James is joint Artistic Director and co-founder of Mulligan Theatre.
James trained as an actor at East 15 Acting school, graduating in 2012. primarily working as an actor, he has also been doing roles involving stage management and technical management duties.
As a freelance Actor and production manger for the past few years James has worked with Vienna's English Theatre, Smoke & Oakum Theatre Company, Lost Text Found Space, Ineptrepid Theatre, and many more.
Sam Carrack: What does forgiveness mean to you?
James Barbour: Forgiveness for me, is exactly that, it’s for me. It’s something that’s so intensely personal, affected by parameters so acutely specific to each individual. Forgiveness is for me, I guess a way of emotionally rationalizing or coming to terms with someone doing something bad or negative to you. I mean you don’t have to forgive someone for something good do you? You made me dinner, I forgive you.
SC: Well what if it was rubbish dinner?
JB: Ha ha, true, but then I guess that’s easier to forgive, to emotionally come to terms with a sub-par lasagna, made for you, well unless that person was trying to poison you?
SC: Yeah that would suck, wait, has that happened to you?
JB: Not intentionally, and if it had, it was probably by my own hand, but I forgave myself. I guess I mean you don’t need to forgive someone for doing something that you deem to be a good thing.
SC: Do you forgive easily then?
JB: Yeah, I think I do, it’s easier for me, I think most things are forgivable, even the most seemingly heinous crimes or acts that seem in the first instance totally irredeemable. I always believe that there is a reason or circumstance that has driven that person or group of people to behave or act in that manner.
SC: How can you condone murder, and things like that?
JB: Ah, well as we’ve learnt through the process of forming this company and our first season being about forgiveness, condoning and forgiving are different things, I cannot condone many things, but I can forgive them.
SC: Are they not linked?
JB: Hmmm…no, I don’t think they are, I think by condoning something you are suggesting that on some level you agree with what has happened, or the reasons that have been given for why its happened. Where as, at least for me the forgiveness of something is only linked to an understanding on some level of the circumstances and environment that has led to decisions being made, the outcome of which is or are the event we end up discussing. I think it strikes a chord most closely with empathy for me.
SC: But isn’t empathy linked to condoning, or sharing the opinion?
JB: Well, and I guess is this is where it gets tricky, because all these words have such broad scopes of meaning, and mean something so different to each person, it’s where, not confusion, but muddiness can come in. You see, for me, I find it quite easy to separate condoning from empathy, I can see why someone has been driven to do a certain thing, but not agree with it, but I can also understand how you might group them together.
SC: And how is it then possible to combine this into a theatre show?
JB: Well, the forgiveness project put it quite nicely, in our discussions with them, that they are all about exploration, not propagation, and I think it’s the same for me, and not only in terms of this project, in terms of all theatre.
SC: Do you not think theatre should be able to say something?
JB: Yes, I absolutely do, I think it’s vital that it does say something, but I guess I’m of the opinion that you can say something without becoming preachy or didactic. I can find it quite distancing actually when I go and see a show that has already made up it’s mind that it’s point, or opinion is the only possible way of things. In fact I think that’s quite arrogant, I much prefer a situation where we all get a chance to make up our own minds, but perhaps the role of theatre is to offer a perspective or point of view that isn’t the established one, if you see what I mean?
SC: Yeah, absolutely, that makes sense. Do you like exploring different things then?
JB: For sure. I think that’s what attracted me most to the industry, and to becoming an actor. I get to spend my time finding out about people, which is why Mulligan is something I’m so passionate about, it’s driven by exactly that. Our tagline says it all, embracing the human condition, I’m all about that.
SC: Embracing the human condition?
JB: Yeah, we first thought of celebrating it, but that goes back to one of your earlier questions, the link between condoning and forgiveness. We realised that in our explorations we would certainly come up against aspects of human nature that aren’t the most savoury and we are saying the wrong thing by ‘celebrating’ it, or limiting ourselves by only exploring those ‘celebratory’ traits. We are embracing all of what a human can be, and I think allowing ourselves to not shy away from aspects of human nature that aren’t all sunshine and roses. But, it’s worth saying that it could be argued that those same traits have played a part in allowing us to become the dominant species on the planet, even if we’re still working out what that means for our responsibility to it.
SC: You seem quite excited by it?
JB: It’s such an amazing thing to me, like I’m a big fan of nature documentaries and seeing how these animals behave in the wild, how they find ways to navigate their environment. I guess it’s the same fascination I have with us, but I’d argue we don’t really have a truly natural environment anymore, in most major cities, and a lot of the countryside, look around and I’d say the vast majority of what you see is not there by ‘natural’ causes, it’s all been put there by humanity.
SC: Yeah, I guess that’s true, interesting.
JB: I think so, but the key for me is the small stuff, the personal stuff. When I studied history at University, I didn’t really engage with the bigger aspects of historical society, politics, economy, things like that, what I wanted to know about, was what was a typical day like for an individual. What were the worries, the fears, the ambitions, the motivations? And that’s what we’re doing with Mulligan, exploring the individual. Of course I know that is affected by the bigger society, particularly politics at the moment, and it’s important to have that bigger picture in mind.
SC: On a lighter note, how do you feel about dunking biscuits in tea.
JB: Love it!! I’m a big dunker, even when I dunk a little too long and get soggy biscuit bottom, I’m not put off, I’ll keep dunking away. Give me tea and a snack, chances are it’s getting dunked.
SC: We can’t all be perfect, ha ha!
JB: Enough chatting, pass the biscuits!
SC: Alright alright, thanks for the chat.
JB: Yeah, nice one!.