Over the course of his career, Geoff Aymer has appeared on EastEnders and has toured some of London’s biggest theatres.
Roles include performing in Macbeth at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and The Plague at the Arcola Theatre. This November sees Aymer appearing in Paul Harvard’s new play GHBoy. The play which also stars Sylvester Akinrolabu (A Lesson Learnt), follows Robert as he grieves the death of his father, whilst struggling with substance abuse and infidelity to his boyfriend Sergio. It is set in the midst of East London’s burgeoning party scene, where a swathe of young men are dying unexpectedly, with whispers of an unnamed killer.
We spoke to Geoff Aymer to find more about the play and how it feels to be returning to performing live theatre …
Please introduce yourself
My name is Geoff Aymer (you can call me Geoffrey if you like but Geoff is a bit less formal). I am an actor and writer, and up till about 13 years ago, I also earned a bit of a living as a stand-up comedian.
What word or sentence best describes your life right now?
Comfortable. Or fortunate. That usually means financially well off but that’s not what I mean in this case. It’s been a relatively decent year for me. I worked on two writing projects during lockdown, one of which was an actual commission. I hadn’t written anything for around ten years prior to that—had a bit of a crisis of confidence a while back but I think I’m over that now. In recent months, I’ve had three acting gigs including this one, at a time when a lot of other performers have struggled so I count myself as being quite lucky at present.
This has been a difficult summer for theatre – how does it feel to be returning to the theatre this November for GHBoy?
We actually had an opening night before the second national lockdown kicked in and we will resume at the beginning of December once lockdown has been lifted. It feels great to be back doing live theatre though a bit weird with the new Covid safety rules in place. However, I’ve become accustomed to mask-wearing and other anomalies so it’s not phasing me too much. Also, I’m really pleased that it’s with an exciting new play.
You also recently filmed Apollo 13: The Dark Side of the Moon, a theatre production filmed for online consumption. What are your thoughts on theatres increasingly moving to create digital content?
Filming Apollo 13 was a lot of fun and a very interesting experience. It was very much like working on a film set but I was also aware that there was a theatrical element about it, so it wasn’t pure filmmaking as such. It was amazing to see what was achieved visually using just zoom, basic film cameras, and a green screen. I thought the weightless scenes looked amazing. It just goes to show that the key to a good story is the script—you don’t need to overdo CGI effects. I think we may see more digital theatre for as long as social distancing is required but I hope it merely heralds a new dimension in how theatre is presented and does not mean the end of actual live theatre. Also, digital theatre may have an effect on how scriptwriters work. Previously there was an established set of rules for writing for stage and rules for the screen. Digital theatre possibly means presenting a hybrid of the two.
Before the recent announcement, had government restrictions on account of Coronavirus led to any major changes in the way you have been rehearsing or will be performing the play?
We were required to adhere to Covid safety guidelines while rehearsing: Covid tests; temperature checks every day; wearing of masks if we were in close proximity to each other. However, once we were in proper performance mode, any scenes that required physical intimacy were conducted as they would have been done pre-Covid.
GHBoy follows Robert as he grieves the death of his father and struggles with substance abuse and infidelity – can you tell us a bit about your role within the play?
My character, Benjamin, is quite a nasty piece of work. He’s loosely based on a real-life serial killer/rapist who drugged a lot of young men in order to sexually assault them and in 4 cases ended up killing them with an overdose. In the play, my character appears both as himself but also as a nightmarish manifestation of Robert’s neurosis.
GHBoy tackles some of the misconceptions around gay culture and promiscuity – how do you feel the play explores these themes in a way that is relevant for contemporary audiences?
Good question. First, I think many will find this play eye-opening. I knew next to nothing about the lifestyle being explored here, but I’m always up for learning about new things. I recently watched Michaela Cole’s fantastic I May Destroy You, and I can see a few parallels between the lifestyle she explored in that piece and the one that Paul is describing in this play. With the rise of dating apps such as Tinder, I’m guessing that sexual mores have changed somewhat from when I was in my prime so I suspect that audiences of a certain age, regardless of sexuality, will find something within this play that they can connect to. But I don’t think the play is looking at sexual permissiveness just for the sake of it. It’s also exploring Robert’s search for that sense of belonging as well as his need for validation of his self-worth. That’s a pretty universal theme in itself.
