Alexander Hanson: 'If you do too many musicals, that's all you can do'

The actor has swapped the West End stage for the Rose Theatre, Kingston, where he stars in a revival of Alan Bennett’s double-bill ”Single Spies”

Alexander Hanson in rehearsals for Single Spies
Alexander Hanson in rehearsals for Single Spies
© Keith Pattison

Last time we spoke you were in rehearsals for Andrew Lloyd Webber's Stephen Ward – what are your reflections on that production?

It was a lovely part. It's difficult when you're not involved to know what it's like because you fall in love with what you're doing. You have great belief in it. You need great belief in it. And we did. There were people who didn't like the show and others who did, which is always a good sign. We knew is was a bad time of year to open, around Christmas, but it was the only way of securing the director's [Richard Eyre] services. And of course our opening night coincided with the Apollo ceiling falling in. So it was a combination of unfortunate factors. I think in hindsight it would have profited from being in a smaller space. But it was a very fulfilling show to do.

Andrew mentioned at the time of its closure that he thought it signified the end of an era for new musicals in the West End. Do you agree?

Hanson in Stephen Ward

Possibly. You certainly have a better chance putting on a new musical in a smaller venue that doesn't need a colossal amount of money, and which doesn't charge £80 for a ticket. I don't think new musicals in the West End are over, but maybe the days of getting 100 percent audience capacities are. Unless it's something extraordinary, and you have a huge star that everyone wants to see.

Were you proud of your wife, Samantha Bond, for making her musical theatre debut recently in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels?

I was very proud of her and I thought she was fantastic. She is actually far more musical theatre than I have ever been, but she was a musicals virgin until DRS. That's where she popped her cherry! She absolutely loved it.

You're about to open in Single Spies – was that a concious decision to get back on the play side of things?

Yes, it was. But it's also about opportunities. If Follies came along, for example, of course I would have done that. I like to swing between straight theatre and musicals if possible, but generally speaking if something interesting comes along, I'll do it. The disciplines are so different and one informs the other. There is also the issue of perception in this industry. If you do one too many musicals, that's all you can do.

And it's not any straight play – it's Alan Bennett's acclaimed double-bill Single Spies, timed to coincide with Bennett's 80th year

Absolutely. I've never done an Alan Bennett play before. I once came close to being in a play of his, but I couldn't play the cello, so it never happened. I have seen stuff of his, of course, and it's brilliant. He's a master craftsman. As an actor, he makes it incredibly easy for you. It's all there. There's a wonderful underlying humour in everything he does.

You play Guy Burgess, who is shown in An Englishman Abroad meeting the actress Coral Browne in Moscow – how is Burgess as a character?

He's such a joy to play. He was just such a character. He was highly intelligent, a talker, a great story teller, a drunk, and incredibly funny. When he went to Cambridge, he was one of the most brilliant students they had. An exploding concoction of things, who flew against convention. Homosexuality was illegal but he made no effort to hide it. He was the kind of person most of us yearn to be like.

Tell us more about your director, Sarah Esdaile

She is quite wonderful. She is exactly what you want in a director – incredibly supportive and nurturing. When you're in rehearsal, it's okay to make a fool of yourself because she makes the space very safe. She loves watching us: she's like a kid in a sweet shop. And when she comes up with suggestions, invariably they're on the money. She's absolutely one to watch.

What's next on the horizon?

Nothing specific, but I'm always working on my one man show, which has yet to see the light of day. I get more excited every day I work on it. I'm also part of the rep for City Stories, which has a year's tenure at the St James Theatre. It's written by a very clever chap called James Phillips and features drama and live music.

Which roles are on your 'wish list'?

Very big question. I did a production of Uncle Vanya in Chicester with Roger Allam, which was a wonderful experience, and whetted my appetite for Chekhov. I would love to play Trigorin (in The Seagull) and Vershinin (in Three Sisters). Musicals-wise, I would particularly love to do Follies and Sweeney Todd. Oh, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels!

Single Spies is at the Rose Theatre, Kingston until 11 October