The Sunday Post (Newcastle)

‘These five years have been mad. First the West End, now Shakespear­e’

Actor on his whirlwind journey to coveted lead role in Macbeth via Helensburg­h and Hamilton

- By Murray Scougall

Surrounded by removal boxes, Reuben Joseph stops packing for a moment to reflect on a crazy couple of years.

The Scottish actor is about to leave London – his base for the past 16 months after making his West End debut in the title role of Hamilton, one of the world’s biggest musicals.

While the removal boxes are returning to Scotland, Reuben is not. Instead, he is relocating to Stratford-Upon-Avon, where he will make his Royal Shakespear­e Company (RSC) debut in the lead role of Macbeth later this month. It’s fair to say, Reuben doesn’t do debuts by halves.

“You can question how mad it all is, but not too much because you’ll only give yourself a headache,” Reuben says with a smile.

He was inspired to try acting after watching his older sister, Florence, take part in a school production in their home town of Helensburg­h a decade ago. He graduated from Glasgow’s Clyde College only five years ago, yet his list of achievemen­ts in the time since is greater than many actors manage in their entire careers.

“I’m very grateful for the past five years,” Reuben, 26, says. “Part of me thinks if the career ended after Macbeth – if the acting police said, ‘You’ve had enough now, it’s time to stop’ – then, while I would be devastated, I would also feel content to have been so lucky to have a career that so many actors dream of having.”

Playing Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers, proved to be the perfect platform to audition for Macbeth.

“I thought I would need to wait a few years before getting a crack at a part like Macbeth, although I also felt the same way about Hamilton,” Reuben says. “I also had a preconceiv­ed notion of what the RSC is and the actors they want, because I’m not classicall­y trained.

“I met with the director, Wils Wilson, who is on my bucket list of people to work with, and I felt like it had a good energy about it. I thought, let’s take a big swing and see what lands. I also had the good fortune that they came to see me in Hamilton after the audition, which is as good a platform as you could hope for – you know, come and see me do this.

“In our second meeting, Wils pointed out that the verse of Hamilton isn’t too dissimilar in performing Shakespear­e, in that once you find the rhythms it opens the meaning of the text, so I didn’t realise what a perfect stage Hamilton was to showcase my ability to do this show.

“There is also the surface level of similariti­es between the characters – both are very ambitious and social climbers to an extent, as well as soldiers and husbands and fathers.”

Playing the lead role in Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre for a year was a surreal experience for Reuben. He had less than a week after performing in the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of Peter Mullan’s Orphans to move to London and begin rehearsals for Lin Manuel-Miranda’s award-winning show.

While it was an experience he wouldn’t change for the world, there is no denying the physical and mental impact it took.

“I was hyper-aware of Hamilton being a year’s contract and the emotional and physical strains it would have on my life and body,” he explains. “I think I struggled a lot of the time to be present in my own life because I was very aware of what was coming, and how many months I had left and what I had done, and of trying to keep my body fit for the coming week.

“I had never done a West End run before. My life in Scotland until then was going between theatre shows and maybe filming for a couple of days here and there and doing workshops. My bar for success as an actor was being able to live in a flat in Glasgow and funding myself to do creative things.

“I was working six-to-eight weeks at a time, so Hamilton felt like a massive undertakin­g because I didn’t know if my body could do the same show for a year and, truthfully, by month three, I thought I might have made a mistake.

“For a span of about a month, during a song where Hamilton is rapping and has to walk across the stage and stand on a blue box, my brain would be telling me, while I was rapping, that by the time I stood on the box, I would have forgotten the words.

“I never did, but my brain constantly told me I would. I think it happens to everyone who does these contracts; at some point your brain tricks you into thinking you can’t do it. I drew on the resources the company provided and also the cast – Simon-Anthony Rhoden was my rock in getting me through that period. The company of actors and crew backstage was always fundamenta­l in getting through those tougher times.

“For the last six months I had a great time and it always felt electric, and I would do it all again.

“On the first day of rehearsals for Macbeth, we did some breathing exercises to centre ourselves and it shook me a wee bit, because I realised I hadn’t been in this headspace for a while...of letting everything come in and of being present.”

With the exception of Irish actor Valene Kane, who plays Lady Macbeth, the cast of Macbeth is Scottish, which has provided Reuben with a much-needed taste of home, as well as being fitting for the Scottish Play.

“By sheer coincidenc­e, the flat I moved down to for Hamilton is about a 40-second walk from the RSC rehearsal rooms, which is why I think Wils hired me in the end, because she knew I’d be there on time!

“But I didn’t have a big community down here and felt quite isolated at first. In the last four weeks or so, there have been a lot of friendly Scottish faces on my high street – people I’ve either worked with before or seen in other things. It’s been a nice way to wrap up my time in London.”

This version of Macbeth is set in the near-future and the scene featuring the drunken porter – seen as a comedic break from the play’s dark tone – has been rewritten by comedian Stewart Lee for contempora­ry times.

Returning to Macbeth before coming home to Scotland represents a full-circle moment for Reuben, who was playing Angus in The Tragedy Of Macbeth – his first London job – when he was asked to audition for Hamilton.

“It’s exciting to come back to the text and use the tools I’ve accumulate­d along the way to crack it open and see what I can bring to it,” he comments. Then, when the run ends in October, he will finally have a moment to relax and contemplat­e what’s next.

“Long-term, I’d love to be back in Scotland,” he adds. “Being in London for 16 months has taught me that I love my job, but community is also so important to me. And I’ve missed my family, friends and familiar environmen­ts dearly. Of course, if there is a job down here, I’d be happy to chat.

“Beyond Macbeth, I don’t know what’s next, and that’s quite nice.”

 ?? ?? Reuben Joseph was lured into the world of acting after seeing his sister perform in a production in their Helensburg­h home town.
Reuben Joseph was lured into the world of acting after seeing his sister perform in a production in their Helensburg­h home town.
 ?? ?? Reuben, left, in Hamilton.
Reuben, left, in Hamilton.

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