Theatre / Bristol old vic

‘The hairs on the back of my neck were standing on end throughout the performance’

By martin booth, Friday May 29, 2020

Jamie Beddard played the non-speaking role of Jesus – which involved being crucified on stage – in the version of Messiah at Bristol Old Vic that will be shown from Friday on the new Bristol Arts Channel.

A post-show discussion on Friday will feature Beddard in discussion with director Tom Morris, bishop of Bristol Viv Faull and other special guests talking about issues of faith, community and loss.

Beddard, who has has Cerebral Palsy, grew up in a time when opportunities for disabled people in the arts were limited and is now a passionate advocate for disabled artists working in theatre.

Here is Beddard in conversation with Bristol Old Vic’s Amanda Adams:

What have you been up to since we last saw you onstage?

“It’s been a while since Messiah. Luckily I do not rely on my acting to keep wolf from the door. I am co-director of Diverse City, an associate company of Bristol Old Vic, and we’ve been busy making and developing work, and more recently, firefighting and re-imagining our future in light of Covid-19. On a personal level, negotiating the current crisis as we all have been, and feeling luckier than many. And trying to control some underlying anger.

Why did you decide to take on the pretty unusual role of The Beloved? How did it come about?

“As a rarely employed actor, I seldom turn down anything! But of course, I was absolutely delighted to be invited by director Tom Morris to get involved in such a unique, unusual and amazing project. It’s not every day you get offered the Messiah/Beloved and I was circumspect about my credentials. But the prospect of making my mum proud triumphed.”

What’s it like to be chosen to play a religious icon?!

“Somewhat ironic. I am not religious myself, nor did know much about The Messiah. So, incredibly interesting entering realms I had little experience of, and exciting trying to connect my own world-weary existence with a ‘higher’ being. I am sure it’s only a matter of time before the next religious icon comes knocking!

You were one of four actors, all very different, cast to play the role on different nights. What’s it like to play a role shared with other people? What did that casting decision bring to the production do you think?

“A brilliant creative idea by Tom Morris, opening up and questioning ideas around universality, identity and established tropes. All performers only get one bite of the cherry, and although gutted not to get another go, fantastic opportunity to bring different aesthetics, ideas and identities to the role of the Messiah.”

What did it feel like when the whole production came together? Actors, choir and orchestra?

“For me personally, the most exciting and different culmination of a creative process. I have never seen, let alone been in the midst of such a range of world-class musicians and singers. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing on end throughout the performance. Unlike any previous performance experience I have been involved in.”

What was the reaction from the live audience on the night?

“There was a wonderful and unique electricity on the night, with all – audience and performers – swept away by the majesty of occasion, venue and spectacle. An absolute privilege to be part of.”

It is a show about the power of faith, hope and community, do you think the current lockdown will have a big impact on how people respond to Messiah? What do you hope people watching from their homes will take away from watching it?

“The need for faith, hope and community has never been greater, as we are all engaged in our individual and collective struggles. Many chinks have been opened up; I am suddenly far more aware and appreciative of my immediate neighbourhood, a whole new community has been opened up. Anything that takes us somewhere else, makes us think differently and allows broader contemplation in these times is vital, and I believe Messiah does all three.”

This is undoubtedly a difficult time for British theatre but some see this as a moment for theatre to take a look at its organisations and how it functions. What do you think we could change for the better? how can we make sure more voices are heard across the sector in the future?

“Undoubtedly we are at a crossroads, the new ‘normal’ whenever it’s established must differ from the old ‘normal’. We must re-invigorate and re-imagine, democratising and diversifying the Arts. We must clearly understand and articulate the threats, decisions and opportunities we face, and determine a future in which all have the opportunity to contribute.”

Main photo by Jack Offord

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