|Photo Credit: Keith Pattison|
20 Questions With...David Troughton
Date: 1 March 2004
Actor David Troughton - who opens this week in The Skin of Our Teeth at the Young Vic - shares his joy at making people laugh, frustration at the closure of the Other Place & views on why drama is better than science.
With some 20 productions in Stratford under his belt, actor David Troughton is something of an RSC stalwart. In his 20 years there he also managed to avoid pigeonholing by playing a range of roles from the comedic to the tragic.
Roles like Bouton in Molière, the Clown in Antony and Cleopatra (with Michael Gambon and Helen Mirren in the title roles) and Bottom in John Caird's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream showcased his comic ability in the 80s.
While in the 1990s he took parts like Cloten in Cymbeline, Hector in Sam Mendes' Troilus and Cressida, Kent in King Lear (directed by Nicholas Hytner), Caliban in The Tempest, the title role in Richard III and Lopakhin in Adrian Noble's production of The Cherry Orchard.
Outside of the RSC some of Troughton's many credits include Our Father at the Almeida, Loot and The Fool at the Royal Court and Don Juan and Sergeant Musgrove's Dance at the National.
On television he has appeared in Casualty, Hearts of Gold, Born and Bred, Heartbeat, Drop the Dead Donkey, Kavanagh QC, Cider with Rosie, Undercover Heart, Midsomer Murders, Our Mutual Friend, David Copperfield, Doctor Who and Man of Destiny to name but a few.
Troughton won the Best Actor Award in the Globe Theatre Awards for his performance in Richard III in 1995/6. He also comes from an acting family - his father, Patrick Troughton was the second Doctor Who while his son, Sam Troughton, joined the RSC in 1999 and won an Ian Charleson Award for his performance in Tartuffe at the National last year.
David Troughton is currently playing Mr Antrobus in Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth at the Young Vic. Directed by David Lan other cast members include Maureen Beattie as Mrs Antrobus and Indira Varma.
Date & place of birth
Hampstead in London on 9 June 1950
Lives now in...
I live in Stratford upon Avon
First big break
Well I plodded along doing mostly telly, until I did A Very Peculiar Practice with Peter Davidson, Barbara Flynn and Graham Crowden, in which I played Dr Bob Buzzard, the doctor who hated patients. We did two series in the 80s and it became cult viewing, in fact they've just released the DVD of the first series. Then we did a follow up one-off film for BBC 2 called A Very Polish Practice. That was the biggest thing I had done to date and most enjoyable as it was very anti-Thatcher. It was all set in a university and was a prophetic, hard hitting and extremely funny piece of writing.
I suppose joining the RSC in 1982 was a big break too, I sort of worked my way up, learning all the time, mostly from my mistakes. You work with so many directors there, I owe the RSC a lot, I owe Shakespeare a lot - I love him.
Career highlights to date
Making people laugh is always good, which is more difficult than making people cry. There are three good moments in the life of an actor, the best is getting the job, the second is early days in rehearsal when you haven't decided anything yet and the third is doing the technical rehearsal when you first get on stage. The rest is very difficult!
Favourite productions you've ever worked on
Ones in which we've had a fantastic time doing the play. I like ensemble productions the best where the whole company is involved. There are no stars - everyone is on an equal footing.
One such occasion was doing Richard II in Stratford. I played Bolingbroke to Sam West's Richard. It was in a white box and we had a purely organic rehearsal period with everyone involved. We turned the play on its head and made people see it was much more political than it had been viewed before. Stephen Pimlott directed it at the Other Place. A season later the Other Place was closed, which I think is an absolute disgrace. The RSC should reopen that theatre. NOW!
Well, again I hate the word 'star', we are all co-actors. That said I like people who make me laugh, I love to laugh on stage. Of course you give the performance you are paid to give, but I always go on tongue in cheek because at the end of the day it is only pretend. My Dad who was also an actor (Patrick Troughton) called it, "All that shouting in the evening".
I suppose I like to get on with all directors, I don't like dictatorial ones though. Very early in my career, the one person who really started me thinking about how one approaches a part was Albert Finney when he directed me in Loot. He taught me whatever character you play, your insight into that character is unique - whoever you play, you are that person - it says so in your contract! So don't worry so much! Sam Mendes is a brilliant director because he treats everyone differently, he can hone in on how you best work and allows you the freedom to do that, but ultimately he skilfully guides everyone to one purpose. I like his productions, which are simple and stark, never cluttered. Michael Attenborough for his enthusiasm and love of language - and his respect for his actors. Peter Gill is also wonderful because he keeps you thinking all the time. He never lets you get away with generalisation. Recently I had a very happy time being directed by Edward Hall who is brilliant at seeing the bigger picture of a play.
Well apart from Mr Shakespeare who I have dealt with frequently I love Tom Stoppard and David Edgar. Also Joe Orton for his anarchic and truthful look at people. I like writers who really use the theatre - its still real, but the audience know they are in the theatre.
What roles would you most like to play still?
Well, the next one I'm offered, I'm a professional actor so sometimes it comes down to that. But I want to play Titus Andronicus, Macbeth, Arturo Uri, Benedict, lots of different things. I'd like to have another go at Richard III, which is unusual for me, I'd like to do it in a white box like we did Richard II.
You've worked extensively on Stage and Screen, which do you prefer?
