Paislie Reid, a young Liverpudlian actor, grew up on TV but will be making her RSC debut in The Seven Acts Of Mercy by Anders Lustgarten.
The play itself is named after a Caravaggio painting, which was the first painting he did after he killed someone and had to flea from Rome to Naples. The production has a parallel storyline running throughout, one story focuses on Caravaggio’s anger, self-loathing and his determination to create a work that speaks of compassion in a violent world. The other story is set in the modern-day and is interwoven in the plot. It centres around a character called Leon who shares the same beliefs as Caravaggio and thinks that art and culture should be accessible to everyone.
Leon is trying to teach his grandson Micky the principles of life through art, he uses the seven acts of mercy because he feels in a world of cruelty, it tells us something very important about who we can be as people. The grandson takes that, and wants to find a more modern seven acts of mercy before his grandad dies. Throughout the play, the characters learn that compassion is not an easy and natural thing.
Paislie plays Jennifer, who has a brother called Danny that has autism. She said: “My character looks after her brother and is struggling because the benefits have said that Danny is now fit for work, which means that his money has been cut, so she is trying to figure out what she is going to do about how she will afford to live. At the same time, she wants to be able to stand on her own two feet. She is going through an internal battle.”
Whilst the play is set in completely different time eras, Caravaggio and Micky are on a similar mission throughout the production. “The director Erica Whyman does it really cleverly, as she keeps the characters in the same place whilst being in a different world, almost like a mirror,” Paislie told me.
The tagline of the play itself is to confront the dangerous necessity of compassion, during the rehearsal process Paislie and the cast discovered elements of their characters that they relate to. “For me, one of the things that sticks out within the play is how people are willing to be compassionate when they aren’t necessarily in the best position themselves,” Paislie explained. “People who look out for each-other even when they have their own struggles going on. It is a real representation of what is going on today, because everyone who is still really struggling are still finding ways to support each other.”
Paislie finds ways to relate to her character, as she used to work in a youth service when she was younger. She explained: “I worked with quite a few people with autism, and I really know the struggle that they face and how routine is so important. I really understand how Jennifer feels when she talks about Danny, I think I can pull on that experience to use in my character.”
Paislie really admires her director’s approach to the production, she said: “Working with Erica, she is amazing and gives you lots of time to discuss things and ask questions. We’ve had a lot of time where we have read through and broken things down, so I have painted a real picture of who this person is.
Everyone has different approaches, but I think Erica is really organic in the way she works and she allows us to really find our feet. She is really open to suggestions as well, if you want to try something in a certain way she will let you do it. She gives you the space to play around with your character.”
Paislie has been involved with theatre company Twenty Stories High for around three years now, they are a company that make theatre with young people from excluded communities, emerging artists and world-class professionals. Paislie said: “It is an amazing company to work for, they do like hip-hop and puppetry, it is a really unique style of theatre.”
With the ongoing government cuts in the arts, we discussed the importance of the arts being a form of education, and Twenty Stories High are doing exactly that. “I think it is just that theatre is an amazing way to tell stories and entertain people, but it is also a brilliant way to educate people. Twenty Stories High is targeted towards young people, but in general it gives people a chance to see something and think ‘I like that, I could do that.’
Obviously if they don’t normally get that opportunity, Twenty Stories High will go into their environment. They don’t necessarily invite people to a show at the theatre, they go to a community centre or a school and make it accessible, so they feel comfortable. It is really nice because 9/10 times, the young people will ask how they can get involved or how they can see something else.”
It’s unfortunately common now that children grow up having never seen a production or performance, which not only means they haven’t experienced theatre, but it means their eyes haven’t been opened to the multitude of careers available in the arts.
“I remember going on school trips or when a company came in and did a piece in your hall, it is such a shame because with everything going on now, like refugees being portrayed in theatre, it can be such a useful platform to break down such a complex issue. I don’t understand how the government can’t see how that is educational,” Paislie told me.
Making her RSC debut, I asked Paislie what it is like to be working with such a prestigious company. “It’s just so amazing. I feel like it is such a privilege, they just really look after us and they really support you as a person. There are so many opportunities, like we get a voice lesson once a week, which is a rare opportunity to have. I think about all the really amazing actors that have worked here at the RSC and I get really emotional, I am just so grateful.”
Paislie loves how the play is made up of so many small characters that have such interesting and unique stories. Opening on the 24th of November, I asked Paislie what she thinks the audience’s reaction will be. She said: “I really love it, and I think that it will spark some really interesting conversations. That is what I think theatre is all about, it is about challenging the audience and leaving them with questions, and this play definitely does that.”
On at the Swan Theatre from the 24th of November to the 10th of February, tickets can be found here.