Interview: James McCluskey-Garcia on playing Frank in “Educating Rita”

Glam catches up with James McCluskey-Garcia who plays Frank in IpSkip Productions’ upcoming production of Willy Russell’s ‘Educating Rita’

There’s a new theatre company in town, IpSkip Productions, founded by up and coming Adelaide performer and a member of Glam Adelaide’s reviewing team, Nathan Quadrio. The company’s debut production is to be Willy Russell’s Educating Rita, with Quadrio making his directorial debut and starring James McCluskey-Garcia and Lauren Renee.
I managed to catch up with James and asked hin to share his thoughts on various aspects of the show and this particular production.

BG: Hi James. Tell us a little about yourself: in particular, your performing background.

JM-G: I’ve been treading the boards since i was a kid. First for Northern Light Theatre Company in the eighties, then I had the idea that I wanted to be a ‘real’ actor so I spent 3 years ‘training’ at the College of Performing Arts (now AC Arts) when I was 19, under David Kendall and Peter Dunn and Isobel Kirk. Then I moved to Brisbane, then Sydney and was fortunate enough to get a bit of part time paid acting work at places like La Boite, Belvoir St, and at the Sydney Opera House for Opera Australia. And a bit of film and TV. I moved back home about 4 years ago, married, and have been flat out ever since! Mainly with Matt Byrne Media plays and musicals. So, thanks, Matt!

BG: Who do you play in Educating Rita and what are your thoughts on the character?

JM-G: I play Frank, the alcoholic, cynical English Professor. He is an intriguing character. Intriguing because his passion, his fire, has been for words, ideas, poetry and literature. But for someone who has all this knowledge he distinctly lacks self-awareness. Or chooses not to ‘change’ and better himself and his situation, as Rita does. He is disillusioned with the world, his ambition and himself. He tells Rita to ‘only connect’ with others but he doesn’t really do this himself. I think, perhaps, he lacks courage. He uses words as his shield, his armour. And also as a weapon. When Rita breezes into his room at the beginning of the play and constantly speaks her mind, he is confronted with someone who is refreshing, vital and energetic about learning and I don’t think he has encountered anyone like her before. And i believe, it eventually jolts him out of his world-weary apathy and atrophy, if only for a short time. There are many points in the play where Frank displays a rather cruel streak towards his social intercourse with Rita which is quite surprising. It’s amazing that Rita puts up with it, to be frank.

BG: What are your thoughts about the play itself?

JM-G: Willy Russell’s play, Educating Rita examines themes of education, class, addiction, literature, tragedy, mentoring, personal growth and connecting with others. It is a play very rich in language and ideas and hopefully there will be something in it for everyone in the audience. I feel like it is Willy Russell’s autobiography in a way. They say to write about what you know and Russell does just this. He has been a ladies hairdresser as well as an English teacher at college and I’m sure there are elements of him in both Rita and Frank. I love that the play examines the question of ‘what is culture’? Frank attempts to impart his version of culture to Rita and Rita talks about the ‘working class culture’ that surrounds her. But is one more valid than the other? The play probably poses more questions than it does answers and hopefully the audience will walk away with these questions…and maybe a few answers. I believe the play is essentially about ‘connecting’ with others.

BG: What are your thoughts on Nathan as a first-time director

JM-G: I have worked with Nathan Quadrio a number of times now on stage. I first saw him as Richie Cunningham in NLTC production of Happy Days then worked with in MBM’s Mary Poppins, as did Lauren. He always struck me as intelligent, passionate about theatre, driven and dedicated. It took me a while to say ‘yes’ to him (about playing Frank) as I have so many other commitments but how often does an actor get the chance to play such a great character? And I have always been a fan of the film and Michael Caine in particular. Nathan has been very collaborative throughout the whole process and taken on board my ideas for the character and has ‘educated’ me in a few ways such as teaching me about the ‘Romantic’ poets and other pieces of literature. He’s also been laughing in all the right places in rehearsal, so hopefully the audience will also. He’s a smart kid!

BG: Why should people see this production?

JM-G: People should see this show first and foremost because the language is so rich and the characters are wonderfully flawed. Frank more so than Rita. Secondly, this is the debut show for IpSkip Productions and I believe in supporting local talent and theatre. Thirdly, if there are any fans of the Michael Caine/Julie Walters film, then they can experience these characters in close quarters in the Studio of the Bakehouse Theatre. And because after the show i will cease and desist all my Facebook posts about it!
Educating Rita opens at The Bakehouse Theatre, Angas Street from Tues 10 Jan 2017 til Sat 14 Jan 2017 at 8pm with a matinee on the 14th at 2pm. All tickets are $18. Bookings through TryBooking
Interview by Brian Godfrey

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