sense and we're all very united. So we've been able to put ourselves on the line without any fear that we'll be attacked or ridiculed and it has lead to great discoveries.

ES: One final question: with the character of George, and others, what do you do to get into character?

ME: That's a very interesting question. I tend to start by reading up about the history of where the character I'm playing has lived and where the actual drama takes place. So for The Dead Wait I read up about the Angolan war, I read up about apartheid. I was helped there obviously having played a character in South Africa during the apartheid period. So I did a lot of research there... I tend to do a lot of that background history, and then I build a story – my character's back story – I tend to imbibe that, and then after a certain point I throw it all away.

ES: Sounds like quite a process!

ME: It is but it's a lovely process, certainly if you love learning because you're discovering new things all the time and I love that.

You can catch The Dead Wait at The Park Theatre at Finsbury Park from 6th November until 1st December. Tickets on sale here.