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‘I always look forward to returning to the theatre’: an interview with Stephen Tompkinson
Image Credit: Stephen Tompkinson and Dean Bone in The Red Lion

‘I always look forward to returning to the theatre’: an interview with Stephen Tompkinson

22 October 2017 Katie Da Cunha Lewin

Since getting his start in Brassed Off over 20 years ago, Stephen Tompkinson has been a regular face in both television and film, most recently for his long term role as DCI Alan Banks, the stubborn detective. Now, he comes to the London West End in Patrick Marber’s The Red Lion. He talks to London Calling about football and nostalgia.

London Calling: Thank you so much for talking to London Calling.  Could you tell us about the character you play in The Red Lion.
 
Stephen Tompkinson: The character I play in The Red Lion is called Jimmy Kidd, a football manager of a Northern League football team, the oldest football league in Great Britain. He’s been at this club for about two years and he’s very ambitious.  He styles himself as a bit of a maverick, he likes to preen and looks at the camera, even though at the club that he’s at, cameras are seldom seen, so it’s a thwarted ambition. The play is set in the dressing room of the football club and the other two characters are an older kit man who looks after the gear. He used to play for the club, he used to manage the club, his father used to play for the club. There’s also the young protégée, who’s super talented. The play is a kind of Faustian battle for this lad’s soul, about whether he wants to stay at the club he’s loved all his life or, following my character, if he wants to accelerate his career, in order to make a quick buck for himself. It is a metaphor for any business pre and post Thatcher so it’s not just about football. Many people have come to see the play who can’t stand football and really enjoyed the experience. Patrick Marber is that clever.


Stephen Tompkinson, Dean Bone and John Bowler in Patrick Marber's The Red Lion
 
LC: There sounds like there’s a lot going on there! What was it in particular that interested you in your role?
 
ST: Anything written by Patrick is going to be brilliant. The play is a three-hander with no interval so it’s very intense. It’s going to be at the Trafalgar Studios, so the audience will actually be in the dressing room. It’s wonderful to have the audience within touching distance. It’s a real experience.
 
LC: How did you find working with such a small cast?
 
ST: Brilliant! It’s a different set of acting muscles. But having had a successful run of the play earlier in the year [in Newcastle], to be reunited here in London is an absolute treat. When you get to revisit something after a few weeks’ absence you can still find new things. It will be a wonderfully fresh production.
 
LC: How did you find returning to live theatre?
 
ST: It’s something I like to do every two or three year just because it’s a chance to tell a story from beginning middle and end. When you are doing the film or TV it can be all out of order, and dependent on whatever location you are in. But here, it’s very dependant on the audience you get, particularly with a comedy, you get immediate reaction, you can see how the joke has landed. It’s different all the time. So it’s a different set of acting muscles and something I always look forward to. It’s as raw as it can be.


Stephen Tompkinson and John Bowler in The Red Lion
 
LC: Why do you think football has such a cultural importance?
 
ST: Even though football has changed so much and it’s no longer the case that people who represent teams are actually from that area, they are still based in that area, they represent a lot of people’s hopes and dreams. It used to be very different. When the Celtics were at the European cup, all of those players were born between a three or four mile radius of the grounds, so you could live vicariously through them and celebrate their successes and feel their pain.
 
LC: Has it made you nostalgic for watching football when you were  younger?
 
Very much. My family supported Middlesborough because we were from Stockton-on-Tees. And sometimes I still go up to the stand where Middlesborough play now. It doesn’t feel as special to me as it did when I was a kid. It’s changed very much. But still the escapism, for working people, you are watching these guys fulfilling your dreams, that represent you somehow.
 
LC: So the sense of the place is very important then?
 
ST: Yes. And, the Northern league is the oldest league in the country. Newcastle is deep in football history. But the passion will translate to the Trafalgar Studios.
 
LC: So the play has been in Newcastle and has now transferred to London. Is there anything happening in London you are particularly looking forward to seeing or doing?
 
ST: I’ll be busy November through December so I’m looking forward to the onset of Christmas. I’ve always liked winter, I find it magical. There’s always a different atmosphere around that time of year. You are much more aware of people building towards Christmas and thinking of other people rather than themselves, so it’s always been the capital that does that for me.
 
The Red Lion is at Trafalgar Studios from 1 November – 2 December.
 

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