Rhashan Stone plays ‘Tambo’ in Tambo & Bones currently showing at the Theatre Royal Stratford East …
Tambo & Bones written by David Harris and directed by Matthew Xia takes a satirical look at two friends stuck in a minstrel show who decide to come up with a plan to get out, get rich, and get even.
With an extensive career in TV behind him, Stone shares why this particular role has been challenging but also absolutely satisfying …
Please introduce yourself …
Hello, I’m Rhashan Stone, I’m an actor. Originally from the US, from Newark, New Jersey, but have lived most of my life in the UK.
Why Tambo & Bones?
My agent sent me the script and I read it one sitting and thought it was the most incredible thing I had ever read. Having just done Fairview at the Young Vic I was aware of the toll that plays like this can take when you are putting the black experience at the forefront. There is a lot that you take home from plays like these, and particularly plays that are controversial and challenging. I absolutely loved Fairview, and it’s a play that I’m so proud of but it did take a toll and I had to think very carefully before accepting this, but in the end I just thought it’s a fantastic two hander where we get to showcase so many skills as actors. It’s all very well playing doctors, police officers, and people’s best friends; it’s just nice to put two black actors front, down stage centre and just using all the skills you can bring to the table – it’s just been the most fantastic experience.
Tell us about your character and what their goal is Tambo & Bones …
I play Tambo in Tambo & Bones – Tambo considers himself to be the thinker. He’s what We consider to be the intellectual one of the two characters. I think there some truth in that, but he learns throughout the play that Bones has his own brand of wisdom that he becomes infected with. Tambo sets out to change the world. These are two minstrels who live in a world where they are always under the white gaze, they’re always being watched, they’re always performing, they’re always switched on, and they’re tired. Tambo wants to change that dynamic, but actually what he realises is what he is trying to change is racism. He wants to eradicate racism and the question that’s raised in the play is how do you do that. The way the playwright does it is, as it’s a satire, is very funny and also highly controversial.
Tell us about working with your fellow cast …
I’m working with the fantastic Daniel Ward. When you are doing a two hander you have to rely utterly on the other person, which luckily I can. He’s just a great actor, we didn’t know each other before the play and we have, in a really short space of time – from a standing start, got a great relationship, which is really important as we have to portray that Tambo and Bones have known each other their whole lives, hopefully the audience will feel the symmetry between me and Daniel.
What does the story of Tambo & Bones mean to you personally?
Like Tambo I am tired. I’m tired of being watched. I’m tired people asking where I’m from, I’m tired of having to justify who I am, I’m tired of having to prove myself as a black man, as a writer, an actor and a producer etc. I’d just really like to be able to walk into a room and be treated the same way as my counterparts. That’s where I feel the melancholy thread that runs through this play. Like Tambo I also want to change the world. With the rise of the right and the re-emergence of fascism we all need to be on our guard. This play is about that rise, and so people should definitely come and see it.
Tell us about a challenging moment during this project that you had to dig deep to get through it?
This is going to sound like a really weird one, but I’m always asked ‘how do actors learn their lines?’ And I’ve never really thought about it before it’s just something that you have to do. This is the first play where I have been absolutely terrified because we’ve got fight sequences to learn, we’ve got dance routines, we’ve got the rap, we’ve got the lines – and there is only two of us and it’s a 90 minute play and so for the first time I was like I’ve got to really dig deep to learn this play in a very short period of time. So yeah even now, we’ve just done a few previews it’s a little scary at points but we’re there, we’re just about there. But yeah that’s how I had to dig deep – I’m not as young as I was; the brain isn’t quite as nimble.
Tell us a memorable moment on set?
Definitely lots of memorable moments to do with the technical aspects of the show. It is a real visual treat for the audience and for me the memorable bits are when these amazingly theatrical visual moments happen on stage and the audience burst in to spontaneous applause for the two performances we’ve done so far. I think the designers, lighting designer and sound designer have obviously done something right. So yeah for me that’s the memorable moment, seeing the audiences faces when they look at the stage and when they say how on earth did you do that.
Highs, lows, solutions?
What I find difficult particularly with the controversial black work that I’ve done in the last few years is I find audiences who are sort of wilfully unwilling to see the world through the black lens. I find that really difficult because just as a human being it’s the least you could do for someone really is to give them the respect to be who they are and not be so arrogant as to think that you have to change them or it’s your position to change them. Luckily its not happened on Tambo & Bones but it definitely happened on Fairview. I don’t enjoy being lectured by people who don’t look like me, and who think they know better than me I don’t enjoy that at all. Thankfully in this play it hasn’t happened but it’s something that I think about and it worries me and I hope it doesn’t happen. But the joy of doing this play at Stratford East is that I’m betting that it’s not going to happen because of the fabulous audiences we get here.
Which scene/character best defines what you love about this project? [without spoilers of
Definitely the hip hop section, I mean there is a full blown hip hop concert in the play. The audience’s faces when it happens, it’s just fantastic. Our director Matthew Xia, used to be a rapper and so he’s produced the music and it sounds fantastic, the lighting’s amazing. It’s just one of those moments where you sit in the theatre and think yeah, it’s the magical element of theatre that people really enjoy. Also, the clowning – Daniel and I get to be clowns in the first act and I absolutely love that, I love playing opposite Daniel and the mischief that we find in the clowning both verbal and non-verbal.
Considering your career evolution, where does this project sit on your checklist?
I’ve been waiting my whole life for the opportunity to play a character that can utilise what I can bring, I was born in America, I get to do an American accent, I like playing multiple characters in things and I get to play three different people in this play, although they are the same person, it’s very meta. I do enjoy that and it sits at the top of my checklist because it’s an important play by an important African American writer being performed in an important British theatre to an important audience, I mean it doesn’t get any better than that.
A holiday. I’m going to Greece with my family for a week and we’re going to lie by the pool and I can’t wait.
When and where can we go and see Tambo & Bones?
Tambo & Bones is at Theatre Royal Stratford East, we’ve opened already and we play until 15 July. Please come.