between the lines

'Privacy has true market value,' says media mogul David Silts in Dennis Potter's play Cold Lazarus. Henry Goodman, who plays Silts, says privacy has a market value in drama too, and that theatre has a duty to itself to be honest about the suffering of others
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I don't want to reveal too much about Dennis Potter's last screenplay, Cold Lazarus, because it is yet to be broadcast. Let's just say that, as the title suggests, a person is brought back to life after 400 years in deep freeze.

The character I play, David Silts, is a zillionaire American media owner, who's acquired the technology to plug directly into brain cells. He is able to display an individual's inner thoughts and memories to a paying public. "At last," he drawls, "privacy has a true market value." It's a magnificent line about having power over other people and their private worlds. On one level, Potter is warning about the power of media moguls in a highly technical, information-driven society. But it's also a pertinent quote for any actor. Privacy has always had a market value in the theatre, ever since the days of Aristophanes. As soon as you have something you don't want to say in public, there's capital to be made from someone else revealing it. That's what writers do: uncover hidden dreams, fantasies, longings. Drama thrives on lifting the lid on all the psychological mess. And with that comes a danger of indulgence, for performers as well as writers.

Theatre has a responsibility to itself to be honest about suffering. It's something I've become very conscious of playing Freud in Terry Johnson's Hysteria (left). On the one hand, it's a knicker-throwing farce; on the other, a serious play about a sad and difficult man. The temptation is to go for the easy laugh, please the lowest common denominator, let other people get off on someone's suffering. Potter's line reminds me that you don't have to control the media to violate another person's privacy for profit.

n 'Hysteria' is at the Duke of York's, London WC2 to 27 Jan. Booking: 0171-836 5122. 'Cold Lazarus' will be broadcast later this year

Interview by Adrian Turpin