Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Interview: Tom Hanson, starring in The Gathered Leaves at the Park Theatre

Tom Hanson is currently starring as Simon Pennington in the world premiere of Andrew Keatley’s play The Gathered Leaves at the Park Theatre.

Set over the over Easter weekend in 1997, The Gathered Leaves is described as a “moving, poignant and funny family drama”. The play is about the Pennington family who haven’t been in the same room for over 17 years. Three generations come together to celebrate an elderly family member’s birthday…

Tom is the son of Samantha Bond and Alex Hanson, the latter of whom is also starring in the production as Simon’s father, Giles. The cast of Antony Eden’s production also includes Jane Asher and her real-life daughter, Katie Scarfe. Tom recently made his professional debut as Hugo in Posh (Nottingham Playhouse/Salisbury Playhouse).

I recently spoke to Tom about what makes The Gathered Leaves such an interesting play, why he’s excited to be working alongside such a stellar cast and whether he always wanted to follow in his parents’ footsteps…

To work alongside your father is a very unique opportunity! What drew you to the project?
To be honest it was the play, it’s so well written. To have the opportunity to work with a parent, or any actor of that calibre – this cast is full of them – is fantastic. This is going to sound arrogant, but I don’t mean this in an arrogant way at all; I read the whole thing and I just felt like the writer sort of knew me. Simon, the role I play, can just be a belligerent arse… and I think I probably can as well… well not a belligerent arse, but his sense of humour is so similar to mine and I was just like, ‘I have to do this’. I went and auditioned and luckily got it. I thought it was a brilliant piece!

Family dramas are great because everyone can relate to them in some shape or form. This family haven’t been in the same room together for seventeen years! What can people expect?
I suppose there’s a reason family dramas have been around for as long as theatre has really, it’s something everyone can relate to. It’s incredibly funny, but also very, very moving and profound. It’s testament to Andrew’s (Keatley) writing; the tiniest changes and shifts happen in the writing, yet the consequences of those actions are life changing for a lot of the characters. To be honest, when I read it I thought ‘this is what a play should be’ because it just ticks all my boxes… it’s really good… come and see it [laughs]! 

Will different audience members relate to different characters from the three generations?
Definitely. I mean it’s set in 1997. Obviously in that time you have New Labour coming in and a Conservative Government on their way out. There’s definitely a part of the play which represents my character as the kind of ‘new’ – whether that’s New Labour or modernism. Then there’s my character’s grandfather’s point of view, played by Clive Francis, who very much represents the old Conservative point of view. There’s very much the young and the old, all the characters represent different things. Then, with the siblings, it’s almost like intellect vs ‘cool-ness’. It’s interestingly written because all of the relationships get explored in some way.

Tom in rehearsals 

What has the atmosphere been like in rehearsals?
It’s been great! We haven’t had too long to rehearse this one, so it’s been a bit of a baptism of fire but in the best possible way. This is my second job out of drama school, my first one was Posh at the Nottingham Playhouse and Salisbury Playhouse and pretty much all the cast were my age. That was quite similar to drama school because you’re used to everyone being twenty-something and sometimes we’d be playing great uncles and so on. So this is extraordinary for me, because suddenly it feels a lot more real… well obviously also because my dad is playing my dad. Clive and Jane are both just unbelievable – they could be my grandparents, so you don’t have to imagine that person who is twenty is playing a character in their eighties. I don’t know Clive and Jane’s ages – and I don’t think they would want me to tell you them – but they absolutely could be those people so it’s amazing to do scenes with them.

Is it exciting or daunting to take on a brand new piece of theatre?
It’s exciting; I think it’s quite lovely, I suppose it could be daunting if you allowed it to be. The nice thing is that you can completely create your character and put yourself on it. I’ve enjoyed it and think it’s going to be a really interesting piece. Because it has never been done, it’s fascinating to have everyone’s take on it so fresh. It feels like a classic though, like one of those pieces which will come back for years and years to come.

Do you think the piece lends itself to the intimacy of the Park Theatre?
I personally love going to Upstairs at the Royal Court or the Donmar or Park because you’ve got that intimacy. Especially a play like this which is set in an old manor house in the country you need to feel like you’re in the room with them. I feel that at the Park you absolutely will be, because it’s that close, so yes it does lend itself. It’s such a subtle piece as well; you can play it as truthfully and naturally as you want. It’s just a buzzing place! Jez (Bond) has done such a good job. I saw Dead Sheep which was brilliant, and to put on theatre like An Audience With Jimmy Savile, which is that challenging, is really testament to Jez and the whole team. I didn’t realise they’d only been around for two years! They’ve really put their mark on the off-West End map! It’s so commendable. 

Samantha Bond and Alex Hanson
You come from a family of actors, was there ever any doubt that you would follow in your parents’ footsteps?
Do you know what it was? All through my teens [laughs], whenever anybody asked me what I wanted to do I said I wanted to be a rockstar. Now… I don’t think I was ever quite cut out for that because I quite like watching the telly with my cat [laughs]. When I was eighteen I was in upper sixth at school and the UCAS deadline was much earlier… I could have still applied but I didn’t. I thought, ‘oh it’s alright, I’ll take a gap year’, but then the government announced that the fees were going up to £9,000. I thought, ‘I’ve missed the uni boat, and now if I take a gap year I’m going to be in three times as much debt – why don’t I apply for drama school?’ …and I did! 

Had you not considered applying before?
I’d always kicked against it because ‘it’s what your parents do’. It’s always been a job, the glitz and the glamour side has never interested me, it’s always been about the work. I’d done a lot of drama at school and really enjoyed it, but always thought it was just a hobby. So anyway, I applied and did my first audition which was at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, which my mum’s alumni of, and my sister actually! I did my first audition and was just like, ‘I have to stop lying to myself – of course this is what I need to be doing!’ My parents are actors; my mum’s parents are actors so there’s obviously a gene. In fact my grandmother, Pat Sandys, was the first ever Abigail in the UK production of The Crucible in 1959!

Wow – it really is in your blood!
We’re not the Foxes by any stretch of the imagination, but I think there is a certain amount of dynasty. Becoming an actor is nice, and being around people who understand is nice. It’s a huge advantage for me that I can come back from a crap audition and say “I mucked that one up” and they’ll know exactly where I’m coming from because they’ve been there. They’re also… like… brilliant, my parents, in my opinion. I think they’re really, really good at what they do. It’s cool, it’s really cool.

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

The Gathered Leaves runs at the Park Theatre until 15th August 2015.
Please visit www.parktheatre.co.uk for further information and tickets.

Read our previous interviews with Alex Hanson and Samantha Bond

Photo Credit: 2&3: Mark Douet
Photo Credit 4: Piers Allardyce

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