Harry puts the laughs back in Chekhov

The Hampstead actor stars as a psychologist lured into madness in an adapted story from the Russian master

HARRY Lobek got the taste for acting while performing in school plays at St Anthony’s in Hampstead.

Later, while at Highgate School, he took the lead part of Danny in Grease and his fate was sealed.

Now the 24-year-old, who grew up in Hampstead Garden Suburb and lives in Gardnor Road, Hampstead, is appearing in an adaptation of a Chekhov short story at the Camden People’s Theatre.

“I wanted to act from a very young age. St Anthony’s was an artistic school and I was encouraged by my teachers to do plays and performances,” he says.

After completing a drama and English degree at Sussex, Lobek studied acting for a year at Drama Studio London and has been continuously employed since graduating two years ago.

“I’ve been incredibly fortunate, working for six months on a tour of Lady Windermere’s Fan, doing the News Revue sketch show at the Canal Caf� in Little Venice and now doing a tour of Gruffalo’s Child – and all so far without an agent.”

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Ward No 6 was originally a 15-minute drama school project adapted by fellow course member Matthew Parker.

Parker expanded the piece to take to last year’s Edinburgh Festival where it was nominated for a Stage award.

Lobek was his first choice to play psychologist Dr Ragin, whose relationship with an asylum patient starts to lure him into madness.

“A psychologist has to have empathy for his patient while staying emotionally detached,” says Lobek. “But in this story, the longer you spend with the mad, perhaps the madder you become. Ragin lives in a Siberian town with no culture, literature or conversation to amuse himself intellectually. He has no friends, the hospital is run-down and the one person he can intelligently interact with is one of his patients.”

As Ragin spends more and more time with Gromov, he starts to reject definitions of madness and sanity and to question his own role in keeping people locked up.

“It is almost through his own fatalism that he ends up switching from being the doctor to being the patient. The townspeople all define him as mad but he might not be. We don’t come down on either side but play with definitions of madness and sanity, and how you identify the mad and the sane.”

Lobek says there are dark, absurdist overtones to the piece, which runs at the Camden Town venue from February 8 until 27.

“Chekhov done in England can be so dull but when Russian people watch Chekhov they seem to laugh their socks off. Often our productions are understated, naturalistic and reverential whereas we have gone for a high velocity, vivid, melodramatic, emotionally raw approach that brings the poetry and comedy to life.”

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