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Comic Talent Scores A Hat-trick For The RSC

Versatile stage and screen actor David Tennant has a trio of plum roles.

From Vic Reeves & Bob Mortimer to Richard Brinsley Sheridan, you could say that David Tennant has just run the gamut of British comedy.

Two weeks ago you might have seen the affable young Scottish actor - star of BBC Scotland's hit series Takin' Over the Asylum - playing an over-the-top contemporary artist in the first instalment of Vic & Bob's new take on 1970s cult comedy Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased).

Now you can see him as Jack Absolute in the RSC's production of Sheridan's The Rivals, which has just opened at the Swan Theatre in Stratford.

'It's a nice contrast,' he agrees. 'I've always been a fan of Vic & Bob and Randall & Hopkirk was great fun to do. It only took about six days to shoot my bit of it.
'It was like being in an episode of Scooby-Doo, like running around in the playg round again.'

Tempting him back to the RSC - where he made his mark last time he was here, in 1996, in two new plays premiered in Stratford, Richard Nelson's The General from America and Peter Whelan's The Herbal Bed - was a trio of parts also including Romeo and Anthipholus in The Comedy of Errors.

'It's three large parts and I needed quite a big breath before saying yes,' he admits. 'From the first day of rehearsal it's been non-stop.

'But I couldn't say no. I've always thought I would like to play Romeo before I was 30, and I'm 28 now.
'The Rivals has never been done by the RSC. I can't quite believe that, because it's such a staple of the repertoire, a great classical play.

'But Restoration and 18th century comedies probably aren't done as much as they once were because the regional theatres don't have the money for them.
'I've never done this kind of play before and at first in rehearsals it was a bit of a struggle to get into it, because the characters are given long sentences with clauses and sub-clauses.

'The kind of acting you get to do on TV is influenced by American movies, so your instinct is to break it up and naturalise it. But you have to deliver it with elan and conviction; you have to obey the rules and then it frees itself up.'

Tennant has recently finished filming a leading role in RSC director Deborah Warner's first film, The Last September, in a cast which also features Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Keeley Hawes and Jane Birkin.

'It's based on a novel by Elizabeth Bowen and set in Ireland in 1920. It's shades of Merchant-Ivory but I think a bit grittier than that.

'I play a British army officer who's there helping to protect a big house owned by an Anglo-Irish family; I fall in love with the daughter of the house, Keeley Hawes, and she sort of falls in love with me, but can't make up her mind between me and the IRA man hiding in the woods.

'So you have the political side of it, which is fascinating - I knew very little about it.'

Tennant says he was always going to be an actor, from a very early age, and identifies Dr Who as the initial attraction.

He has worked with long-running political company 7:84 in Scotland, as well as appearing in a number of productions at Dundee Rep and the Edinburgh Lyceum, and in such thoroughly Scottish pieces as the Slab Boys Trilogy at the Young Vic and, on television, Rab C Nesbitt and Para Handy as well as Takin' Over the Asylum.

So to what extent does he think of himself as specifically a Scottish actor?

'I think it's now easier just to be seen as an actor, as long as you can do an English accent. In a funny way I think devolution will help that, because Scotland is becoming part of Europe. I'm certainly very proud of being Scottish, but I think it's a liberation.'

Apart from playing Romeo, does he have any other particular ambitions?

'I don't really have anything too specific apart from that - I just want to do more good parts,' he says. 'I don't think you can plan it, because you don't have that much power. You can only do what people ask you.
'I've been absurdly fortunate. I've had some great jobs and I've never been out of work for more than a couple of months at a time, but I have friends who are fantastically talented who've had a much more difficult time.

'But you're always waiting to be tumbled. A lot of actors say this - you're always afraid it's all going to be taken away.'

The Rivals is in repertory until October 7; The Comedy of Errors previews from April 11; Romeo and Juliet previews from June 23.
Source: The Birmingham Post