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Interview with Mark Farrelly

by Emily Healey-Lynham

Mark Farrelly is an actor and writer who is about to perform in a vibrant new solo play Jarman written and performed by Mark. We got to speak to Mark about Derek Jarman the inspiration for the show and creating roles and influences and inspirations.

How did you get into acting, was there a particular performance you saw that resonated with you?

I was fascinated with acting from the start. Humans are incredibly bad at communication. We lie, evade, let moments slip by ungrasped. It’s tragic. Acting has always offered hope of true connection, even communion. Living in the moment and revealing your deepest soul. Lots of great performances gave me that when I was growing up, but must pick out Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho. A masterclass performance of a trapped soul longing for release.

What production changed your life?

Aged nineteen I saw my first one-person play. It was David Benson’s brilliant Think No Evil Of Us: My Life With Kenneth Williams at the King’s Head in Islington. I was stunned by the way one person could hold a room for ninety minutes with only a chair for props and set. And speaking directly to the audience the whole time! Bliss. I dislike the way so much theatre pretends the audience isn’t there, hides behind the ‘fourth wall’. No wonder stand-up comedy and live music are more popular: they actually engage the audience.

Can you tell us about your current, project: Jarman What drew you to the piece?

I created Jarman to pay tribute to one of the most exciting, provocative and inspiring artists of modern times. For many years I was scared of Derek Jarman. As a teenager I had watched him dying in the most harrowing way in newspaper photos and on television, he was one of the key public faces of the AIDS pandemic because of his courageous declaration of his illness in the late 80s. But to me he was a figure of contagion, something to be avoided. I also perhaps bought into the media image of Derek as a dangerous, even Satanic figure.  So it was quite a shock when, in 2018, I summoned the courage to read Derek’s diaries, fearing they would be a grim catalogue of illness and despair, how wrong I was. The two volumes, Modern Nature and Smiling in Slow Motion, don’t shirk the painful realities that Derek was living through, but they are also vibrant, beautiful, witty, fun and relentlessly inspiring. I was hooked, and soon explored all the amazing art Derek has left behind. Not just his films such as Jubilee, The Tempest, Caravaggio and the astonishing Blue, but his other writings, his extraordinary last paintings, and of course his hypnotic garden at Prospect Cottage in Dungeness. I realised I had been neglecting a very special artist because of my own small-mindedness. Every time I imbibed some of Derek’s work, I felt a powerful sense of needing to be bolder and braver in my own creativity. He has become an inspiration and mentor to me, even though we never met.

Is there a message you want people to take away from the show? 

Start living! It’ll be over in a flash and you’ll regret every wasted second of not being your true self, not expressing your real feelings, not creating things. As Derek says at the end of the play, “May you of a better future go and love without a care, and remember that we loved too”.

What has been your favourite role you have played and why? 

My favourite roles are the ones I’ve written for myself. I’ve done three solo plays, playing Patrick Hamilton, Quentin Crisp, and of course Derek Jarman. Also a two hander called Howerd’s End in which I play Frankie Howerd’s secret partner Dennis Heymer. Creating my own work has been vastly rewarding. I was never happy when I was waiting for the phone to ring, and trying to fit into productions that were all about someone else’s vision of life. I wouldn’t want to go back to that, and love the autonomy of being a creator.

What is the most rewarding thing about your work? 

The responses of the audience. Because I always speak directly to the audience in my work, I get to see every little reaction. The laughter, the tears, the extraordinary conversations in the bar afterwards when people say they’ve been deeply affected by what they’ve seen…this is priceless.

Who are your influences and inspirations? 

There are lots of little influences. For example I was very inspired by Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, and the crystalline truthfulness of some of his performances. But really, I am now my own inspiration. I have a very healthy inner dialogue with myself, and am always looking for ways to improve my own work. I also get spiritual guidance from the writings of Eckhart Tolle and Richard Rohr, and these influence my work in all sorts of ways. Do read The Power of Now and Falling Upward if you feel ready for them.

What advice would you give to aspiring talent in the industry?

It’s going to be relentless hard work. You’re going to have to graft and hustle from the word go (something I failed to do). The rejection will seem relentless and callous, but it’s never truly personal. Despite this, go for it! Create your own opportunities wherever possible…you may find this much more rewarding than being in a Hollywood movie. The world needs more communication and art, not less, so take this sacred task very seriously. But still keep the twinkle in your eye. And for God’s sake make peace with the fact that you might not become good at acting till you’ve had a bit (or a lot) of life experience. I wasn’t a good actor until my mid-thirties. I’m so glad I clung on through all the frustrating years until I came into my own.

Where can people follow your work on Socials? 

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Also markfarrelly.co.uk, my website which has all my tour dates for the coming year. Jarman is written and performed by Mark Farelly and the gala performance will take place on Monday 31st January at 7.30pm at Greenwich Theatre. The show will then embark on a UK Tour.

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