Is he a Sir? I should check. I feel like he must be. All the best voices are: Sir Sean Connery, Sir David Jason, Sir Winston Churchill. Al Pacino must surely be next on the Queen’s list?
Sir Geoffrey Rush or simply Geoffrey (I just checked and it was completely in my imagination) is playing a madman at the Brooklyn Harvey Theater BAM. I went a couple of weeks ago as a trial run to find the venue but also to see the actor himself in discussion with his director Neil Armfield, a fellow Aussie. The pair interpreted this Gogol comedy about 20 years ago in Australia and they felt it an opportune time to revive it as Armfield ends his reign as Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre Artistic Director where the two first played this piece.
Longtime colleagues, the two old friends sat on the BAM stage discussing how they love to portray the clown in their collaborations. They have a long history of choosing plays where Mr Rush must conjure up a nut so why tamper with a winning formula? Geoffrey is perhaps best known for his insane creations on stage and screen and in this performance he did not disappoint. Stage solo for most of the show, Geoffrey manages to defy loneliness as he parades around against the impressive backdrop of this ornate theatre. He is able to draw the audience into his increasingly fictional world as he logs his diary openly and vividly to us in his dingy apartment in the Russian capital.
His character Poprischin is a clerk of the ninth grade working in czarist St Petersburg, struggling to get by. Eventually he is pushed to the edge of reason by the growing tedium of his life in the civil service and we witness every progression towards his eventual demise. Based on a short story by Gogol, the English playwright David Holman adapted the tale, with the support of Neil Armfield and Geoffrey Rush, after suggesting in the early 90s that the main character would suit Rush’s particular talent for the dramatic.
He was not wrong. We hear of conversations he has overheard between Medji and Fifi, the former a pet dog of his beloved boss’ daughter Sophia, his plots to capture the letters of correspendence between these two animals and then of his final delusion that he is in fact the true King of Spain. This ridiculous story is both hilarious and moving and I could have watched the insanity unfolding in Rush indefinitely. Mesmerising and exhausting Rush has no limits and his invigorating energy on stage and his clear improvisations with the script and individual interactions with each new audience is quite a spectacle.
Long live the King!