Friday, 29 April 2016

Interview: Alastair Whatley, starring in Invincible

Director, actor and producer Alastair Whatley is the artistic director of the Original Theatre Company. 

He is currently starring as Oliver in the company’s touring production of Torben Betts’s Invincible, directed by Christopher Harper.

As an actor Alastair was most recently seen on stage as Teddy Graham in Terence Rattigan’s Flare Path. His credits also include: Three Men in a Boat, Birdsong, See How They Run, Dancing at Lughnasa, The Madness of George III, Vincent in Brixton, Journey’s End and Henry V at the RSC. 

He is the director of Shadowlands by William Nicholson which is currently touring the UK. Alastair’s direction credits also include touring productions of Birdsong, The Private Ear and the Public Eye, Our Country’s Good, Twelfth Night and Journey’s End. He has produced all 16 of the Original Theatre Company’s productions.

I recently spoke to Alastair about why Original Theatre chose Invincible as their next project, life on the road and his advice for actors about to take on the touring life…

It’s a very busy time for the Original Theatre Company! Invincible is very different to the company’s recent shows, what drew you all to it?
Absolutely, it is very different and that’s exactly what drew us to it. We’ve always wanted to live up to our name, Original Theatre. We did some old classics – like Birdsong and Flare Path – in an original fashion, but they weren’t true originals… whereas with Birdsong this is the first time it has ever been seen out in the regions. For a play about the North South divide, it seems a crime that it has only previously been done in London. It very much feels like a new piece of work for us.

Alastair in rehearsals for Invincible

What can audiences expect?
The cheap shorthand is that it’s like Alan Ayckbourn meets Mike Leigh. It’s less easy to give a fair representation of the play because it’s incredibly rich and insightful! On the surface it appears stereotypical and like a sitcom scenario. However, it becomes increasingly dark and black and ultimately tragic. You go on this huge journey. 

You’ve worked on many tours; how do you find taking a piece of theatre to different cities? Do you actually notice a difference?
That’s a good question – it is so, so different. I’ve toured with Birdsong and Flare Path so for the last year I’ve performed in a different theatre every week. There are no easy conclusions that you can draw – audiences don’t behave in a straightforward pattern. It’s interesting to look at what audiences are choosing to spend their money on. You never know when you walk onstage how they’re going to react. 

Alastair in Invincible
Have you enjoyed working with your director, Christopher Harper?
Chris has worked for me as an actor for many years – he’s played two or three lead parts for me and in 2011 I realised he was a director in the making. He loves making lists and he’s always got a real vision. He directed a brilliant production of the farce See How They Run for me which he did so well I’ve been trying to get him back… but he’s been off successfully working as an actor. Chris is very methodical but rigorous, he won’t give anybody, including me, an easy ride. We know each other very well now so it works well.

Before Invincible your time was devoted to directing Shadowlands. Is it easy to switch from acting to directing to producing?
At times it can be stressful, I think I must relish it because otherwise I wouldn’t do it. I love rehearsing – it’s lovely being able to concentrate just solely on one thing. When I was in the rehearsal room directing Shadowlands I didn’t have to worry about money or ticket sales – I just had to worry about doing the best possible job. 

We spent months casting it – another problem we have in the touring world is that actors are increasingly unwilling to come out on tour, particularly with older gentlemen who are fifty plus. We started casting in September and got the final cast in the last week of December. But once we had them it was a joy! It was a really good play with really good actors, and as an actor you can’t really hope for anything more than that.

So looking ahead would you like to keep your fingers in all those different pies?
I would never advise anyone to do all three, certainly not at the same time… I tried once and it was very difficult [laughs]. Producing, directing and acting can go together if you have a really good team behind you. I will continue to do all three for a certain amount of time, and then I might decide to have a year off touring full stop. I’ve been touring full time, living out of a suitcase, for over ten years.

Alastair in rehearsals for Shadowlands

Oh my gosh that’s crazy! What would be your top tips for an actor who is about to go off on tour for the first time?
My top tips are… choose your accommodation carefully and no matter how well you get on with your dressing room buddy, you never know how well you’ll get on with them in two months’ time. You might end up pre-paying for all your digs with your buddy and then find you’re trapped with somebody you’re not getting on with so well anymore [laughs]. So try and shake it up a bit! 

You’ve got to be self-reliant, it’s easy to get into the routine of doing the show, drinking and then going to bed, but use your time to go off and explore England a little bit! There are amazing parts of this country which you might not otherwise get to see, even in places you might not expect like Doncaster. And talk to the people – I have a whole network of people who I wouldn’t have met if I didn’t tour. 

There’s hardly a town I haven’t been to; Inverness is at the top of my list. There are a few smaller towns in Scotland which I haven’t been to. I’ve been all over the place, go out and expand your horizons. Choose your attitude and find a way to enjoy it. Treat it like an adventure… oh and pack light!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Invincible tours the UK until 18th June 2016.
Please visit for further information and tickets. 

Photo Credit: Jack Ladenburg

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