George Kemp heads to Cambridge Arts Theatre for The Time Machine – A Comedy, and tells us about Bridgerton
H G Wells’ deadly serious masterpiece The Time Machine will never be the same again as this hapless acting troupe try to bring it to the stage.
Will George persuade the others to stick to the script he’s worked so hard on? Will Michael be able to explain time travel without the help of excessive props? Will Amy get to sing her Cher tribute? And ultimately… will they be able to defeat the space time paradox - or at least get through the second half? Alex Spencer finds out more from George Kemp.
What is the play about? It doesn’t look like a traditional version of The Time Machine.
No, it’s very clearly subtitled A Comedy. It’s about a small theatre company putting on their own production of H G Wells’s The Time Machine. And my character is George Wells, who is the great great grandson of H G Wells. He’s adapted the novel into a play but it’s not long before chaos ensues and things start to fall apart and get put back together again.
Where do your comedy skills come from?
I have done quite a few comedies, including Jack Absolute Flies Again and I did a play written by Ian Hislop called The Wipers Times, which is about a sort of satirical newspaper, on the frontlines in the First World War, and a play about Spike Milligan.
Growing up I used to watch my grandma’s videos of Laurel and Hardy, which was amazing, and we would also watch tapes of Are You Being Served?. I was watching lots of sitcoms and things like that. And I think I just grew up with a love of comedy, and an awareness of it. I wanted to be an actor from when I was quite young. And that seemed like a fun kind of area of the industry to spend your time and little did I know how hard it is.
Is comedy a serious business?
Michael Dylan (who plays Wilf in The Time Machine) and I were comparing notes yesterday about how tricky it can be and how serious it can get backstage on comedy shows as we’ve both appeared in One Man, Two Guvnors. It’s just all about timing. You can always have fun with a lovely company, but the shows like that have to be really tight. They’re quite finely tuned. And so backstage, it’s it’s quite serious, making sure that the whole thing doesn’t collapse because it’s about keeping it in the air and keeping it ticking over and it’s almost like playing music. Sometimes you’ll have more fun backstage of King Lear than you will on The Play That Goes Wrong, because it’s a tragedy and everyone can have a laugh. Although, we’re having lots and lots of fun rehearsing this.
Have you had many acting injuries while playing comedies?
I don’t want to jinx it, but no, I’ve so far been unscathed. So much of my job up until this point has been mainly putting on a tie and leaning on furniture. It’s a relatively risk-free occupation for me.
I could choke on a cocktail olive, I suppose. That’s probably the closest to real danger that I come to in my work.
Tell me about your character in The Time Machine.
I love his optimism and his dogged determination to show the world his play, to spread the message of genuine planetary custodianship and the warning about what humanity could become. He has a joyful energy, which is really fun to play. You can’t get him down. He really does believe he is the world’s greatest theatre impresario. It’s quite fun to play someone a bit bulletproof.
What are the things you enjoy doing on tour?
I really love going to local museums. I want to see all the interesting little things that towns have. If you’ve got a pen museum, I’m going to it. If you’ve got a local history monument, I want to go for a walk up to that. I think it’s such a good opportunity to see places in the UK that you just never that you just never go to.
I don’t know if it’ll be off season or something, but I really love going for a punt in Cambridge. Also, I’m always trawling bookshops and just filling my suitcase with secondhand books and hardbacks and that’s massively inappropriate while travelling on a tour. You want a Kindle, but I can’t do it. I’m just constantly buying books wherever we go.
You were in the first series of Bridgerton as Lord Weaver, who appeared at a dance. What was it like being part of that?
I wish I had some gossip. But it was just lovely. The thing that struck me first was going for a costume fitting and seeing the amazing, enormous costume warehouse and the beautiful things that they had, that attention to detail on some of the clothes that they had made, but also the money that Netflix allowed them to spend on costumes. I don’t think I’d ever done anything where I had a new pair of boots before, and I do quite a lot of period stuff. I think this play might be the first time I’ve done anything set after 1960, so I’m not unfamiliar with a cravat. And yeah, I think it was the first time I kind of had all new duds. It really felt very, very special.
What do you remember about filming your scene?
There was the exciting trip down to Bristol to film a big ball scene with the whole cast at the time. It was just lovely to be part of something on quite a big scale. Acting doesn’t always feel glamorous, but I think that did feel quite glam. I wish I’d known how big a hit it would be otherwise I might have got a picture with Rege Jean Page or Phoebe Dynevor. But I was more interested in their mums, which might not sound great. There were so many actors on that set who I was aware of and massively respected like Adjoa Andoh and Ruth Gemmell and so they were the people I was kind of a bit struck to meet, and whose brains I wanted to pick, who it was really thrilling to have a cup of tea with. They were the exciting bit for me.
I didn’t die in the show, Lord Weaver is still out there somewhere. And if anyone needs a dance partner in series four, then I’m deeply, deeply available.
You have been in a lot of period dramas, do you think you have a certain look that means you get cast?
My friend Lottie told me that something about me looks like I’ve never seen an iPhone before. So yeah, I think there’s something about me which has got a sort of good period style. Sometimes it’s about language too; what I really love as an actor is words. And so it’s lovely to get your teeth around some lovely big, fat old fashioned sentences. A good evening for me is a bit of Noel Coward.
The Time Machine – A Comedy is at Cambridge Arts Theatre, from 13 to 17 February. Tickets, from £20, are available from the box Office at https://www.cambridgeartstheatre.com/whats-on/time-machine.