I prefer working, so whatever I'm doing I enjoy. Film is a very precise art, it calls for a different skill with a camera up your nose. The emotions are the same, but expressing them has to be more subtle. I like filming on location, being in the actual places. But I think you'll find most actors entered the profession because of their love of theatre, which is a more difficult skill, I think, as you are completely exposed in front of a live audience. There is no hiding place. But we need to keep it in perspective, it's not as difficult as being a miner or brain surgeon. Still, we offer a valuable service, we entertain - hopefully!
What's the last stage production you saw that you really enjoyed?
Alls Well that Ends Well at the Swan which was excellent, but the one I really enjoyed was Coast of Utopia - huge three part events like that make theatre worthwhile. If I go to a play and think I'd have liked to have been in it then it means I really have enjoyed it.
What advice would you give the government to secure the future of British theatre?
Of course money, that has to be the most important factor - we should subsidise our theatres to the hilt as they do in Europe. But there's no point in subsidising empty buildings so we have to encourage children, who are audiences of the future, to discover how brilliant theatre can be. Drama has to be a much more important part of the school curriculum. My wife Ali co-directs a company called The Drama Pool with Claire Neilson which produce drama workshops (mainly Shakespeare) for schools and universities and the joy the students get out of not just the plays but interacting with each other, these are valuable life skills. We should ban the dumbing down of television and get rid of computer games. The national theatre for most people is the box in their sitting room. We have to get them out of there and experience the joys of being part of a live audience. We've got to start when they are very young so the government must provide more money for what most people would consider an 'unecessary subject' but which I think is as valuable if not more so than the sciences.
If you could swap places with one person (living or dead), who would it be?
Ian Botham in 1981 at Headingley. I would love to know what went on in his mind when England were going to lose the test match and we won an extraordinary victory thanks to him - it was an innings of incredible joie de vivre. He has a brilliantly devil may care attitude in his sport, an attitude I like to bring to my acting - and I'd love to be able to hit a cricket ball as hard as him.
Favourite holiday destination
I went to the West Indies once, which was fantastic. In the UK, St. Abbs, which is a small fishing village on the east coast of Scotland, it's the most wonderful place. I love it because its quiet and un-touristy so don't mention it too much.
Our Mutual Friend by Dickens, I loved it even before I did the TV version. I also did an audiobook version where I got to read it cover to cover and I loved reading it out loud. Dickens is such a theatrical writer. I'm currently reading Michael Moore's book Stupid White Men as its good background research for our play.
Favourite after-show haunts
What are they? I'm not one for doing that, I like to leave the dressing room, out of the stage door (not be recognised because of my fantastic transformation on stage!) and go home, then have a large whisky.
Not another TV screen to stare at! But I do like www.cricinfo.com - its fantastic if you're a cricket fan.
Why did you want to accept your role in The Skin of Our Teeth?
Because I read the play and thought it was fantastically theatrical. I hadn't done any theatre for a year and as an actor you need to expand your mind and test yourself. Also I've never worked at the Young Vic - my son (Sam Troughton) and wife have, but I haven't.
The play is a fascinating study of man's ability to survive. Everyone seems to know Thornton Wilder's Our Town which a lot of amateur dramatics companies do because there are so many characters. But The Skin of Our Teeth is even more weird and innovative, I like that. That's what theatre should be. Mr Antrobus, his wife Maggie and two children are the typical American family, but are living in the ice age. That's just the start! Also, not many people know the play as it's rarely been done, so audiences won't know the story. Hopefully they'll want to know what happens. That's the trouble with Shakespeare, lots of people know the plays so they aren't wrapt up in the story, they just want to know how you're going to do it.
Were you a fan of Thornton Wilder's plays?
Before this I had never read a Thornton Wilder play in my life. I hadn't really touched on American Drama either - of course I've seen plays like A View From the Bridge but I've never had to do an American accent or more specifically a New Jersey accent.
Why do you think this play won the Pulitzer prize in 1942?
For its daring theatricality. Audiences must never have seen anything like it before, the devices he uses in the play were novel and innovative. Indeed, on its first performance people walked out at the interval, not understanding the play at all. Plays and films then were usually very straight laced. It is a play with so many different levels, rich in witty references to the Bible, to philosophy and literature but above all it has a wonderful reality to it when dealing with the Antrobus family which audiences recognise and warm to.
Why do you think it is still relevant to a contemporary audience?
Because as the play says, we are still surviving by the skin of our teeth. Translate the ice age of the play into global warming and it becomes very contemporary. Transpose the war in the play to the struggles now - and the play becomes timeless. Transpose finding a cure for the common cold to finding a cure for AIDS the play is still relevant. I'm sure the audience will cotton on very quickly - modern audiences are more subtle and knowing than they are often given credit for.
What's your favourite line from The Skin of Our Teeth?
Its not one of mine but my wife's, played by Maureen Beatie:
"Have you milked the mammoth?"
What are your plans for the future?
To keep working, and I want to travel. To watch cricket in places like Australia and the West Indies. I like not knowing what's going to happen, that's why I'm an actor. It's all part of the fun, everything's a surprise but I would like enough money just to pay the bills.
- David Troughton was speaking to Hannah Kennedy
The Skin of Our Teeth runs at the Young Vic Theatre from 27 February to 10 April 2004.
** DON'T MISS our exclusive WHATSONSTAGE.COM Outing to see Skin Of Our Teeth!!
on Tuesday 9 March 2004 CLICK HERE FOR INFO! **