South Downs is set at Lancing College in Sussex where a sharp young pupil (a role reprised by Alex Lawther in his professional debut) is cut off from the rest of the school by virtue of his own intellect, background and questioning spirit.
Jeremy Herring's production also stars Anna Chancellor, Nicholas Farrell, Andrew Woodall, Bradley Hall, Liam Morton and Jonathan Bailey. The production plays a limited West End season to 22 July 2012.
Bailey, who has also recently starred in Channel 4's sitcom Campus, answers 20 questions for Whatsonstage.com
Date and place of birth?
25th April 1988, Oxfordshire
Lives now in?
What made you want to become an actor?
I’m not 100% sure. I have three older sisters who definitely encouraged me to lark around. I’m pretty sure they spent their Sundays dressing me up (in suitably androgynous clothing) and forcing me to sing Sister Sledge. They were my heroes growing up - I blame them!
If you hadn’t become an actor, what might you have done professionally?
I used to say that I wanted to be a pilot. It used to be my get out of jail free card whenever my parents or teachers asked, albeit with fear in their eyes, whether acting was a serious consideration. Perhaps I would have played more music and explored that route...
First big break?
That's a hard one! There were about four or five gigs that were huge learning curves. Playing Prince Arthur for the RSC was my first real exposure to incredibly talented and creative people who treated me as an adult. That was invaluable.
Beautiful Thing was exceptional as I was drilled vocally and academically and was pushed in a way that I never had been before; playing a character born into a world far different from mine. It was well received too, which massively boosted my confidence in acting as a career.
Career highlights to date?
For theatre, those two – King John with the RSC and Beautiful Thing directed by Toby Frow. For TV it was Campus and playing Leonardo Da Vinci in converse and skinny mustard trousers.
The cast of South Downs are brilliant! Joe Millson in Campus, Kate O'Flynn in House of Special Purpose and I learnt a lot from Michelle Terry in Beautiful Thing as well as Kenneth Branagh and Zoe Wanamaker in Five Children and It.
Also, the three other leads in Leonardo are all hugely talented and really good mates which made the whole experience phenomenal.
David Hare is pretty damn good and I really enjoyed the Rattigan centenary productions last year. There's a sniff of bias with that answer! I really enjoyed recent plays by Duncan Macmillan, Simon Stephens and April De Angelis.
What was the first thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you?
I was aged about five and I went to see Oliver!. I remember announcing to my family something very cliched like "I want to be up there one day".
What's the best advice you have ever received?
Never stop trying new things.
Regeneration by Pat Barker.
Favourite holiday destination?
I've been lucky enough to visit Africa five times in the last four years for a combo of travelling and work and I loved it. Tanzania for wildlife and trekking Kilimanjaro, Morocco for incredible street food and kilam rug purchases (I’m a new found bartering fan) and have just got back from filming in Cape Town; a place that I impulsively swore to return to live one day.
Why did you want to get involved with this production?
I enjoyed That Face (also directed by Jeremy Herrin) when it transferred to the West End. It was actually one of the first plays I saw having moved to London from Oxford! On top of that, a few mates who had worked with Jeremy before, had spoken of him as some sort of theatre wizard and I therefore was obviously super keen to meet him for South Downs.
Incidentally I can confirm that he is wizardy and brilliant! Another big pull was the fact that it’s written by Sir David Hare himself. I laughed out loud reading South Downs and Duffield was a character that I had never played before so, because of these reasons, it was undeniable.
Tell us about South Downs and The Browning Version
There're so many thematic and social layers to both David Hare's South Downs and Terence Rattigan The Browning Version that any attempt by me to squeeze them into one answer, I feel, would surely undermine both the piece and the experience for an audience member. I think the main idea that is explored in both plays is how an act of kindness can catalyse realisation and change in two struggling protagonists.
The two acts of kindness trigger self examination which enable the two characters to continue by either overcoming, or enduring the social and emotional obstacles which had previously crippled them. It also examines the public school institution from two very different vantage points, South Downs from the eyes of the boys and The Browning Version through a Classics Master.
Which part do you play?
I play Jeremy Duffield in South Downs - a prefect at Lancing College. Duffield is an effortlessly charming student who is equipped with the charm, wit and foresight to play the public school system; students and teachers alike. In amongst many narrative strands, Duffield introduces his mother Belinda, played by Anna Chancellor, to the struggling John Blakemore. A meeting that frees him.
What’s your favourite line of dialogue?
"Only within a cage do we find freedom"
Is it daunting to be coming into the West End?
A bit but it's also really exciting. To bring it from the Minerva which is really intimate and almost in the round, to the large proscenium arched Harold Pinter Theatre, there are some fun, mainly technical, tweaks needed. It’s great because it'll freshen it up.
What have you got lined up next?
I will soon start filming a series for the BBC called Me & Mrs Jones, whilst I’m performing South Downs. I'm thrilled - it's written by two of the writers of Campus and has an overwhelmingly talented comedy cast – I can't wait! There's also a play in the pipeline that may come to the West End later on in the year.
Dream future roles?
Tricky. I'm more definite about certain directors and theatres that I'd love to work for but I would be excited for a meaty classical text and a musical. I've recently been introduced to the Book of Mormon soundtrack and can't get enough. That'd be a sweet gig.
I do remember as a 14 year old promising myself and my Nanna that I'd try and go back into Les Miserables as Marius one day having played Gavroche. I'll have to wait and see!
** DON'T MISS our Whatsonstage.com Outing to SOUTH DOWNS & THE BROWNING VERSION, on 23 April 2012 where we've just confirmed the one and only David Hare will be taking part in our post-show Q&A. The package also includes a FREE programme, all for just £37!! (Normally up to £49.50 for the ticket alone) Click here for more info & to BOOK NOW! **