CJ de Mooi opens to the press tonight (22 March 2018) in the premiere of Banana Crabtree Simon, David Hendon’s one-man play about dementia. How does snooker connect author and actor? Why did his first reading of the play make CJ cry? Find out in our interview with him below – and then get booking!
Life is made of memories… What happens when they start to fade away?
Banana Crabtree Simon explores one man’s struggle with early onset dementia. The premiere production, which runs at London’s Drayton Arms Theatre from 19 March to 14 April 2018, with a press night on 22 March – is performed by CJ de Mooi, directed by Daniel Phillips and presented by Jamie Chapman Dixon and Rigmarole Productions.
Author David Hendon is well known to sports fans as a snooker commentator for channels including Eurosport. He made his playwriting debut in 2006 with The Bench, which he followed with From Me to 3792, The D-List, Eyes to the Wind, Sign of the Times and Home Time.
In conversation with CJ de Mooi
How did you first discover Dave Hendon (as a playwright) & Banana Crabtree Simon?
It was rather strange. I’ve always been a big snooker fan and Dave is a commentator for Eurosport. I know most of the players and just got to know him through via other people. That’s his day job, but his passion is writing so we started chatting and he sent Rigmarole a couple of scripts for me to read.
How much of a snooker fan are you?
I’ve always loved snooker and I think it’s because it’s one of those things I simply can’t do. I was a competent pool player in my youth, but snooker was beyond my humble abilities. To me, it doesn’t matter what the activity is: if it’s something I could never attempt, I find it fascinating. I had the honour a few years ago to play a frame at the Crucible Theatre, on the table that was set up for the World Championship final, with former champion Cliff Thorburn. I won it in a charity auction and scored a total of one point. Still the best few hundred pounds I ever spent!
What did you think when you first read Banana Crabtree Simon? Why did you want to perform it?
Although I’ve had very little personal connection to dementia, it’s a disease that touches and destroys so many lives. I tried to read the script through those eyes and by the end of it, they were crying. There’s a very definite decline in the character of Alan, and it’s terribly affecting to be a part of that. I’ve never attempted a one-man play before and wasn’t at all sure I could do it. I passed the script to Jamie Chapman Dixon and Dan Phillips and they both felt the same. It was a piece that had to be performed, and I should grasp the opportunity, no matter how frightening!
What’s the most challenging/rewarding thing about performing the piece?
Obviously, the amount of text to learn was daunting. Even when I minimised the font, it still filled 16 pages of A4 so I decided to take it slowly rather than stressing and took four months to learn it. There were, of course, rewrites, but I was apprehensive about rehearsals and character development so I wanted to be word-perfect before we began.
It was impossible to read without considering how Alan would be facing his journey. I undertook a lot of research and talked to dementia nurses, watched documentaries and even took VR tours which simulate the more extreme symptoms. The danger with such a piece is to overplay it, trying to include every mood and response, but we found it was much more powerful to keep it balanced. Of course, there are emotional highs and lows in the play but the steady inevitability of it all is just so heart-breaking.
Do you have any favourite lines in the piece?
There are, perhaps surprisingly, a few lines which are out and out jokes, provoking big laughs. We’ve all seen plays where sudden humour has seemed out of place with the subject matter and there’s a nervousness about laughing. Nevertheless, life is for enjoying so there are always laughs to be had.
That said, I think my favourite line is: “But then she did something I hadn’t been expecting. She hugged me, real close.” It may seem innocent and sweet enough, but that’s the point for me. It’s delivered in a suspicious and mocking tone, and it’s the first indication of Alan’s growing paranoia. Once this happens, there’s a very definite shift in Alan’s behaviour and the reactions to him, both from the audience and the other characters in his story.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’ll be perfectly honest: I didn’t know if I’d be able to do Banana Crabtree Simon justice. I am a self-taught actor. I never trained or went to college and had to wait until my late twenties until my life was back on track and I could pursue my acting ambition because it’s the only thing that will ever make me happy. Acting isn’t what I want to do, it’s what I need to do. A piece like this is scary, but hard work counts for a hell of a lot. Training isn’t everything and we all approach projects from different directions. Most importantly, don’t let anything or anyone hold you back. You’ve got one life and if you have a dream, spend every single second chasing it.
Banana Crabtree Simon runs until 7 April 2018 at the Drayton Arms Theatre, 153 Old Brompton Road, South Kensington, London SE5 0LJ. Performances (55 minutes) are Mondays to Saturdays at 7.30pm, with Saturday matinees at 3pm. Tickets are priced £14 (concessions £10). CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!