With The Boys in the Band production showing its last few performances at Park Theatre, we caught up with Islington resident Mark Gatiss to talk about his character, Harold, Doctor Who and the cult popularity of Sherlock. He tells us why The Boys in the Band will always pack a powerful punch and lets us in on his creative screenwriting process
Words: Rachel Mantock
Renowned for his acting and witty screenwriting, including his involvement in the acclaimed Sherlock series, Mark Gatiss is currently starring in the first major production of Mart Crowley’s play, The Boys in the Band, as the sharp and satirical Harold. Describing his character and considering how he differs from his former roles, Gatiss says: ‘He’s a very acerbic, acidic, funny man with a rather sad core. I’ve never played any former ice skaters before! It’s a great part in a great play that’s funny, nasty, melancholy and challenging.’
It changed my life as it’s a very unflinching depiction of homosexuality, very controversial in its day and particularly in the years following
He reveals that he first saw the play when he was about 12 years old and it had a profound, lasting effect on him. ‘It changed my life as it’s a very unflinching depiction of homosexuality, very controversial in its day and particularly in the years following,’ he explains. ‘I wanted to do this for precisely that reason. It’s such an interesting piece historically and, even now, it still has an awful lot to say.’
It’s a timely reminder of how good an actor he is, particularly considering it’s his writing that has been garnering all the praise recently. Co-creating the Sherlock TV series with fellow Doctor Who screenwriter Steven Moffat has been a deeply rewarding experience for them both, with the fourth series currently in production, slated for a 2017 release.
Nominated for multiple BAFTA, Emmy and Golden Globe prizes, the show won in three categories at the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards, including the ‘Outstanding Lead Actor’ sub section, where Benedict Cumberbatch was honoured for his clever and compelling performance as Sherlock Holmes.
‘Moffat and I both loved Sherlock Holmes and on one particular train journey it occurred to me that in the very first Conan Doyle story, Dr Watson is invalided home from war service in Afghanistan and we thought, “why don’t we just do it again in the modern day?” So that’s how it all began.’
My favourite piece is An Adventure in Space and Time, which is the story of how Doctor Who began, writing that was one of my happiest experiences
Gatiss has been intrigued by Doctor Who since he was a child and dedicated a great deal of his early writing career to producing remarkable pieces for the series. It’s no wonder, then, that his favourite piece of screenwriting to date was part of a Doctor Who project. ‘My favourite piece is An Adventure in Space and Time, which is the story of how Doctor Who began,’ he says. ‘I wrote it a few years ago for the show’s 50th anniversary. Writing that was one of my happiest experiences.’
When asked if he found writing for a show as complex as Doctor Who difficult, he explains that although the show appears to be ‘crazy and something in which anything goes’, he loves doing it regardless. ‘It’s quite rigorous as far as a story that has to be told in 45 minutes goes,’ he adds.
With a deep rooted love of all things film, TV and theatre, if he had to choose one right now, it would be the latter. Referring to being part of the cast of The Boys in the Band in particular, he says: ‘Film, TV or theatre? I love them all, but it’s particularly thrilling to get in front of an audience and have a different reaction and a different audience every night.’
Gatiss turns a well known figure of speech on its head, as a jack of all trades and master of all, his multifaceted talents constantly complement and strengthen each other. ‘Having a knack for acting and writing both helps one with the other very much,’ he considers. ‘I get to write a lot of my own stuff, which is terrific. It means I don’t really have to wait for the phone to ring. I can also change a lot of the lines, because I wrote them originally! In terms of writing for other people, it helps that I am also an actor because I can use my ear for dialect and speech patterns to write for others effectively.’
I put arse to chair, pen to paper. And then I stare at a blank sheet until my forehead bleeds
‘The key is to just write, carry on and see what happens,’ he continues. ‘No-one will judge unless you want them to, and don’t give up. The same advice goes for actors, but they need a lot more luck.’ Of his own creative process, he jokes: ‘I put arse to chair, pen to paper. And then I stare at a blank sheet until my forehead bleeds.’
For Gatiss, an Islington resident, London remains ‘a great centre of theatres, perhaps the greatest’. He notes the range of things you can see on any given night and the vibrancy of different styles, from huge West End musicals to intimate fringe shows and experimental theatre. ‘I love it because it’s the home of theatre and remains unchanged. It’s bold and groundbreaking, with a great tradition and history rooted at its core.’ A tradition that he hopes The Boys in the Band will become a part of, perfectly placed among an array of dazzling performances that captivate their audiences.
The Boys in the Band is showing at Park Theatre until the end of October before going on to show at The Lowry, Salford. Call 020 7870 6876 or see parktheatre.co.uk