National Theatre blog

Ten Questions for… Ian Hallard

Ian Hallard is currently appearing in Great Britian

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Billie Piper and Ian Hallard (Felix) in Great Britain. Photo by Johan Persson.

Who do you play in Great Britain?

There are a few of them – and given the play’s subject matter, they are all pretty disreputable individuals. I’m Jimmy, who roots through celebrities’ dustbins for ‘newsworthy’ information; Felix, who’s passing on the royal family’s phone numbers; and St John Flowers – a Tory spin doctor. In addition, I pop up as a bespectacled journalist, a police officer, and I’m also the voice of Bryn Wong – who has had a fling with the Commissioner of the Met.

Describe your character(s) in 3 words.

Jimmy – grubby, thick, mercenary.
Felix – pompous, fey, mercenary.
St John – wheedling, exasperated, mercenary.

Is there a scene you particularly enjoy performing?

The play has an abundance of hysterically funny lines and moments, but, in the final scene, I take particular satisfaction in hearing the audience’s derisive reaction to the pleas of innocence from Virginia White, the Free Press’s incompetent, horse-loving editor.

Who is your backstage hero?

That’s an invidious question – having to name just one! It’s a cliché but all the backstage team, from Shane our Company Manager, to the crew to my dresser, Laura, are wonderful. I’ll plump for Jo Nield, who is our Deputy Stage Manager. She spends the whole rehearsal process alongside us and is always so supportive, calm and in total control, and I always find it a bit sad that once the show opens, because she’s running all the technical cues from the box at the back of the auditorium, we rarely get to see her!

What’s the most memorable on-stage moment you’ve seen or been part of that has made a lasting impression on you?

Can I cheat and pick two? They were both moments that reduced me to tears for similar reasons. I saw The Winter’s Tale at the RSC when I was a teenager and I found the final scene with Hermione’s statue so unexpected and moving. Then Carousel at the Savoy in 2009 – when Billy Bigelow returns to Earth and is glimpsed momentarily by his widow – left me in bits and unable to speak for a good fifteen minutes afterwards. Both moments deal with mortality and bereavement and were just heartbreakingly poignant.

What’s your favourite spot at the NT?

It’s such an honour and a dream come true for an actor to work at the National Theatre, that I have to say, for me, it’s slap bang in the middle of the Lyttelton stage, listening to 900 people having hysterics as they watch the show.

If there was one play you would recommend and it was the only play someone would ever see, which would it be?

I was blown away by London Road, which I saw at the Cottesloe. It felt so fresh and genuinely innovative. The music was magnificent and the cast were phenomenal. It made me realise how rarely in theatre one hears characters speak as real people do, with all their natural speech patterns and hesitations. It was delightful to hear how much inherent humour there is in normal, everyday language. I’m looking forward to the film version immensely.

Do you have any pre-performance rituals?

A slice of cake from the canteen. I was a big fan of the Rocky Road slice and the date and polenta cake the last time I was here, but since then they’ve added a number of cupcakes to their selection which are giving them a run for their money.

What would be your dream role?

I played Bobby in Sondheim’s Company at drama school, so I’d love the chance to revisit the part now I’m the right age for it.

If you could watch a play with anyone – dead or alive – who would it be?

I think watching an original Shakespearean production with Elizabeth I would be pretty special. She’s a fascinating historical figure, and I imagine I’d feel a great temptation to observe her reactions rather than the play itself!

Ten Questions for… Kiruna Stamell

Kiruna Stamell is currently appearing in Great Britain.

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Kiruna Stammel in Great Britain. Photo by Johan Persson.

Who do you play in Great Britain?

Wendy Kinkard - a Lawyer

Describe your character in 3 words.

Intelligent, patient and bold.

Is there a scene you particularly enjoy performing?

My final scene in the Ivy. I get the big guns out in this one.

Who is your backstage hero?

Harriet Thorpe, she has a soft seating area backstage where we can have a little catch up. The sofa next to hers is time-shared between the actors.

What’s the most memorable on-stage moment you’ve seen or been part of that has made a lasting impression on you?

Most definitely the night when the Scott, who is playing the waiter, accidentally managed to get a freakish spin on the glass of champagne he was delivering to me on a tray. It leaped off the tray and bumped me on the head, tipped all over me, hit the table and then smashed on the floor. I was drenched. This, in a scene set in the Ivy, where I am meant to be negotiating a big important deal. Instead of my usual composure and slick lawyer-like composure, I was dripping wet, so were my files, table setting and seat. What do you do in that situation? You have to acknowledge the reality of having just had a glass thrown at your head. The audience were delighted by this new addition to the show. So, as I dabbed myself dry with napkins, we kept on with the scene and were coping quite well until I had to say, ‘I’ve read every splash…’  ‘Splash’ just brought it all back…

What’s your favourite spot at the NT?

