Director relishing the challenge of new Lichfield Garrick show

Phil Preece talks to Andrew Hall, Director of John Osborne’s The Entertainer at the Lichfield Garrick.

Andrew Hall

Andrew Hall

What most people know about actor and director Andrew Hall is he starred in the hit 70s sitcom Butterflies with Geoffrey Palmer and Wendy Craig. Andrew played one of their two “typical” sons – he was Russell, the good-looking one, the one who wasn’t Nicholas Lyndhurst.

Butterflies still occupies a favourite place in millions of viewers’ memories as a show that really captured the spirit of its times with a dad bewildered by modern life, a mum yearning for more than ironing and two lads enjoying all the freedom of youth.

Asked if he’s a bit tired of being remembered for the show now Andrew says:

“Well, it was all so very long ago. But it was my first job after leaving drama school, so I wasn’t going to turn it down.”

Getting a job in a top sitcom would boost any actor’s career but as it turns out there’s always been more to Andrew than just his good looks.

He set out to learn the business from the very bottom, and this focused approach shows why directing for him was always a logical progression. Starting work as a stage hand at 16 he spent four years learning every aspect of stagecraft including technical support, earning in the process enough money to pay his own way through college so he didn’t find time to get there till he was 21.

His pre-drama school credits included working at the Royal Court with future stars such as Bob Peck and Robert Lindsay. He says:

“I’d gained wonderful experience in all the background skills. So at drama school I concentrated on acting.”

Within five years of leaving college Andrew had made his directorial debut at Coventry with Sartres’ challenging play Huis Clos. He’s now done everything from soaps to classics and reckons over the last ten years his acting/directing mix has been about 50/50. He’s just come out of a long run of Mamma Mia in the West End, but right now he’s relishing directing The Entertainer, his follow-up to last year’s West End-bound “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf” for Lichfield’s Garrick Rep Company.

John Osborne’s breakthrough play was suggested to him by the Garrick’s artistic director Adrian Jackson who found he could secure permission to present it.

Andrew explains:

“Straight away I wanted to do it very much because it’s a difficult play, which throws up a lot of challenges. And from a director’s point of view how you solve the problem of presenting this proscenium arch-based work in the intimate space of the studio is a real attraction. The domestic scenes have a great dimension of power in this kind of setting, which really helps with a non-naturalistic play. After all, it’s more Brecht than Coward.”

I asked Andrew if he thought this play, a huge success for its author fifty years ago still has relevance today. He comes straight back:

“Definitely. Osborne draws a powerful parallel between the disintegration and diminution of the central character and Britain’s role as a post-imperial nation in very imaginative ways. We can recognise the difficulties and disappointments the play highlights even now. Its themes are still current, especially when you think of our war casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan  – to some people these are just another blow to our national self-confidence. On top of that we see the personal tragedy of Archie Rice, a flawed human being struggling with failure.”

Just as I’m starting to think is all getting a bit gloomy he grins:

“Oh, and there are some good songs as well – and remember, it’s really funny!”

John Osborne’s The Entertainer runs in the Garrick’s Studio Theatre funtil Saturday October 31, with extra matinee performances on Saturdays. Tickets priced £15 (£10 students) are available from the box office on 01543 412121 or online from www.lichfieldgarrick.com.

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