“I think Philip is one of our greatest living playwrights”: Joseph Potter on Leaves of Glass ahead of its opening at Park Theatre
Leaves of Glass was first performed at the Soho Theatre in London back in 2007. One of Phil Ridley’s most acclaimed works; it follows two brothers and their relationship as it is shaped and framed by an event from their past. The performance plays with perspective and how different perceptions can tear families apart as well as create confusion in facing the demons of the self. This version at Park Theatre sees Ridley once again working with up-and-coming star Joseph Potter, alongside Ned Costello. An avid fan of Ridley’s work, Potter also previously starred in The Poltergeist – which the playwright wrote in the midst of the first pandemic lockdown.
Potter graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama just a year before the lockdown. He came into the industry during the theatre shutdown and found himself a Hail Mary in the form of Ridley’s The Poltergeist. The play was performed via livestream and its success led to a physical performance at the Arcola Theatre just as the world started opening back up. The Upcoming caught up with the actor to talk about the process of working and understanding Ridley’s plays, navigating theatre through the pandemic, and his relationship with his siblings in contrast with the dynamic between Steven and Barry in Leaves of Glass.
Can you give us a brief introduction to yourself and your upcoming play, Leaves of Glass?
My name is Joseph Potter and I’m playing the role of Barry in Philip Ridley’s Leaves of Glass at the Park Theatre. I’ve worked with Phil on a few things now, most recently The Poltergeist, which was streamed online, and then in person at the Arcola Theatre. Leaves of Glass embraces everything that Phil’s writing is, and subverts it too! It’s about a family dealing with their past and how each member grapples to shape their narrative in order to survive – a lot of the time, at the expense of someone else.
How does it feel to revive such a gripping and disorienting narrative, especially for an audience of today?
I can’t wait for us to open! The play is a hall of mirrors: it’s constantly morphing as it unravels. I think that’s why it’s so thrilling, because you are left in its wake, not being told how or what to feel.
Leaves of Glass is, of course, a story of two brothers. Do you have any experiences with siblings that you drew from for this performance?
I do have siblings! Fortunately, we have a very healthy relationship. I certainly can’t say the same for Barry and Steve. I think, innately, in a family, love is so palpable that when someone does something to hurt you, it hurts twice as hard. So I’m holding onto that. A lot of it is imagination – like, what if someone did that to me? Luckily, I have no practical experience!
Ned Costello will be opposite you, playing Steven. How have you guys been cultivating the dynamic between your two characters?
Hopefully, Ned can say the same: I feel really lucky. Ned is such a generous actor, and, in the moments of darkness, you have to be twice as generous and know you have trust. From the off, we’ve been super playful and free with one another. We really were able to provoke and challenge each other in the scenes. That’s what brothers are all about.
You’ve starred in another one of Philip Ridley’s works before, The Poltergeist. What is it about his work that draws you in?
I think Philip is one of our greatest living playwrights! His writing is so beautifully visceral and detailed, and has such a powerful rhythm. You can’t help but be sucked in. He is always risking and pushing himself further out to sea; his plays are gifts for any actor!
Did you find any contrasts and parallels in The Poltergeist and Leaves of Glass that particularly caught your attention with Ridley’s work? Or is there anything you noticed in the evolution of his writing from then to now?
Of course, there has been an evolution. As I said, Phil is always daring to do something new. His plays, although immediately may not seem it, are always about what is happening immediately around him. But, at the core, you have timeless themes of love, family, memory and power, which, I think, are the questions he always dares to ask. I love reading his plays and seeing pockets of recurring images that are always present in his art. Ridley Easter eggs for us fans!
Did working with Ridley in The Poltergeist play a role in your getting involved with this project?
Yes. I like to think that I get Phil’s work… hopefully. The rhythm and the images he builds are so concrete that when I read his text, I can hear it in my head. A lot of the time it’s about surrendering to what the text is asking of you. I think if you surrender to his text and let it carry you, a lot of the work is done for you. So now, very luckily for me, I’m working on this beautiful play.
Which other works by Ridley would you also like to be part of another time soon?
The one I would really like to do – which I particularly think now has an even greater resonance – is The Pitchfork Disney. Cosmo is someone I would love to play. So, I’m putting that out into the world!
You graduated in 2019 and, just a year later, the pandemic struck. As an actor, how did you navigate through that time in your life, especially with the theatre shutdown?
That was a very interesting time. I’m grateful my training wasn’t affected, but to leave and get a taste of life as an actor, and then for the world to stop, was difficult. I think it gave me a good period of reflection. It was a time when I wasn’t waiting for the phone to ring because I knew it wouldn’t. I think that helped me a lot. However, funnily enough, The Poltergeist was born out of lockdown; had it never happened, that work would cease to exist. We performed that in an empty theatre with three cameras. Then, having the opportunity to do it live, that is what the form is – sharing it with an audience was incomparable!
After this and the tour, what other projects are you currently involved in that you can share with us?
Nothing I can speak of yet. I’m grateful to be working with an amazing creative team and once this is done, we will see…
Leaves of Glass opens at Park Theatre on 11th May 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.