27th February 2023
Interview: Amy Bell
It was 1977, the year of skin-tight polyester, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and Saturday Night Fever. The Sex Pistols were storming up the charts, skateboarding was the latest craze and Angela Rippon danced with Morecambe & Wise.
And at Hampstead Theatre in London, Mike Leigh and his cast were putting the finishing touches to Abigail’s Party, a ferocious black comedy and landmark of twentieth-century theatre. George Readshaw plays the role of Tony.
We chat to Readshaw about his role, working in theatre and the most bizarre thing he did on set of the Disney+ Extraordinary.
Hi George, Thanks so much for talking to ReVamp, was acting always the path you wanted to follow?
When I realised I wasn’t going to play football professionally (aged about 7) then yes, it was always the path for me. At one stage I wanted to be a musician but like with football, a lack of talent held me back there. I knew I didn’t want to do a ‘normal’ job from a very young age, and acting is very much not a ‘normal’ job.
Growing up, what was your childhood like? Was it always surrounded by acting and auditions?
I was lucky as I grew up in the west of Oxford, a city with a lot going on culturally. I was doubly lucky as my parents enjoyed theatre and cinema and took me along with them from a young age, so I always viewed the arts as an option for me. I was able to join youth theatre groups, and you did have to audition to take part in those, and not everyone was successful, so I got used to auditioning quite early. A key part of auditioning is not being successful, so it is useful to get used to dealing with rejection early.
You will be playing Tony in Abigail’s Party, what attracted you to this role?
The play itself. The chance to do a modern classic, and to take it to every corner of Britain and Ireland really excites me. I grew up loving Mike Leigh’s work. I remember watching Happy Go Lucky at the cinema and it really stuck with me, and to get to do that kind of work on stage is really exciting. As for the role, not much of Tony is really on the page, it's all in the character work. The play was originally improvised, meaning the actors knew their characters inside out and inhabited them fully, so coming to the role 46 years later means you have to do a bit of digging to get into what Tony’s really got going on. This was a very intriguing challenge.
Can you tell me a bit about the role of ‘Tony’?
Tony is tough, monosyllabic, quietly aggressive and angry, yet damaged somehow. There’s a lot to get your teeth into as an actor there. He also couldn’t be more different to me as a person, and that is great fun to play; accessing a completely different set of values. He is also pretty much without fear, and it is exhilarating when your character doesn’t fear anyone on stage.
What was it like on set? Are there any funny stories?
I recently shot an episode of Extraordinary for Disney+. I mainly had to have a conversation with a bare bum sticking out of a wall. There was a ‘Bum Double’ on set, he was lovely, and his job was to stand with his bum out in the freezing cold while we acted around him. Talk about ‘normal’ job…
What would you say is the connection between what you have done previously and theatre work?
I have mainly done theatre work. It’s what I know and have been doing since I was young. Doing it professionally is a different thing, you have to do more shows, you have to think about things like taxes, paying commission to your agent, protecting yourself physically so that you can perform eight times a week for months on end. But it’s the life I chose, and I wouldn’t give it up.
You are the co-founder of Half Cut Theatre, what made you want to find something like this, that is connected to the pandemic?
It was less about a connection to the pandemic, and more about the necessity to do something during that time. Theatres were closed. You couldn’t go to live theatre. As an actor that was my livelihood and myself and two other friends decided we couldn’t just let that go, so we decided to set up on our own. It started with outdoor Shakespeare productions, and has grown and grown, and we are hopeful of taking our work into theatres.
What was the audition process like and what is most exciting about touring?
There were two auditions. In my first meeting, Michael asked me to prepare a monologue of my choice, as there isn’t much in the way of dialogue for Tony, and it is hard to get the measure of an actor when all they say is ‘Yeah’, and ‘Ta’. We were then asked back to play some scenes with some of the other candidates, just to see who worked well with who. I was lucky enough to be paired up with Alice, who plays my onstage wife Angela, and she was brilliant, which in turn made me look good and that’s probably why I got it!