Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Interview: David Troughton, starring in Goodnight Mister Tom

David Troughton is starring as Tom Oakley in the West End return of Goodnight Mister Tom. 

David Wood's stage adaptation of Michelle Magorian's classic novel opens at the Duke of York's Theatre on 17th December 2015 (previews from 11th December) for a limited run to 20th February 2016 before launching a UK tour.

Set during the dangerous build up to the Second World War, Goodnight Mister Tom follows young William Beech, who is evacuated to the idyllic English countryside and forges a remarkable and heart-warming friendship with the elderly recluse, Tom Oakley. 

Just a few of David’s extensive theatre credits include: title role in Henry IV parts 1 & 2, Richard II & Richard III (all RSC), Inherit the Wind (Old Vic), Season’s Greetings, Measure for Measure & Peter Pan (all National Theatre), Enjoy (Bath & West End), The Cherry Orchard & The Venetian Twins (both RSC & West End), The Venetian Twins (National & West End), Our Father & My City (both Almeida) and The Skin of Our Teeth (Young Vic).

On screen he has made appearances in Grantchester, Unforgotten, The Hollow Crown, The Interceptor, The Cafe, Outnumbered, Combat Kids, New Tricks, Casualty, Doctor Who and Paradise Heights to name but a few.

I recently spoke to David about why he has always wanted to play the title role in Goodnight Mister Tom, the beauty of the production’s simplicity and the three Ps of acting…

Goodnight Mister Tom translates beautifully onstage, what attracted you to the role?
Well I had read the book; when it was first released I read it to my children who loved it. Recently when people have asked me what I’m doing next and I’ve said “Goodnight Mister Tom” everyone has said, “oh I love that book”. It’s a universally appreciated and loved book and I’ve always wanted to play the part. It’s a wonderful story of grief and resolution, it’s brilliant.

The story is so moving and heart-warming, why do you think it resonates so strongly with audiences?
You think the story is going one way and suddenly it takes you on a completely different journey. This is an abused boy who lives in the East End of London and his story is so heartrending. In the play you find out more and more about Mister Tom and his own heartrending story. From scene to scene you want to know what’s going to happen next. The characters are so well drawn. There are two worlds – the country and London – and such a brilliant atmosphere is created in both. People discover lots of things about themselves, it is a remarkable journey.

It makes the perfect introduction to theatre for younger audience members, but I’m sure parents and grandparents will end up enjoying it just as much!
Absolutely! It is a universal story and it will live on and on, not only because it’s written so beautifully but because of the subject matter. It’s actually very hard-hitting and harrowing in places for children, but I think they can take it – I think we protect children too much sometimes. 

What has Angus (Jackson, director) and the team been like to work with in the rehearsal room?
They call it a takeover, but it’s a whole new cast apart from two members so we’re rediscovering it and so is Angus. I’m not going to imitate what Oliver (Ford Davies) did because I don’t want to and I don’t think Oliver would want me to either. I’m playing it my way and in the way I see the character, which may be completely different to Oliver or very similar, I don’t know because I didn’t see him do it. As an actor if you think ‘oh dear, I’m following such great footsteps’ you would never be able to do any other part! You have to think, ‘You are Mister Tom for that moment and you own that part and will play it to the best of your ability’. 

How have you found taking on the role? Is it living up to your expectations?
Yes! I love this adaptation, it’s very filmic – there are lots of short scenes and minimal set which I love. It’s just you and the actors. The children are brilliant, we’ve got three sets of them.

I’m sure they are keeping you all on your toes!
[laughs] They certainly do! They are coming along fantastically. 

I remember loving the simplicity when I saw the tour a few years ago, it truly goes back to the heart of storytelling.
It’s all about using the imagination – that’s what it is called. With this show you don’t have a fantastically complicated set or anything big to look at. It’s just a bare stage with a table, a chair, a cooker and a chest in the opening scene and that’s it. The audience are able to use their imagination which is wonderful. We make the world onstage, but it’s also down to the audience to look, listen and imagine which is what, I think, theatre should be about. 

Shakespeare is very good at it. In Henry V the chorus comes on and you imagine a battlefield when it’s a bare wooden stage. It’s the height of theatrical experience! My favourite production that I’ve ever been in is Richard II at Stratford-Upon-Avon and we had nothing but a white floor, white set, a bank of seats and that was it. The Shakespeare was electrifying!

You must feel so exposed? There’s nowhere to hide!
You do feel exposed but you’re also feeling contact with the audience. Instead of being the fourth wall, the audience become the fourth gear. When you’re so exposed they become part of your character – that’s what soliloquy is. It’s not a monologue, it’s a dialogue between you and the audience.

So you’re in the West End with Goodnight Mister Tom until 20th February before taking the show on tour. How are you feeling about hitting the road?
Well I haven’t done it for a bit [laughs]! As long as there is a car parking space I don’t mind. There are three Ps in acting; in your early days it’s the part that matters, when you’ve got a mortgage and family it’s the pay that matters and when you’re my age it’s the parking that matters [laughs]. That is the three Ps of acting! 

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Goodnight Mister Tom opens at the Duke of York’s Theatre on 17th December (previews from 11th December) and runs until 20th February 2016. Click here for tickets.

The UK tour opens at the Manchester Opera House on 23rd February 2016 before visiting Milton Keynes, Glasgow, Birmingham, Oxford, York, Richmond, Aylesbury, Woking, Bath, Cambridge, Cardiff and Newcastle.

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