AGE is all too often cited as an excuse or a reason for a lack of quality. Not in any way required, however, for the up and coming actor and playwright George Jaques. The 18 year old who recently finished his second play at The Bunker in London gave an exclusive interview to British Products on his beginnings and his future.
For some background, Breathe is a challenging piece that confronts teenage suicide. The play was performed in The Bunker, which is a unique and intimate, underground venue near London Bridge.
While the acting and script were excellent, a particularly notable aspect of the play was the innovative incorporation of sound. For example, the splashing of eye drops in one scene was made by the tipping of red wine from a character’s glass, onto the stage.
This textured sound painting was conducted by Hannah Hauer-King and George to show their audience the sound of anxiety, with meticulously, orchestrated, chaos.
It was real, heart wrenching and gritty from start to finish. The essence of the black comedy of Trainspotting was present in the room, all mastered by the hands of someone who was still waiting on their A-Level results.
When did you realise you wanted to go into performance and theatre? Did you go to drama school?
“No I never actually went to drama school. I took drama lessons about three times a week during my A-levels, but I have just always loved writing and performing. I started acting when I was maybe 14 or 15 and then at 16 I setup Athenaeum Productions, the company that brought Breathe and Dilate to life.”
And what inspired you to write Breathe? You are so young and this is such a dark, taboo discussion. How and what gave you the material to write the play?
“Well, there was a gap in the discussion. I felt like this was something people weren’t talking enough about. And after doing some work with Childline -finding out that every 25 seconds they receive a call from a young person contemplating suicide; the number of young people committing suicide is rising, and that furthermore in the UK suicide is one the biggest killers of men. (George-Jaques goes on to tell me that approximately 84 men a week are lost to suicide). Although this isn’t something I have experienced in my own life, I feel very strongly about it and wanted to write a play that talked about it”
How does Breathe differ from your previous play, Dilate?
“Obviously the subject matter is different, Dilate focused on substance abuse while Breathe is about an aspect of psychology that is in some ways much more complicated and less easy to understand. But as well as that, as a company we wanted to make Breathe more professional and just bring everything, from the venue, to the acting, to the sound up another level. For the company to get the chance to work with people like Hannah has just been amazing.”
What do you think young people struggle most with when it comes to mental health?
“I think that is a difficult question to answer, as no one is the same and lives cannot be compared. But as far as the characters in Breathe are concerned, what they are struggling to find is a sense of belonging, and feeling understood. A common theme amongst each character is that they all have an absent role model who they are trying to fill with someone else. And when that person becomes unable to cope with them they feel isolated and alone. It is in that moment that they begin to contemplate whether or not they should be there, and it is that moment we need to be more aware of for the sake of our friends, family and even ourselves.”
What would your one piece of advice be for someone with anxiety?
“Again that’s a really difficult question to answer, but I guess all I could say is talk to people and I know everyone says that but what I learned from this play is that it really is important to talk honestly to people about what is going on. It’s ok not to be ok. And the other thing I would say is throw yourself into something that gives you release. For me that is writing and performing, but I think everyone needs something whether it’s playing football, or playing an instrument, or reading, everyone needs something they can retreat to.”
Finally, George, if I could ask you who your favourite British playwright is?
“There are too many to name <George has ferocious debate with himself> Duncan MacMillan”
Breathe was both a superb piece of writing and performance. Having recently attended a university play at an unnamed institute where, on the opening night, there were actors in need of their iPhones to remember their lines, heavily out of key singing and casual waving to friends in the audience between acts – I was even more impressed by what George Jaques and his company have achieved.
This is a professional piece, an incredible use of sound and staging as well as an understanding of life and people well beyond their years.
I half expected to find out someone else had written the play and wrongly assumed the help of drama school, but, of course, that was not the case.
George Jaques is one to watch not just for this year, but also for this lifetime. He and his company are not just challenging taboos for the sake of getting noticed, they are working to try and make people understand the misunderstood. Watch this space.