Adi Tantimedh writes
Tumanbay, BBC Radio 4's epic historical drama reached episode seven out of its ten-week run this week.
This week, we interview Rufus Wright, who plays Gregor, the Sultan's spymaster charged with rooting out traitors and spies who would seek to bring down the empire. Gregor's progress set one of the main threads of the series in motion, spiralling out in directions no one could predict as the empire comes under threat from within and without, and things might spiral out of even Gregor's control.
"I'm Rufus Wright and I play Gregor in Tumanbay. Gregor is a very complex character with deep roots in stories from many centuries ago. The world in which he lives, he's Master of the Palace Guard and he is the Sultan's Right hand man, muscle in many ways. He looks after security in the Palace. He is ultimately looking after Number 1. He seems to have no particular moral compass apart from survival. He is ambitious but he doesn't want wealth, but he wants power and mainly to keep his head on his shoulders – that seems to be his motivation through out the story.
He reminds me of a couple of characters in Game of Thrones. Particularly Peter Dinklage's character, Tyrion Lannister because he does seems to have moments of certainty and truth and almost moments when you admire him. But on the whole, you are staggered that he would do certain things simply to stay in power and rise slowly to the top.
Tumanbay is certainly a 14th, 15th Century environment. It is Egyptian or Ottoman in it's origins. There are lots of dates and rose water around, jewelled daggers and harems full of beautiful women. Grand Viziers and Sultans. It's a very richly textured world, which reminds me of Morocco. You can smell the energy and the feel of the place in the writing. It's a place of intrigue, of deceit and lies, lots of spying and everyone out for themselves, there is not much kindness in Tumanbay. Family ties are very strong and the ties of love, but politically, everyone is out for themselves.
There are some extraordinary standoffs and real tension. There is a situation in which someone has their knife to my throat, but I've got a knife on his leg and if either of us makes a move, the other one dies. Someone implores us to stop, you hear one knife fall and you don't know who's knife it is. On radio there is always that extra moment . Radio has such huge possibilities and is flattering to the listener. They are constantly being asked to imagine from dialogue and sounds that they are hearing.
It's almost like 24 in the complexity of the plotting and the stakes are so high.
There are some great characters as well. There is a terrific double act – characters who are calligraphers – almost like one body with two heads – they finish each others' sentences and speak in a brilliant way, played by one Swedish actor and one Ukrainian. The accents and the world in Tumanbay is very complex – it is not geographically specific so it allows for a lot of freedom and a lot of fun.
I enjoy radio because it allows me to work only with my voice, which as an actor is very freeing. The Imagination required of the audience means you really have to work hard and be imaginative to tell those stories. There's a scene which we recorded yesterday where I'm pursuing someone down the street, I wound him with a knife, and a cart comes between us and when the cart disappears, I look round and he's gone. Reading that in a radio script you think –well how on earth are they going to tell that story? The writer in radio flatters the actor and the sound designers into believing that they can create anything that has been written. The actors can do about 20% of it and the sound designers will do the rest and hopefully when you listen to it at home weeks later you know what's happening.
We've been recording this with only a few weeks until broadcast, which makes it feel very current and very live."
Episodes of Tumanbay can be downloaded after their broadcast premiere on Wednesdays.
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