The first time, I met Edyta Budnik and Adam Hadi, two Polish actors of Middle Child Theatre’s new production Us Against Whatever, during the read-through. We sat opposite each other in a large, full to the brim room in Hull Truck Theatre. There was not much time for a longer conversation, just courteous ‘hi, how are you’ and ‘nice to meet you’. A week later, I had not only a chance to observe their acting skills during rehearsals but also get to know them as human beings.
As soon as Paul Smith announced the cast, which included two of my fellow citizens in this project, I wanted to interview Edyta and Adam; find out more about them, their experience in working with Hull famous gig theatre group and their role in this exciting, emotionally absorbing play.
How did your cooperation with Middle Child start?
EB: It all started with auditions. Middle Child invited me to the auditions, which I couldn’t attend as I was already working on one project in Poland. Luckily, they accepted self-tape. I was asked to prepare the part of the script and two songs. I have never had a contact with professional singing, so I didn’t even dream about getting the role of Anna. I was certain someone else with better vocal skills than mine will fill in this role. However, I did my best and tried to have fun with it as well.
AH: I found out about the auditions to Us Against Whatever in the National Theatre studio from Meg Miszczuk, who supported Middle Child from the beginning.
The play is an interesting political and musical hybrid. What made you apply for this play?
AH: For quite a while I wanted to act in my second language, which is English and Us Against gave me this opportunity. I was also interested in its form, the gig theatre, which Middle Child is famous for, especially creating a rock-pop atmosphere on stage. The two Polish roles caught my attention and from the start, it felt very authentic.
EB: I always subconsciously felt like acting in a play that involves a lot of music. I graduated from the Brit School, where theatre and music are closely linked. It always seemed fascinating. So when I got an offer, I agreed without any hesitation.
James Frewer, the musical director, was extremely helpful during rehearsals, adapting difficult compositions to my pitch. All rehearsals felt like teamwork, whatever problems or insecurities we had, we could always openly discuss them with Paul and James. Although there were some organic changes in the script, the characters of Anna and Michal were comprehensive, the story showed them as intelligent, courageous people, with deep emotions and charisma, not like stereotypical immigrants who come to the UK. Introducing the Polish language to some scenes was very brave and felt extremely real.
What do you think about working with Middle Child gang and under Paul Smith’s direction? What was the atmosphere at the rehearsals?
AH: Paul has very unique directing methods, which surprised me. He gives the cast a lot of freedom to experiment. He makes sure we felt comfortable in building our characters. A friendly atmosphere at the rehearsals made the whole process a pure pleasure. We all felt, that we are creating something magnificent. As a team, we shared ideas and learned from each other.
EB: From the first day, I felt amazing energy, everyone was friendly and very supportive. Paul Smith is a fantastic director, who gives actors freedom of thought and creation, overlooking the whole project at the same time. James Frewer is a marvelous composer and musician, without his help I wouldn’t be able to sing on the stage. The rehearsals were intense; full of information, choreography, new melodies, and challenges. Every day brought something new and exciting. Maureen Lennon, who visited us daily, kept editing and enhancing the script. Actually, every member of Middle Child family – Lindsey, Emily, Jamie, Meg, Magda, and Matthew were amazing and encouraging; they were answering questions about Hull and Brexit, supporting us throughout the process. Working with Middle Child was passionate and inspiring.
Edyta, you played the role of Anka, the main character. What can you say about her?
EB: Anna’s story reflects in some ways my own experience about moving to another country and difficulties linked with this process. She is not a person who complains or moans; she is strong, sensitive, intelligent and resourceful. Anka knows what she desires and believes in her success. There are not many Eastern European theatre characters like this; therefore I am grateful that I could act in “Us Against Whatever”.
What was most important for you while creating your character?
EB: Authenticity and sensibility. Luckily it was quite an easy task for me, as Maureen and Paul spent a lot of time getting to know our culture and people in Poland and made sure Anka and Michal were real.
Adam, except acting, your role in “Us Against Whatever” was also to work on choreography. Tell us more about dance and movement in this show.
AH: It turned out that Paul often works on movement before working with the script, which gave me, as a choreographer opportunity to influence the personality of the characters and the dynamics of some scenes. The complexity of the play allowed me to use different styles of dance; however, the common thread was the classic movement of the pre-Great War cabaret in Berlin. The choreographies were supposed to follow the text, which created a multidimensional effect.
Each move was an integral part of the scenes, e.g. enriching the context or exposing some truths about characters. The phenomenal compositions of James Frewer were accompanied by witty lyrics written by Paul; that made the play unique and over any norms. We strengthened both with dance.
The first premiere took place in Liverpool, then a week later you played in Hull. What was the audience reception of ‘Us Against Whatever’? Have you noticed any differences?
EB: Liverpool responded positively to ‘Us Against Whatever’. The atmosphere was electrifying and very friendly. I felt that the audience took our play about Brexit with sadness, but also with a bit of hope for a better future. People seemed to be very open. I remember one night, at the end of the show, one woman stood up and replied: ‘We will’, which touched us all very deeply. It was an act of solidarity, bravery in these uncertain times. Despite upset, anger or confusion, we all try to find a glimpse of courage and open our hearts to the change.
Hull seemed at first quite distant. In some way, I felt challenged by Hullensians, as they provoked us to try harder. The atmosphere in the auditorium felt different after the interval, more open and warm. The show was longer on stage in Hull Truck Theatre and I felt that we had to put in more energy, than in Liverpool. One time during the Q&A one man admitted that he felt forced to listen to both sides of the argument, but took it as a positive, as we often blinded by our opinions, don’t give enough attention the opposite side. We wanted to raise discussions and I believe we achieved our goal in both cities.
AH: I agree with Edyta and want to say that the audience in both cities was wonderful. People actively interacted with actors laughed out loud and cried, which we often found out after the performance. I realised that Liverpool and Hull have a lot in common, which was shown by the audience responses. However, the most noticeable difference we could see during the scenes about Hull F.C. The musical reconstruction of the legendary goal of Dean Windass at Wembley was definitely more enthusiastically received in Hull.
After two months, I said “goodbye” to Adam and Edyta. I know it’s not forever. As soon as I can visit Warsaw, I am sure I will catch Adam in his dance studio or see him on stage. Edyta is closer, London is only two hours away from Hull. I can’t wait to watch them again in action. Maybe one day they will return to Hull?