December 5, 2013
Chuk plays Enobarbus in Antony and Cleopatra which has now left Stratford-upon-Avon to play in Miami and New York in early 2014. It's a play that he has loved since encountering it at A' level with a wonderful teacher.
The right teachers are the key to your response to Shakespeare he says. If they obviously love it and do not treat it as if it is written in another language then you will have the confidence to give it a try.
Chuk was born in Nigeria and came to boarding school in England when he was twelve. He says that he vaguely remembers a televised production of Twelfth Night in Nigeria and was confused by the cross-dressing.
At school here he studied Twelfth Night, Antony and Cleopatra and Othello, looking at complete plays, not snippets. And he loved the language, seeing it as a form of empowerment. He marveled at the way characters could express anger, pain, love.
Yale and then Wisconsin
He studied economics at Yale and then won a scholarship to study drama at Wisconsin. There he played Edmund in King Lear.
The American Players' Theater in Wisconsin was very important in his development as a Shakespearean actor he says. They visited the drama college and subsequently he was involved with them as Albany in King Lear, Don Pedro in Much Ado about Nothing and Florizel in TheWinter's Tale.
Another visitor to the college was Louisa Harrow from the RSC. She gave workshops there and took Chuk under her wing. When he returned to England in 2000 she arranged for him to meet Steven Pimlott, Edward Hall and Greg Doran. The outcome of a day-long meeting with these directors was an engagement with the RSC for Hamlet and Julius Caesar in 2001.
Hicks and then Boyd
It was here that he met Greg Hicks, a very important influence on him and on his aims as an actor. 'One of the finest verse speakers alive,' he calls him. 'He really embodies the language.'
If Greg Hicks was a formative influence on his acting technique, Michael Boyd, with whom he worked in 2006-2008, nurtured his creativity. He talks of the genius of this man; a visionary, enabling actors to challenge themselves.
He says that it felt that in the rehearsal room his contribution was valued, he was helping to create the production alongside the director. Michael was brave in casting, Chuk says. He didn't go for the big names.
A transatlantic narration
This production of Antony and Cleopatra is a transatlantic project, a collaboration between The Public Theater, Gablestage, and the RSC which is directed by Tarell Alvin McCraney using just ten actors.
Chuk, playing Enobarbus, speaks directly to the audience rather than to any court when passing comment on the situation. He is the narrator, the outsider, able to use his head rather than his heart and asking the audience to judge what they see.Yet movingly and despite his good sense he is absorbed into the action of the play to meet his own tragic outcome.
To youngsters coming to Shakespeare Chuk says: it isn't the stories themselves but how Shakespeare told them that is important. Listen to the language which so empowers characters. Don't you wish you could say it like that?
Image: Chuk Iwuji as Enobarbus in Antony and Cleopatra.
by Viv Graver
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