Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Ian Hallard: Foul Pages

By | Published on Thursday 15 February 2018

Coming up at The Hope Theatre this week is the premiere of historical comedy ‘Foul Pages’ by actor, playwright and former literary manager Robin Hooper, helmed by the venue’s award-winning artistic director Matthew Parker.
Starring in the show is the excellent Ian Hallard, who you’ll know from the likes of ‘The Boys In The Band’, ‘Lovesong Of The Electric Bear’, and his various appearances on the telly. I arranged a quick chat with him, ahead of opening night.

CM: Tell us about ‘Foul Pages’? What’s the premise and what happens in the show?
IH: It’s inspired by the events of 1603, when England’s new king, James I, stayed at the Countess of Pembroke’s home. It’s probable that ‘As You Like It’ was performed here for James, and that the Countess used the opportunity to lobby James to grant Sir Walter Raleigh a reprieve from the block. It’s a mixture of melodrama, comedy and tragedy: there are ambitious actors, a manipulative maidservant, a bodyguard in a kilt and a talking dog.

CM: I know it’s a comedy, but does it have any serious elements…?
IH: Absolutely. It was a turbulent time: the transition from the long reign of ‘Gloriana’ to this unknown, unpredictable Scotsman arriving from north of the border. There was plague and famine. The country was feeling insecure, and most of the characters harbour some kind of insecurity about their position. Rivalries between the actors drive them to some pretty extreme behaviour, and driving the plot is the question of whether Mary Sidney will succeed in saving Raleigh from execution.

CM: What would you say are the primary themes?
IH: Change and how that can destabilise people; ambition and what extreme lengths that can drive people to; alongside that, there’s a debate about scholarship and what differentiates a scholar from an artist. Also, how people’s inner emotional lives often differ from the persona they present to the outside world. So, some pretty meaty stuff. Although balanced against that, we do have fart gags and the aforementioned talking dog so it’s not all deep and meaningful.

CM: Tell us about your role, and how you have approached it?
IH: I’m playing the Bard himself: Will Shakespeare. He’s had success under Elizabeth but it’s obviously vitally important that he secures the patronage of James too. So his main drive throughout is keeping the play going – against the odds. The script doesn’t treat him reverentially. He’s a legend to us, but he was a man of his times. So I’ve just approached it the same way I would any other part: taking what’s on the page and hopefully breathing some life into him.

CM: What attracted you to the script?
IH: The opportunity to get dressed up in doublet and hose, naturally! Everybody loves a period costume. And it was very flattering to be asked back by Matthew Parker (Artistic Director of The Hope Theatre) to play another British genius (after playing Alan Turing at the Hope three years ago). I’m hoping this will be the second in a trilogy: maybe in three years’ time I can come back again to play Piers Morgan or Jeremy Hunt…

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the playwright? Has he had any involvement with the production?
IH: His name’s Robin Hooper and he’s an actor too. Matthew Parker tells us he was inspired to write the play after appearing in a production of ‘As you like it’ himself. We’ve had little bits of communication from him but, other than attending the read-through on the first day, he hasn’t been in the rehearsal room: I think the first time he’ll see the play will be the first performance so – fingers crossed, he’ll like it.

CM: Can we talk a bit about you, now? How did you end up working in theatre? Was it what you always wanted to do?
IH: I’d always loved acting but because I was strong academically I always thought it would just be a hobby. But after three years at University and not knowing what to do next, my parents encouraged me to go to drama school. So I moved down to London and the rest is history.

CM: What have been the highlights of your career thus far?
IH: It has to be ‘The Boys in the Band’: an amazing part in a very brilliant and special play. We did a run at the Park Theatre, a short tour and then transferred to the West End. Then the cherry on the cake was being nominated for a Whatsonstage award alongside Kenneth Branagh, Ian McKellen and Ralph Fiennes. Ridiculous but thrilling!

CM: What ambitions do you have for the future?
IH: I’ve been lucky enough to do a range of work over the years: TV, film, straight plays, musical theatre, radio, panto. I’m just happy to be working. You can’t take anything for granted and you never know – your current job could be your last! Playing Will has given me the taste to do some Shakespeare again: it’s been a few years since I last did one. Maybe a musical too as it’s been a while since I did any proper singing.

CM: What’s coming up next, after this?
IH: I’m hoping that ‘Tumulus’, which I did at the Vaults Festival last month, might have a further life. Other than that, more auditioning and seeing what comes along!


Foul Pages is on at The Hope Theatre from 20 Feb-17 Mar, see this page here for more info and to book tickets.

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