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Brief Encounter With ... Douglas Hodge

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Fresh from his Olivier and Tony Award-winning turn in La Cage aux Folles, Douglas Hodge has returned to the London stage to star Jamie Lloyd's revival of John Osborne's Inadmissible Evidence at the Donmar Warehouse.

Hodge has a long association with the Donmar, where his work includes, as an actor, Guys and Dolls in the West End and The Lover/The Collection; and as a director, Dimetos and Absurdia.

How did you find Broadway?
It was just thrilling; definitely one of the most exciting years of my life. It was a challenge - there were moments where I was pathetically and impossibly lonely - but it was an extraordinary experience all around, just the way theatre is received there and the way that the show was such a success. To be doing a Broadway show on Broadway was such a privilege; if you’re going to be successful there’s no better place to do it than New York.

Did you enjoy working with Kelsey Grammer?
He was probably the best thing that happened to me on that whole adventure. We were both great believers in the show. He’s a highly skilled comic, actor and singer, and so popular in America and the rest of the world. We’re going out for dinner tomorrow night as it happens; he’s just arrived in England.

The Donmar is a very different prospect in terms of scale
I was out walking my dog when Michael Grandage called and asked if I would come back to work at the Donmar for his farewell season. I had been an associate director there and worked there as an actor as well as a director, and he was keen to work with people who had been in the building over the last few years. He gave me the script and I sent him a text back saying that I thought the part of Bill Maitland was too small (if you know the part it’s an enormous role).

It’s the polar opposite to La Cage. It’s about a very bitter, poisoned man suffering total disintegration. Of course the Donmar is a wonderful house of ideas, so even though it’s daunting, and I have to say I’m wishing now and then there were a few songs I could sing in the middle of it, it couldn’t be more different which is always exciting.

Tell us more about Inadmissible Evidence
It centres on a lawyer in the 1960s who decides to put himself on trial. It starts with this terrifying nightmare where you see this one man disintegrate as he drives people away from him. While seeking for no one to ever leave him and for the room to always be full of friends, as soon as they come in the door, for some insane reason, he seems to test them to the core and drive them all away. It gets almost to the point of a nightmare and dreamscape by the end of it where he is in total breakdown.

It’s not one of Osborne’s most oft-revived plays
I think that’s partly because the role is so enormous. There are not many people who are foolish enough to try and learn it. I think Nicol Williamson defined the role when he created it, firstly with Osborne directing and then again on film. It’s probably Osborne’s best play if I’m honest; he certainly wrote it when he was really firing on all cylinders.

I think Bill Maitland is probably the closest out of all his characters to him. He did actually have a breakdown soon after he’d written the play. Of course he did go through various divorces and Maitland's a divorce lawyer and he was very close to those bitter wars of attrition. His own lacerating words are very much the way Bill speaks. The sheer range of his vocabulary is extraordinary - the way that he writes is almost Shakespearean at times. He is due for a reappraisal.

What do you think of Michael Grandage’s tenure?
I remember him taking over and thinking it was going to be hard to continue to keep what Sam Mendes made afloat, but he’s made the Donmar a house of ideas where great texts can be talked about with enormous intimacy. His style of narrative clarity is thrilling especially for the big textual plays, and I’ve seen some huge plays there. I think he’s put his own imprint on it and formed a major powerhouse. These small houses that we have in London are unlike anywhere else in the world and the chance to see these plays really close up is unique.

What about your own directing ambitions?
I very much want to do more directing but I keep being offered acting work; I realised a long time ago that you should just turn down acting work if you want to direct. But it’s on the backburner again. There are three or four plays I’ve been asked to direct next year, but really my dream now is to run a venue. I’m thinking about that more now both as an actor and as a director. That’s what I’d like to do in the long run.

Did you put your hat in the ring for the Donmar?
No, I didn’t. I think in my mind, the Donmar is already succeeding and thriving and I’d like to make a place from scratch.

What else have you got coming up?
I’ve written this musical that I think is going to be on at the Chocolate Factory. There’s nothing better than starting something from scratch, making something new. I’m waiting to hear if they can take the risk on a brand new musical that’s not based on a film or Broadway. It is rare and takes a bit of guts for a producer to take that risk on a brand new story, and it always costs a lot of money so I’m hoping we can move forward with it. That would be absolutely thrilling.

Inadmissible Evidence opens at the Donmar tomorrow (18 October 2011, previews from 13 October) and continues until 26 November 2011.


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