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20 Questions with Salisbury Playhouse's Dick Whittington Tom Oakley

Tom Oakley talks to WhatsOnStage about his upcoming appearance as Dick Whittington at Salisbury Playhouse this Christmas

Rehearsal for Dick Whittington and His Cat - Salisbury Playhouse - 19th November 2013
© Robert Workman

Tom Oakley is about to play the titular character in Salisbury's annual pantomime Dick Whittington and His Cat (4 December 2013 to 11 January 2014). His previous credits include Paper Dolls (Tricycle Theate), Jersey Boys (Prince Edward), Love Never Dies (Adelphi Theatre) and Once Upon a Time at the Adelphi (Liverpool Playhouse).

Place of birth?

Birmingham, and we lived in Tipton before moving to Shropshire. I'm a Black Country boy at heart.

What made you become an actor?

It was kind of a by-product of being painfully shy at school. I was small and socially awkward. My teacher suggested drama to bring me out of my shell, and I guess it stuck!

Who were your early heroes?

I remember really loving James Dean when I was younger. The way he played the complicated subtleties of a young man were fascinating to me. Plus, he looked really cool! My favourite fictional character is Edward Scissorhands, though. He's just heartbreaking.


I went to a fantastic Saturday school in Shropshire called Theatre Of Gifted Youth, and then continued on to Arts Educational.

If you hadn't become an actor what might you have done professionally?

I played a lot of ice hockey when I was younger, so I think possibly that. Or an artist, or maybe a concert pianist! (Obviously drawn to the less-than-stable careers)

First Big Break:

My first job was actually a pantomime, Peter Pan. My first theatre job was in Liverpool when it was Capital of Culture - it was called Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi.

Career Highlight to Date:

Each job brings something different by way of personal achievement. Being in the World premiere of Love Never Dies was pretty cool, as was Jersey Boys for its commercial gravitas. West Side Story was exciting because we had John Wilson conducting, as well as the rights for Will Tucket to re-choreograph the dancing. Paper Dolls was awesome because it was a brand new work at the Tricycle Theatre. I value all my opportunities, though.

What was the first thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you?

The first thing that really smacked me round the face was The Pillowman at the National with David Tennant. That absolutely blew my mind! I was leaning toward the stage in amazement the whole time. A real affirming moment. And the Last Once was incredible. If you have a creative bone in your body, you can't help but feel inspired by it. I also saw a fantastic play called Fight Night in Plymouth. The concept was fascinating. If you can find it anywhere anytime, go see it!

Favourite co-stars: I generally like all my co-stars. It's always fun to do a job with existing friends, but then it's great to make new friends too.

Favourite directors:

That I've worked with? They were all cool, and so different. Phil Willmott, Jack O'Brian, John Emmanuel, Will Tuckett, Indhu Rubasingham, Tim Supple... loads - and, of course, Joyce [Branagh, who directs Dick Whittington and His Cat!] Otherwise, I love Woody Allen, David Lynch, Tim Burton, Martin Scorsese ... Too many to list!

Are there any differences in rehearsing for panto compared to your other stage work?

They're generally a lot more chilled-out. All rehearsals are fun, but pantomime rehearsals just breed silliness! It's always a good laugh, while still getting the work done.

Why should people go and see Dick Whittington?

Because it's pure Christmas fun! Every single character is played perfectly by the cast, and it's a great excuse to get out of the cold and laugh yourselves silly for a couple of hours!

How are you finding Salisbury - any tips on places to go and see?

I love Salisbury! I admit, I haven't had much time to explore the area, but I'm looking forward to having the chance to look around! Though I will say, Bill's restaurant in the square is great!

What roles would you most like to play still?

I'd like to play Bobby in Company (when I'm old enough) and also Katurian in The Pillowman. That, and some screen roles that would allow me to delve a little into someone else's mind and create a complete character from scratch.

How do you unwind?

I like to play piano, read, write, archery when I can, and watch good films or comedy. I also find cooking really therapeutic!

Favourite holiday destinations:

I'm not a massive holiday-goer, but my girlfriend and I went to Tunisia this year and it was great! Other than that, I love Saundersfoot and Tenby in Wales!

If you could swap places with anyone for a day, who would it be?

My parents. I'd genuinely give them each a day off if I could, let someone else do all that they do for a change. They're incredible.

Favourite Film: Shaun Of The Dead! Never a time when I can't watch it. Same with High Fidelity. Loved Shutter Island. I love 80's movies too, like Look Who's Talking and Breakfast Club. There's also a great film called Coffee & Cigarettes, which is basically a selection of black and white shorts featuring loads of big names, talking about obscure things. I'm also looking forward to seeing Philomena and Gravity!

What's next for you?

Well, I'm currently editing a draft of my first novel, VIVID, which is exciting. I started writing it whilst in Paper Dolls. I had a really early preset, so ended up writing half of it, onstage, hiding up a tower, ten feet from the audience, during the half! That, and my own music, as well as freelance arranging, and putting the finishing touches to a couple of musicals I've written (with Daniel Finn and Michael Webborn). It's great to have other projects to get on with, and I've always wanted to do a lot of different things. There are some people that believe you have to choose. I think that's rubbish. Do them ALL!

Dick Whittington and His Cat runs at Salisbury Playhouse 4 December 2013 to 11 January 2014.

- Kris Hallett