As well as racking up credits as an actor on stage and screen, you also write plays – have you been writing recently and will we see any more of your plays performed in the future?
As I alluded to earlier, I was commissioned to write a family show for Theatre Peckham. It’s a modern-day reworking of The Wizard Of Oz story called The Wonderful. It will be staged in either the Spring or Christmas of 2021. However, I was more recently commissioned to write a pared-down version of the same piece—a Jackanory style version of it so-to-speak, so it’s less than an hour. A narrator will be used to navigate most of the story and will only feature a few of the actors who will perform bits of dialogue and shorter versions of the songs. The full version of the show features around a dozen or so songs for which I’ve written all the lyrics. The pared-down version of The Wonderful will serve as a taster to the local community in Peckham for what is to come next year and it will be performed at Theatre Peckham during what will be the second week of GHBoy’s run at Charing Cross Theatre. I’ve also been working on an idea for a TV comedy-drama with an acting buddy of mine. We’ve developed a pitch and have written a pilot episode so far. It has generated some interest but I don’t have anything concrete to report on at the moment.
Speaking of your illustrious career – you probably have seen black arts renaissances and the diversity conversation come and go. Does it feel at all different in 2020? Do you think finally Black creatives will be heard?
It’s difficult to know the answer to this. I’ve seen a lot of false dawns in the past when the subject of diversity and representation of Black arts has come up. We are now being pushed forward at present because of the events of the past 12 months or so, particularly the series of events that led to the Black Lives Matter protests earlier this year but, predictably there’s also a backlash brewing. I think the Black arts community has got to keep its eye on the ball and simply not let complacency creep in. There will come a time when the conversation about diversity will become boring and old hat again to the wider mainstream community. It’s up to us to keep our foot on the gas and never let up. Having a lot more creatives behind the scenes will help ie writers, directors, producers, etc. But we will also need people of colour in more high ranking roles such as commissioning editors in TV, artistic directors of theatres, what we might refer to as the gatekeepers of this industry.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU …
- A book you have to have in your collection – Harper Lee’s, To Kill A Mockingbird
- A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date – Well, my favourite song of all time is Easy by The Commodores. I kinda feel personally connected to that. Favourite album‘s a bit tricky. There are quite a few. For a while, Steel Pulse’s Earth Crisis was a huge fave.
- A film / TV show that you will watch whenever it’s on repeatedly – Guilty pleasure- Family Guy. Yep, I’m just a big stupid child at heart.
- The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you – I can’t remember exactly how old I was when my Mum took me to see this—somewhere between 7 and 9 years old perhaps, but I’m pretty sure this was the first stage production I ever saw, Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. That’s right, an opera. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had no idea way back then that I was ever going to get involved in this business.
- What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week: What’s made me both sad and extremely angry this week is all this nonsense regarding the supermarket ads. Had a bit of a rant on Twitter about it and I’m steadfastly trying not to vent my frustrations on social media but it was too much. The fact that Sainsbury’s has been getting heat for featuring an ad with a black family, and Tesco’s have been spooked enough to edit out a black family that it had initially had in one of its ads shows just how far this country has to go before it can even remotely consider itself to be as tolerant as it claims to be. What’s made me glad is that I had a zoom chat with my siblings and cousins yesterday. These folks are spread around the world—as well as the UK, they’re in Canada and the USA. (I also have family, including my parents, in Antigua which is my heritage). Anyway, the UK and North American posse had a virtual get together yesterday. I’m aware that not everyone has family and relatives that they can count on so I feel extremely fortunate that my clan is as supportive and loving as it is.
GHBoy plays at Charing Cross Theatre from Wednesday 3rd-20th December find out more here