Andrew Henry is doing quite well for himself thank you very much.
This boy from the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, moved to the big smoke when he was 18 and has had some pretty incredible experiences in the theatrical world since then. He has starred in a show about Bob Dylan, worked in the United States with the acclaimed American theatre company Steppenwolf, made his bread and butter with a few television commercials and is now producer and star of the Australian premiere production of Neil LaBute’s gripping play Reasons To Be Pretty. And he’s still only in his mid twenties.
Reasons To Be Pretty, set in working class Chicago is what Henry describes as “super cool, super relevant” and features “substantial and crunchy” dialogue, and if ticket sales are anything to go by, Sydney audiences think so too.
Now in the last wek of performances, this four-hander play has done wonderful business at the Darlinghurst Theatre and has been quite a success in both Henry’s eyes and in the eyes of the beholders (read Cassie Tongue’s review here).
“The really great thing about Neil LaBute is that some people love what he has to say and some hate it”, Henry told AussieTheatre.
“There would be absolutely no point in doing it unless we had some people saying ‘oh that made me really uncomfortable'”, he said.
The road to producing this gritty and relevant piece of work was long, and as Henry explains, not an altogether easy task – at least to begin with. After discovering the play in manuscript form back in 2009, Henry “hassled Neil LaBute’s agent for about 2 years” until the producers of the Broadway production allowed to Oceania region to have the rights to the play. Obtaining these rights, as it turns out, was nigh on a three year process.
“Reasons To Be Pretty opened off Broadway, then transferred to Broadway and was doing really well and I guess some dude from Australia wanting to produce a fresh title in a 200 seat theatre was not as appealing as perhaps a big 2000 seat venue”, he explained.
But his persistance paid off, and when Henry received the good news, he immediately called co-producer and director James Beach to start the ball rolling.
“I’d never worked with James before, but we met when he was doing a Hamlet thing and I was doing the Bob Dylan show in Adelaide through a mutual friend. When I called and asked him if he’d like to do this, he agreed right away.”
Playing the roles of star and producer simultaneously might seem to be a difficult balance to strike, but Henry insists it has been a stress-free process.
“You work with James Beach, that’s how you do it”, he laughs. “Prior to rehearsals starting, I was prorbaly more involved in the producing side of things and during rehearsals and into the show, James has taken over.”
Henry knew from the outset that he wanted to perform in the play, but casting the other roles he left entirely up to Beach.
“There were auditions for the other roles, yes. I was really conscious of producing and starring so James commandeered the auditions.He kind of didn’t really know what he was getting with me, so he needed to know at least 3 of the cast were good!”, he said.
Henry does divulge that his only request was that Beach met and gave an audition time to Julia Grace, who is now starring opposite Henry in the role of Steph.
When asked why this particular play caught his fancy, it is easy to believe Henry could talk on the subject for hours. It is clear that he is passionate about good writing and exciting theatre, and Neil LaBute’s work fits his ideal to a tee. The show is a collection of 8 scenes, each of which contain approximately 15 pages of intense naturalistic, overlapping dialogue. Henry calls them “big and juicy”."It’s writing that doesn’t stand out as writing. I think that’s really important. For me, the kind of theatre I enjoy watching is that where you don’t see a director or an actor being a star"
“It’s writing that doesn’t stand out as writing. I think that’s really important. For me, the kind of theatre I enjoy watching is that where you don’t see a director or an actor being a star. Things just happen on stage and you are put into a completely believable world. He writes this dialogue that is crunchy and substantial – it’s not difficult language to grasp because it’s how people talk. It’s not about the writer, not about the actor – it’s just, normal stuff.”
Working at the Darlinghurst Theatre, has been a great experience for Henry and Beach as independent producers, and he recommends them wholeheartedly as supportive partners.
“We looked at the climate in Sydney as to where an independent producer could form a partnership with a theatre company and put a show on and the Darlinghurst Theatre is really the only place you can go to produce a new international work. They have been lovely to deal with, excellent partnering arrangement, and incredibly helpful.”
“They might be being extra nice cause our ticket sales are going so well!”, he quipped.
With less than a week of performances left, one wonders what this bright young actor/producer might be sinking his teeth into next. Like all good producers, he keeps his cards close to his chest, revealing only that he has two projects on the boil for next year – both international works, (one American and one British) – and that one has not been performed in Australia for 14 years. Just enough to keep pique our interest, keep us guessing and to make it clear there are many good reasons to be Andrew Henry.
But until we hear an official announcement, audiences should focus on the current success story, Reasons To Be Pretty. If you haven’t already seen the show at the Darlo, there are only four days left! As AussieTheatre’s reviewer put it:
This is an excellent production of a contemporary play that manages to feel incredibly relevant without preaching any kind of message; this is pure commentary on who we are and who we might be, and for that, reasons to be pretty is hugely important. Don’t miss it – Cassie Tongue, AussieTheatre Reviewer
Reasons To Be Pretty
Starring: Julia Grace, Andrew Henry, Stephen James King and Lucy Maunder
Times: Tuesday – Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 5pm