On stage.

If there was one play you would recommend and it was the only play someone would ever see, which would it be?

Peeling by Kaite O’Reilly

Do you have any pre-performance rituals?

Na, the usual a warm-up and make-up… all the ‘ups’.

What would be your dream role?

Little Nell in Rocky Horror Picture Show… or for a new version of the Time Bandits to be made but this time with a female leader…

If you could watch a play with anyone – dead or alive – who would it be?

Christopher Marlowe…

Great Britain is playing at the NT until 23 August and transfers to the Haymarket in the West End from 9 September.

Cillian Murphy on working with Enda Walsh in 1996 on Disco Pigs and now Ballyturk:

'We didn’t know at that time he was a significant writer. He was just a young writer with energy and attitude. And great hair. So I was spoilt. It was a break for me. I just love his sense of humour, the way he smashes comedy up against tragedy. His plays could never work on television or film, they are so purely theatrical. And he is a beautiful wordsmith. For an actor to be given these beautiful speeches is a great gift.'

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Read the full interview with Cillian Murphy on Ballyturk in the Evening Standard

Director Carrie Cracknell and Designer Tom Scutt on Medea

Director Carrie Cracknell and designer Tom Scutt talk to Kate Mosse about their collaboration on Medea in the Olivier theatre.

Tom Scutt will answer questions live on Tuesday, 19 August at 1pm on our Twitter channel. Join the chat and send in your questions using @NationalTheatre and #AskADesigner.

Ten Questions for… Harriet Thorpe

Harriet Thorpe (Pravda, Wicked, Absolutely Fabulous, Calendar Girls) is currently appearing in Great Britain.

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Who do you play in Great Britain?

I play two roles: Clarissa Kingston-Mills, a glamorous and unscrupulous top publicist, and Nicola, the slightly less glamorous head of the Crown Prosecution Service.

Describe your character in 3 words.

Clarissa: Ruthless, grandiose and savvy.

Is there a scene you particularly enjoy performing?

Without giving anything away, Clarissa gets two big revelatory moments in the second act – it’s always exciting to drive the plot forward.

Who is your backstage hero?

There isn’t just one. It’s everyone who works backstage: wardrobe, hair and makeup, (better known as ‘WHAM’!) sound, lighting, the crew and our wonderful stage management team. Special mention for my lovely dresser, who forces me in and out of costumes at great speed! There’d be no show without them.

What’s the most memorable on-stage moment you’ve seen or been part of that has made a lasting impression on you?

I always love the show I’m in! But hearing Laurence Olivier’s cry as Shylock with the National at the Old Vic, when I was a kid, has stayed with me always.

Pravda (at the National) was my first experience of performing in a production which reflected directly on a part of our culture at the time, much like Great Britain does now. It’s thrilling when theatre is part of the conversation.

What’s your favourite spot at the NT?

I love being backstage during the show. Sometimes we’re sitting and chatting, or we’re travelling in and out of scenes, or dashing to do a quick change, but it’s always atmospheric. I also love looking out through my dressing room window at the quadrangle as all the different companies prepare for their shows. There’s music coming from one window, or someone’s warming up, or we’re chatting to each other. I don’t know any other place in the world where that happens.

If there was one play you would recommend and it was the only play someone would ever see, which would it be?

Great Britain, obviously! I’m always going to recommend the play I’m in! To quote the show, ‘you get some criminality, some tragedy and an awful lot of comedy’ – you can’t ask for more!

Do you have any pre-performance rituals?

Just putting on vast amounts of make-up! I love having the tannoy on and listening to the audience make their way into the auditorium.

What would be your dream role?

I know it sounds coy, but I always just love the role I’m playing. I’ve been very lucky to perform a wide variety of characters, (I’ve never played anyone normal, they’re always slightly psychotic) and it’s my dream to continue to do so.

If you could watch a play with anyone – dead or alive – who would it be?

Dorothy Parker… Noel Coward… Tennessee Williams… Bette Davis… Oscar Wilde… some dear, departed friends… no, I’m sorry but I can’t choose just one, it’ll have to be a big theatre please!

Great Britain is playing at the NT until 23 August and transfers to the Haymarket in the West End from 9 September.