A different role yet a similar character

Sue Snowden spoke to Shakespearean actor Alan Howard, who is appearing at the Festival Theatre this month.

The fine classical actor Alan Howard will forsake Shakespeare for Victorian melodrama when he appears in The Silver King at Chichester Festival Theatre on July 11.

Yet he sees similarities in his part as the hero, Wilfred Denver, with one of his all-time favourite roles - Prince Hal in Henry IV.

"Wilfred is an interesting character - a man in search of himself. He's not comfortable in Victorian society. He knows the role expected of him but he does not feel he fits it," he explained.

"Victorian society was so sure of itself. The order of life was such that providing you observed all the rules there should not have been any problems.

"But he is breaking all the rules. He's racing along the downward path fast and furiously. He's gambling his inheritance away; drinking his life away.

"He's desperately looking for something true to himself rather than society.

"He's not unlike Hal in Henry IV. He's always acting other roles, trying on other identities to find out who he is."

Alan is enjoying the role and the play, which was written by Henry Arthur Jones in 1882. "It's quite raw, a lot of it. There is a wonderful naivety yet power in the piece, if we can get it.

"There is also a great deal of humour and tenderness and love and joy."

Jessica Turner will be playing opposite him as his wife, Nelly, with Tony Britton taking the part of the loyal butler, Jaikes, and Richard Moore as the villain, Skinner.

Richard, who has been playing Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor at the theatre, replaces Derek Waring who has committments elsewhere.

This will not be Alan's first appearance at Chichester, though it will be his first starring role on the famed thrust stage.

"I was here in the first season in The Broken Heart and The Chances with Polly Adams, who's starring in Rumours here this year.

"It was terrifically exciting - this amazing new theatre built by a community with Laurence Olivier the first director and an extraordinary company of people."

Shortly after that Alan joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, with whom he has been connected for more than 20 years.

Among a host of memorable performances were Theseus/Oberon in Peter Brook's stunning production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the title roles in Hamlet, the Henry VI trilogy, Coriolanus, Richard II and Richard III.

He particularly enjoyed playing Hamlet, Henry V, and Coriolanus, but said: "I always like best the part I'm playing now. That makes me forget what I liked about other parts."

However he has not stuck rigidly to the classics. He recently played The Lover in the controversial film The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.

"Working on that was very exciting and strange," he said. Asked what it all meant, his answer was as enigmatic as the film itself.

"It's meant as a metaphor - a reflection of something that was in the beginning, is now, and ever more will be so. It struck a kind of root thing about the human condition."

His most recent film, Dakota Road - due to be released in the autumn - is not likely to be so controversial or obscure.

"I play a landowner. The film is about a very small community in East Anglia with all the kind of problems the countryside has. It's about a community ailing due to huge environmental and social pressures," he said.

The Silver King, directed by Peter Wood, will run until August 25.

Sue Snowden.

The Chichester Observer, 5.7.1990

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