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Theatre & Dance

Christian Coulson in a scene from Festen
Christian Coulson in a scene from Festen

A life on tour: Christian Coulson

As the award-winning stage adaptation of Festen goes on tour in the UK until the end May 2006, actor Christian Coulson admits that somewhat bizarrely, the least you know about the show in advance - the better.

video Watch: Christian Coulson talks about Festen >
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Dark and chilling, just two words you can use to describe the award-winning stage adaptation of Festen, based on the renowned cult movie of the same name.

Martin Barber interviews Christian Coulson

Set at the 60th birthday party of patriarch Helge Klingenfelt, the family is gathered for what turns out to be a celebration they will never forget as one of Klingenfelt's children feels compelled to break the silence surrounding an abhorrent family secret.

Nominated for five Olivier Awards, including Best New Play, the Almeida Theatre production has started its UK tour, featuring 27-year-old actor Christian Coulson.

"Very much like the works of Strindberg or Ibsen, there is this character [Christian] who turns up and because of what he brings into the environment he creates the dramatic upset," said Coulson.

"But it's very much a company piece. About 12 people are on stage at the same time. It's not really led by one person, but Christian who I play, starts the drama off I guess," he added.

The Dogme movement

Festen started life as a film by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg.

Along with fellow Danes Lars von Trier, Søren Krag Jacobsen and Kristian Levring, he conceived the rules for film-making that started the Dogme movement - rules that were created with the aim of breaking the conventions of mainstream cinema.

"I've never seen the film so I can't talk about the differences," said Coulson.

"Dogme's basic idea is that you have no props, the scenes are improvised, the camera work is hand-held – stripping back the glitz of Hollywood and fighting for a new kind of film language.

"What I think they've done is take the story that those people created in that film and made it into a play. A play is a very different thing – the level of artifice in a play is very high, it's almost the exact opposite of Dogme so they're not related in that way.

"To be fair, if it was the same as the film there would be no point in putting it on.

"Other theatre companies around the world have put on the screenplay and it had never really worked very well – whereas to take it and make it more theatrical is very interesting and I think David's [Eldridge] writing makes that work very well," he added.

From Hornblower to Harry Potter

Coulson's CV makes for impressive reading.

Stage work includes the role of Shakespeare's Romeo at the Liverpool Playhouse, he has worked on a number of TV dramas including The Forsythe Saga and Hornblower - but for Harry Potter fans he'll be best known for his portrayal of Tom Riddle in Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets.

Studio interview with Christian Coulson
Studio interview with Christian Coulson

"I hadn't read the books until I auditioned. They saw about a thousand people, in the end they got down to three and then they camera tested me and that was it," said Coulson.

"Of course it was exciting. The part really chimed with me when I read the book and I felt very strongly there was something I could bring to the character.

"When the sixth book came out last year [Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince] he's back in it and I felt those feelings again," he added.

Choosing a role

Christian admits he's never quite sure why a part will appeal to him, it's more of a gut feeling that he'll be right for the role.

"That's such a hard question. I don't always know why a part jumps out. It's about what fuels the imagination and what chimes in some way with how you tick," he said.

"The experience is very much like reading a novel and when you find characters you identify with very strongly and you don't always know why. It's not always about the exact events, but more about how their minds work," he added.

video Watch: Christian Coulson talks about Festen >
Audio and Video links on this page require Realplayer

Festen is on tour until the end of May 2006 and was staged at the Norwich Theatre Royal from 21-25 February.

last updated: 28/02/06
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