“Nothing can replace humans communicating stories to other humans – it is the very essence of us as a species”: MyAnna Buring on anthropology at Hampstead Theatre
From Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 and 2 on the silver screen to Ripper Street, Downton Abbey, Doctor Who and The Responder on the small screen, MyAnna Buring has an extensive list of credits to her name. In theatre, she has starred in such stage smashes as A Very Expensive Poison (Old Vic) and played at Hampstead Theatre’s downstairs space in The Wasp back in 2015. She now returns to the venue, this time on its main stage to star as Merril in the eagerly anticipated anthropology by acclaimed playwright Lauren Gunderson. The actor kindly took time out of her hectic schedule to tell The Upcoming all about the play.
MyAnna, thank you so much for speaking with The Upcoming. What can you tell us about anthropology? What can audiences expect from the production?
anthropology is an exploration of grief with a thriller element to it that also debates the ever-increasing presence of AI in our lives. It’s a witty, fast-paced, thrilling ride.
How would you describe your character Merril?
She is an incredibly bright computer programmer – think Silicon Valley superstar, who is also a sister, carer, and human grappling with enormous grief.
After first reading the script, do you have a strong idea of how you are going to portray a character or is this something that stems from the rehearsal process? Do you find yourself drawing on your own life experiences when taking on a role?
Lauren Gunderson’s characters jump off the page, so in many ways, she does a lot of the work for you as an actor. And yes, the character felt very clear from the beginning. However, Anna Ledwich has this incredible directorial ability to get you to dig, investigate and excavate emotional connections within us but also externally, so there were surprises along the way. I think the best thing is to be open and playful… of course, you draw on personal experiences but also you are drawing on empathy.
What do you look for in a project? Is character the main draw for you or is it the story, subject matter or themes of a play?
All the above – many times only one of those boxes is ticked for you but here was a project that fulfilled all of those things for me.
Artificial Intelligence is rapidly becoming a very real aspect of modern life. What are your thoughts on AI in general? Do you see it as a threat to the acting community?
I think my main feeling about AI is that it can be a wonderful thing and it can be a terrible thing and that is entirely dependent on the people using it. In my heart, I just can’t believe that it can be a threat to the acting community – nothing can replace humans communicating stories to other humans, it is the very essence of us as a species, surely? But my head has alarm bells ringing: do we not own our own image or voice? The fact that companies or organisations can own our image or voice is insane to me. That feels like theft and that does feel very dangerous to me.
In a world brimming with numerous streaming platforms and an ever-increasing desire for instant gratification, why do you think theatre appeals and still holds relevance?
Theatre is a form of ritual. We sit down with other humans and go on a journey. We watch and hear and feel a story unfold in front of us, connect to it, and for a while get to communally contemplate ideas and be moved. When it is good, there is nothing like it.
Would you say UK theatre is currently in a healthy state?
Compared to many places around the world, theatre in the UK is absolutely still thriving. It is incredible really, we have so many wonderful people working within this industry and so many brilliant stories being told. But the damage that funding cuts have had and the treatment of the industry during COVID-19 lockdowns is also still palpable. I really salute everyone who has worked so hard to keep theatre alive here for us and everyone who has supported theatre.
What was your first memory of theatre?
My first memory of theatre is school plays in the Middle East. And then I vividly remember the Oxford Touring Company bringing A Twelfth Night to Muscat when I was about fifteen – it blew me away! I can still remember leaning forward in my seat utterly gripped by the fluid playfulness on the stage.
When did you realise acting was what you wanted to do?
I think I always wanted to be a storyteller or performer, but it wasn’t until I was at university in Bristol that the possibility became real for me. We were putting on plays all the time and I was aware that this was very much what I wanted to do.
If not a performer, what career could you see yourself in?
If not a performer I think I would be interested in diplomacy: understanding both sides of an argument, working out how people tick and gaining insight into different cultures sounds fascinating.
You’ve worked extensively across stage, television and film. Do you have a preferred medium? Are there pros and cons with each?
I don’t have a preferred medium, it’s all about the project and people for me… I do love the rehearsal period you get in theatre. However, I get just as excited walking into a theatre as I do walking onto a set.
Performing eight times a week is a tall order. How do you cope with the demands of delivering so many performances of the same play? Does each show usually feel different? Are you able to switch off easily at the end of a performance?
It is a great discipline and I think I would struggle if I didn’t love the play. Every show does feel different and that helps to keep me on my toes. I never quite know how it will go, how audiences will react, or how I will feel. You just bungee jump into every performance. I do switch off, but I also feel like I am running on an adrenaline high throughout the run. The play is always with me in some way. But then as soon as the run is done, I let it go quite quickly. I might have a week in pyjamas and after that, I won’t remember a single line of the show – it must be my brain creating space for other things.
Are there any types of roles you are yet to play but have a desire to?
I always get asked this and the honest answer is no. I just have a feeling of excitement at what might be next, it’s always a surprise. I never know what it might be but I’m always excited and curious.
What’s next for you after anthropology?
I will be finishing filming for The Responder 2, which has already started shooting in Liverpool.
Finally, if you could sum up the play in just a few words, what would they be?
A witty, fast-paced thrilling ride that might just break your heart. Also, this is the world premiere of this play: no one has ever seen it anywhere before.
Thank you so much for your time!
Photos: The Other Richard
anthropology is at Hampstead Theatre from 7th September until 14th October 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for anthropology here: