Interview: Joseph Timms, “A triumphant act of love”

Joseph Timms’ career has taken him to the Menier Chocolate Factory via roles at RSC, the Globe, the National Theatre, and in the West End. Following the opening of Indecent, which gained to rave reviews, we spoke with him about creators, the production, the play that inspired it, and getting back on stage.

Ten Questions with Joseph Timms

Thanks for talking with us Joseph. You were beginning the run of Indecent when the pandemic forced its postponement – how does it feel to be finally restarting the run?

A privilege. There are artists all over the country who are still waiting in the wings to do what they’re so brilliant at; to inspire us, to give us hope and offer a collective shared experience that can try and contextualise the utter shit storm of this pandemic and our place in the world after it. Some will never make their entrances again… So whilst I can share with you how it feels to laugh with an audience again, to weep together it would be amiss of me to not mention the sacrifice that so many have made over the last few years.
Do you approach theatre differently after such a long break?
Yes… and no. I’m a different person than I was 18months ago, I’m irrevocably changed as perhaps we all are. The world is different and my place in it.  But by a miracle the theatre stood, the set remained, the costumes awaited and the script, though untouched, was as Paula had set down. So the task remained, to open the show. I’ve experienced uncertainty, doubt, insecurity when returning to the stage after time away before – convinced you’re going to get sacked – but this was like, to me, I was chasing a ghost. My own ghost. A memory of me inside the room that was smarter, sharper, bolder and I couldn’t match it. I’d crushed and contained any feelings I had about the pandemic and now I had to flick a switch? To open that can… It took time and patience. Especially of those around me.
Indecent recounts the controversy surrounding the play God of Vengeance by Sholem Asch, which was produced on Broadway in 1923, for which the cast of the original production was arrested on the grounds of obscenity. Tell us a little bit about your role the play.
The play centres around a troop of actors recounting the story of a ‘little Jewish play’. The troop play many roles over the course of the evening, one of which for me is the intrepid writer Sholem Asch. 
Joseph Timms (right) with Finbar Lynch in Indecent. Photo: Johan Persson


What has most surprised you about playing ‘The Ingenue’?
Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman have crafted an incredible piece of theatre together that in a ‘blink in time’ switches time, place, location, even language… as performers there isn’t a second to think, to prepare. It’s an out and out sprint to the end of the play but when we catch it right, just like the perfect strike, it’s incredible to be a part of.
Why do you think God of Vengeance had such an impact in 1923?
I’m not a historian or scholar but I think that ‘The God of Vengeance’ contained the first lesbian kiss on Broadway may have played a part… But the play had a real impact long before 1923. It was a vehicle for radical change and hope, a presentation of an alternative vision previously unseen. The play sets out to challenge ideas, ideals, values – entire belief systems that were extremely challenging to the ruling class at the time. And just like today, to some, that bore an incredible threat. 
Can you imagine a play causing such outrage today?
Eugene O’Neil said, ‘there is no present or future, only the past happening over and over again’. So long as plays like ‘The God of Vengeance’ endure, there’s hope of an alternate paradigm. 
The cast of Indecent as God of Vengeance gets its first reading including Joseph Timms (4th from left). Photo: Johan Persson
What attracted you to the production?
Paula Vogel, Rebecca Taichman, Menier Chocolate Factory – WHERE DO I SIGN?!
You’re part of a cast that has considerable acting credentials, yourself included – what has it been like in the rehearsal room?
We’re a family. I’m in awe of every single one of them for their blistering talent, humanity and love.
You’ve done a lot of Shakespeare, including at the Globe, is there a particular Shakespearean role that you would like to tackle?
The first Shakespeare speech I did was set by a teacher at Mountview, I was doing Saturday classes there when I was twelve. He gave me Marcus Anthony – ‘friends, romans, countrymen’, no one in my family had ever seen Shakespeare let alone read one. So I used to practice to a field full of sheep.
What this experience has taught me is that you need the right cast and creative team alongside you to create something that endures, both in you and those who share in it.
Finally, how would you describe Indecent to someone considering buying a ticket for the show?
A triumphant act of love. For theatre. For life. And for those we have lost.
Indecent is at Menier Chocolate Factory until 27 November.