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London Theatre

Brits on Broadway: Daniel Radcliffe

10 December, 2018   |   Written by Tom Millward

he character of Harry Potter might have been famous in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, but he certainly wasn’t famed for sporting an infectious sense of humour. The boy who portrayed the young wizard in the world-conquering movie franchise is now all grown-up and, thanks to his current performance in the world premiere of The Lifespan of a Fact at the iconic Studio 54 on Broadway, is proving himself quite the master of comedy.

Daniel Radcliffe has slowly and surely been forging himself a well-respected stage career ever since his West End debut in the 2007 revival of Equus. No doubt his global celebrity propelled him to leading man status in the theatre scene without passing Go or collecting £200, but his devotion to the stage and his reportedly strong work ethic and amiability as a co-worker have garnered him wide acceptance in the industry on both sides of the Atlantic. His choice to star in Equus – Peter Schaffer’s 1973 play about a pyschiatrist’s attempts to treat a teenager with a morbid fascination for horses – midway through his “Harry Potter” tenure was as brave as it was startling. It also gained a great deal of controversial media attention due to the fact that the role of Alan Strang required onstage nudity and the then 17-year old Radcliffe would oblige. It was a bold and daring decision to show versatility and break free from the Potter machine (at least for a little while), despite the fact he was sharing the stage with a Potter co-star in the late Richard Griffiths (“Uncle Vernon”). The risk paid off, however, as Radcliffe was granted a New York transfer and he made his Broadway debut in September 2008, earning his first Drama Desk Award nomination for his efforts in 2009.

ersatility was seemingly always the aim of the game for Mr. Radcliffe, as he ventured into uncharted terriroty for his next Broadway credit in an attempt to add yet another string to his bow. He would make his all-singing, all-dancing musical theatre debut as J. Pierrepont Finch in the 2011 Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Starring opposite popular US TV star John Larroquette, Radcliffe showed his fighting spirit in a genre previously not accustomed to and held his own in director/choreographer Rob Ashford’s huge musical numbers. His engagement in the Broadway musical ran from February 2011 through to January 2012 – his first stage venture following the completion of filming for the “Harry Potter” series – catching both critics and fans off-guard with yet another surprising career choice, ultimately earning his second Drama Desk Award nomination.

Following his return to the London stage in Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan in 2013, Radcliffe reprised the role of Billy Claven in the Broadway transfer from April to July 2014. His nuanced portrayal of the cripple Billy, who leaves the rural Irish community of Inishmaan and sets out to neighbouring Inishmore, where a Hollywood film crew has landed, in the hopes of getting cast in their documentary, further solidified his gravitas as a stage actor. It also signified a willingness to delve further into comedy, albeit in McDonagh’s signature darkly comic tone, and resulted in a third Drama Desk Award nomination.

Radcliffe made his off-Broadway debut in the summer of 2016 at the Public Theater, in Josie Rourke’s unusual and almost experimental staging of Privacy, which actually encouraged audience members to keep their mobile phones switched on throughout the performance as onstage researchers sought out online information about them. The play could have been described as a highly interactive and very meta piece of theatre, and, again, an unusual and out-of-the-box choice for an actor with the kind of pull that Mr. Radcliffe enjoys.

The last time Radcliffe graced the London stage was in the Old Vic’s production of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which ran from February to May 2017. His performance as Rosencrantz gained him widely favourable reviews as his evolution into a comic stage actor grew from strength to strength and his wide fan base introduced a whole new generation to the work of theatrical genius Tom Stoppard. Perhaps one of the most celebrated of intellectual playwrights, having Stoppard on Radcliffe’s résumé is sure to open many doors in future for the great stage roles of the past. Maybe even Hamlet himself will be on the cards one day…

Recently I was fortunate enough to catch a performance by Daniel Radcliffe in his current Broadway run of The Lifespan of a Fact and was astounded by the actor’s finely tuned gift for comic timing. He plays Jim Fingall, a young and uber-eager employee of an unnamed literary magazine, assigned by his boss, Emily Penrose (played by Cherry Jones) to fact check an exceedingly important essay by one John D’Agata (Bobby Cannavale), exploring the Las Vegas suicide of teenager Levi Presley. D’Agata never lets the facts get in the way of a good story, whilst Fingall – like a determined, teeth-clenched Jack Russell – insists that facts are facts and must be obeyed at all costs. And so, two worlds collide in this riveting world premiere, directed by Tony Award nominee Leigh Silverman. It has been an absolute joy to watch Mr. Radcliffe grow as a stage actor, now exuding confidence by the bucket-load in this controlled and yet raucous performance as Jim Fingall. Tony Award nominations have been frustratingly elusive in the young actor’s stage career so far, but in 2019, thanks to his obsessive fact-checking and commanding turn, that may all be about to change…

The Lifespan of a Fact Tickets are available now for performances through to January 13, 2019.

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