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Joshua Frazer - interview

In a thrilling contemporary adaption of Hardy's classic novel 'Tess of the D’Urbervilles', a feminist vision is explored through Ockham's Razor's latest touring production. Tess combines the world of acrobatics into the capturing and emotive story that was so revolutionary at the time, retold with a fresh perspective, given the shift in society's values since its first release.

Joshua Frazer plays a role in the company of the show and tells us more about the messages conveyed, and how his circus background has influenced his part.


How have you prepared for the role - which other adaptions have you drawn from?

The greatest preparation was in the reading, I haven't had the opportunity to see any other stage adaptations of Tess, I did however watch the BBC's 2008 Mini Series and Hans Matheson's portrayal of Alec was quite influential for me. It's not the first time I've had to play the villain but Alec was interesting to me because Alec has something of a split personality, he is ultimately rotten to the core but spends the entire novel seemingly trying to do the right thing.


What makes this feminist version of the narrative different to those that have been before, and being such a classic, how have you retained its legacy still?

Honestly, I haven't seen any other versions of Tess on the stage so I can't speak for or contrast our version to theirs, but I think something that is standout in this version is something I have come to call 'the woman's work', the cast is 70% female, and truly they do 70% of the work. It's a very physical show, Lauren clocked in a whopping 1000 calories burnt during one show and even the creative team behind the show is at least 80% female. We are telling the story of woman's struggle through a deeply religious and patriarchal society, so it's only right that it's a story told by and for women. In an era of intersectionality and gender neutrality, this may seem a step back but the themes of gender roles and behavioural expectations are so baked into the novel that to remove them would be a loss to the weight of the novel, it has to be experienced as part of its historical context, so I think in this way we have retained its legacy, while updating the language and storytelling medium.


Which themes or messages from the show particularly resonate with you and why?

I think Tess as a character is very conflicted held in a space of what she should do and what she wants to do, what she knows and what she doesn't know, and in my life I have experienced this conflict, so to portray this on the stage and to viscerally deliver Tess' personal liberation towards the end of the show is very freeing and a message I am proud to be putting out into the world.  Furthermore,  I have had my own experiences with sexual abuse, and so to be a part of a show that empowers the victim and encourages autonomy and self-actualization in the face of immense hardship is very feeding, but also I think that [writers], Charlotte [Mooney] and Alex [Harvey] have done an incredible job of presenting, in true feminist form both sides of the argument, regret, remorse, shame, societal expectation, encouraging audiences to not jump to conclusions about a particular character but to experience their actions and emotional worlds as part of a full spectrum of what it is to be human. 


Despite originally being set in the Victorian era, how does it challenge the ideas of the time while being relevant to contemporary audiences?

When Tess was initially published it caused a controversy, the readers at the time were only just getting used to seeing a female protagonist, let alone experiencing her sexual activity, seeing her question her religion, and ultimately (spoiler alert) committing a murder. The novel necessarily contradicted established patriarchal, theological norms. Jump forward 150 years and we sit in a time when religion has fallen far from its presidential seat atop the collective consciousness and we have been through five waves of feminism. So a novel that was controversial then is much more palatable now, we are all questioning the meaning of life and the value of religion and we are thrilled to see Tess take righteous revenge on her perpetrator. We initially hid the murder of Alec, but audiences said that they wanted to see it!

I think another more subtle nutrient we take from Tess is that it paints a picture of a wide-open pastoral England, when we were more connected to the land, and our neighbours still knew everyone else's business. Hardy's gorgeous anthropomorphisation of his characters' emotional worlds to their immediate environment, validates a very modern climate struggle, and the value and importance of our natural world.


What skills have you learned by playing your character?

As a circus acrobat with an interest in theatre, I think this show has pushed me like no other before to sacrifice my natural instinct to present 'The best' tricks and skills, and service of clarity to the narrative. The storytelling came first in this show, and so I have had to push myself more as an actor, to learn to truly embody a character while at the same time not forgetting my foundations as an acrobat and physical performer.


How does the physicality of circus and the visuals of the production bring the show to life?

A huge amount of the story takes place in small villages and farmlands, where physical labour is part of everyday life. So to leverage two very physical disciplines like circus and dance helps to bring the reality of that labour to life. We are really sweating and toiling out there on the stage and so there is an authenticity and honouring of people Hardy wrote about. I think Daniel Denton’s projections also add a beautiful contrasting layer of modernity and contemporary art to an adaptation of a Victorian-era novel. I think it's an exciting contrast to see an old story with verbatim language, period costume (which Tina Bicat deserves special mention for) coupled with modern technology, and the projection of abstract art as a backdrop. It adds another layer of accessibility and intrigue.


Which elements of the performance have you most enjoyed developing?

Actually my favourite element to develop was my solo on the wall, as a floor acrobat I rarely have the opportunity to work on a vertical axis, but it was so much fun!


If you could transport into any classic novel, which would you choose and why?

Oh, I think it would have to be Great Expectations, I'm dying to be a part of a guild of thieves!


Many thanks to Joshua for sharing his experiences working on this fantastic production, and wish you all the best for the remainder of the touring run!

Get your tickets to Tess here:

Additional thanks to Georgie Blyth for coordinating this interview.


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