Naomi Frederick stars in Trevor Nunn’s world premiere production of Harley Ganville-Barker’s Agnes Colander – An Attempt At Life, which will receive its first London staging at Jermyn Street Theatre this February. When it premiered at The Ustinov Studio, Theatre Royal Bath in the spring of 2018, in a production directed by Trevor Nunn, Harley Granville Barker’s Agnes Colander: An Attempt At Life was hailed as a lost masterpiece. Now Nunn’s production is to receive its London premiere in a five week run at Jermyn Street Theatre, opening in February as part of their PORTRAIT season.
Agnes Colander: An Attempt At Life is at Jermyn Street Theatre 12th February to 16th March 2019.
You’re starring in Agnes Colander at The Jermyn Street Theatre, what can you tell us about it?
‘Agnes Colander’ could just as easily have been titled ’The Sex Question’. It’s a play about the sexes, about the role that sex plays in our lives, and about one woman’s journey in search of an ideal partnership. Is it any wonder that Granville Barker, writing in 1900, hid the manuscript away with a note on the cover saying, “It should certainly not be published. It might well be destroyed.” The play would never have made it past the approval of the Lord Chamberlain! And Granville Barker’s reputation would have been tarnished forever.
How would you describe your character?
Agnes is a visionary. A woman ahead of her time. She’s also foolhardy and impulsive. Insisting on a version of marriage whereby physical love is not just a woman’s “duty and obligation” but rather the expression of a spiritual connection between husband and wife, she leaves her secure marriage, cuts herself off from Society, and sets out to live independently as a freelance artist. From that position of freedom, she hopes to “experiment” with new partners in her quest for equality between female and male.
You played the role in Bath, what did you learn about the character during that run?
I remember Trevor returning to a performance later in the run and remarking, “You’ve found the humour!” The play is founded on serious subject matter, but playing Agnes in Bath I discovered how much of a sense of humour she has. She may have a serious goal, but she has lots of fun on the journey.
The play is over a century old, what do you think makes it relevant today?
The play is astonishingly relevant today. It’s staggering to think that Granville Barker – and other contemporary writers too – was asking questions about the role of women back in 1900, and yet in 2019 we still haven’t fully worked out the equality between the sexes, or what a woman’s role should be. There seem to be so many versions now of Feminism: versions which reject the masculine; versions which embrace it. So ‘Agnes Colander’ was right at the beginning of an arc of discussion which we still haven’t resolved.
What have you learnt from working with Trevor Nunn?
Working with Trevor, I’ve undergone a masterclass in trusting the text. His forensic skills are limitless. And one has the sense in his rehearsal room that the play will, slowly but surely, reveal itself. It’s one of the most calm rehearsal processes I’ve experienced.
What are you looking forward to most about the run at Jermyn Street Theatre?
I’m looking forward to the proximity of the audience at Jermyn Street Theatre. Granville Barker’s subtitle for this play was ‘An Attempt At Life’ which refers not only to Agnes’ experiments with different relationships but also the writer’s experiments in a conversational style. Granville Barker set out to write with a naturalism that mimicked real life, very different from the heightened style of George Bernard Shaw, arguably the leading dramatist of the time. So, an intimate space such as Jermyn Street is ideal for the delicate fabric of the piece.
What would you say to anyone thinking of coming to see Agnes Colander
Make sure you’ve eaten dinner, or the second half will make you hungry. I mentioned naturalism. That includes food…