On July 17, previews will kick off for Bagdad Cafe at The Old Vic. The theatre is co-producing the show in London with director and adapter Emma Rice (Romantics Anonymous, Wise Children) and the Wise Children Company. An adaptation of Percy and Eleonore Adlon’s film Bagdad Cafe (1987), it follows the chance meeting of stranded tourist Jasmin (Patrycja Kujawska) and the cafe’s owner, Brenda (Sandra Marvin), and the friendships that develop.
The Old Vic will hold in-person performances through August 21. If you can’t make the trip to London, there’s an opportunity to watch virtually from August 25 through 28. Be sure to check out the In Camera – Bagdad Cafe section of The Old Vic’s website for details and livestream tickets.
I spoke with actor Gareth Snook, who plays the character Rudi in the show. He’s performed in a number of productions in London’s West End, including Phantom of the Opera, My Fair Lady, Sunset Boulevard, and Les Misérables.
Which of your earlier roles would you say is your favorite?
The roles that I played in Sondheim musicals, I’ve loved generally [including] Company and Merrily We Roll Along. I played Lee Harvey Oswald in Assassins for Sam Mendes at the Donmar Warehouse and that was a terrific experience.
What’s a lesson you learned early in your acting career that’s stuck with you?
In order to get the best performance, the building of community among actors and in the rehearsal room, having everyone’s trust and belief, and the confidence to make mistakes are all so important and contribute to the quality of the work that you do.
Have you performed at the Old Vic before?
I have. I did my second show with Emma Rice when she set up her own company called Wise Children. It was Wise Children that we did. She adapted Angela Carter’s novel. We started at the Old Vic, and we did a short tour of the UK with it. I played Old Dora, a seventy-year-old twin.
What can you share with us about your character, Rudi?
Well, Rudi lives in a very small metal caravan on the site of the Bagdad Cafe. He’s lived on his own. He’s lonely. He doesn’t hardly see anyone, except apart from the few people that run the cafe. He’s an old 60s hippie, stuck in that period. He’s got long hair and wears a bandana and sandals. Throughout his life, he was a set painter in Hollywood. He decided to get away from the big city and just live in this caravan literally in the middle of nowhere, in the Mojave Desert.
Is there anything you admire about him?
I admire the fact that he’s happy. I think he’s lonely, but he’s happy in his loneliness until he meets what he thinks is this strange woman, a tourist who arrives out of nowhere at the cafe with a suitcase. He falls in love with her.
How would you describe Emma’s style as a director, especially with rehearsals?
She’s amazing. She represents everything that I think rehearsals should be about. She creates an atmosphere whereby, as I was saying earlier, you’re allowed to fail and you can bring choices to the rehearsal room. The great thing about Emma is that you never make a choice or a decision too early in the rehearsal process. Look at all the choices and eventually the right one, I think, will just rise and come through. Invariably, those choices are the best. That’s what I love about working with her. Also, the fun we have is fabulous. It’s great!
Have you had any challenges or surprises along the way, especially since the show is an adaptation of a film?
Emma uses all different kinds of media in pieces to tell the story. One of them is the use of puppetry and miniatures. Although I’ve worked with her twice before, this is the first time that I’ve been entrusted with doing something with puppetry. [Laughs] I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience. That’s been such fun doing that.
Do you have a favorite scene from the show?
In my favorite scenes, I decide that I want to paint Jasmin’s portrait. She’s the woman that I’m gradually falling in love with. There’s a series of scenes whereby our relationship grows while I’m painting her and they both really start to connect with each other.
Previews are beginning soon at the Old Vic. What are you most excited about with getting back to having a live audience?
I’m looking forward to hearing a live audience. Although they’ll be wearing masks, maybe I’ll see those eyes light up. Having that connection again with an audience after so long is going to be overwhelming, I think. It’s going to be quite a powerful experience after all this time off. It’s the audience and hopefully hearing their laughter and applause.
What would you like audiences to take away when they see Bagdad Cafe?
I want them to take away the happiness that the show represents, the positiveness it represents in life, and the belief in humanity. Hopefully, they leave the theatre feeling far more positive than before they walked into it. There’ll be smiles, I hope, on everybody’s faces.