Next time you’re at Chichester Festival Theatre, glance behind you. There might just be one or two kiddies in their pyjamas at the back, off-spring of actors and the stars of the future.
Tam Williams, currently appearing in Strangers On A Train in the West End, revelled in his time at the CFT when his dad Simon was on stage.
“It was a complete no-brainer”, says Tam. “The choice was either to go to bed or creep into the theatre, keep quiet and watch.
“A good friend of mine, Chris Larkin (son of Maggie Smith) would do the same. Every son of, every daughter of.... you would just want to be there!”
Which probably accounts for the huge fondness Tam feels for Chichester. Should the opportunity come up, he would love to be back on the CFT stage, a place full of happy memories.
Tam – who was educated in Sussex at Cumnor House School near Haywards Heath and then on a music scholarship at Ardingly College – returned to the CFT in 1993, no longer in pyjamas at the back, but on stage in The Matchmaker with Prunella Scales.
Five years later, he took the lead in Chimes At Midnight, a production which marked the start of an important friendship. Playing Falstaff was Simon Callow, who was to become godfather to Tam’s daughter.
“He was a mentor. We formed our friendship at that time,” says Tam, who admits the play itself was not a great success. The script contains text from five of Shakespeare’s plays; primarily Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2, but also Richard II, Henry V, and uses some dialogue from The Merry Wives of Windsor. Put it all together, and it doesn’t work, Tam confesses.
“It wasn’t a success at all. It wasn’t a success when Orson Wells did it. When you sew the two main plays together, it jars.”
Not so, The Rivals which brought Tam back to Chichester once again, this time on tour in a spectacular production, three years ago, which reunited for the first time in years To The Manor Born stars Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles.
“It was packed out. It was really thrilling to play such a great play every night to a packed-out audience in Chichester.”
Tam’s certainly hoping he will be back, but in the meantime his focus is on finishing his London run in Strangers On A Train at the Gielgud Theatre – a dazzling production in which the most remarkable coup de theatre at the end crowns a real triumph of stage wizardry.
Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel, which was the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary movie, the piece works through the black implications of a chance encounter.
A seemingly innocent conversation soon turns into a distinctly-nasty reality for Guy Haines (played by Laurence Fox) when he meets Charles Bruno (Jack Huston) on a train journey. Ahead lies a deadly nightmare of blackmail and psychological torment that threatens to cost Guy his career, his marriage and his sanity. His choice: to kill, or to be framed for a murder he didn’t commit.
As Tam says, it’s not a play where you expect cheering at the end, and yet that’s what they have been getting – due acknowledgement of the most expensive London set ever, one which seems to be constantly on the move as it whizzes the audience from train to barn, from bedroom to drawing room in rapid film-like sequence.
Tam has worked extensively with Ed Hall’s Propeller theatre company. Strangers On A Train is much more at the commercial end of the scale – and he has loved it.
“There are TV names in it, and it is really the new popcorn theatre in a way, but in a very good way. It has been great.”
Strangers On A Train continues at the Gielgud Theatre until February 22.
Laurence Fox and Jack Huston last appeared in the West End together in 2002 in Mrs Warren’s Profession at the Strand Theatre. Laurence Fox’s most recent West End appearance was in Our Boys at the Duchess Theatre. On television, he is best known as DS James Hathaway in Lewis. Films include W.E. and Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Jack Huston’s television and film credits include Boardwalk Empire, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Factory Girl and as Jack Kerouac in the new film Kill Your Darlings, which will be released in the UK in November.
Christian McKay can currently be seen starring in the film Rush directed by Ron Howard. Other film roles include Orson Welles in Me and Orson Welles and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
Miranda Raison’s previous theatre work includes The River at the Royal Court, The Physicists at Donmar Warehouse and Anne Boleyn at Shakespeare’s Globe. Film and television credits include Silk, Vexed, Spooks and My Week with Marilyn. Imogen Stubbs has appeared in over 40 plays in the West End and with the RSC and the National Theatre. She played the eponymous role of Anna Lee in the television series and her films have included Twelfth Night or What You Will, Sense and Sensibility and Jack and Sarah.
MyAnna Buring’s recent television roles include Long Susan in Ripper Street, Edna in Downton Abbey and Lilly in White Heat. On film, she played Tanya Denali in the final two Twilight films: Breaking Dawn Parts 1 & 2.
Craig Warner’s television screenplays include Codebreaker, a film about Alan Turing for Channel 4, The Last Days of Lehman Brothers on BBC 2, Maxwell on BBC 2 and The Queen’s Sister on Channel 4. His first radio play for the BBC, Great Men of Music, was included in Radio 4’s Young Playwrights Festival, and currently he is adapting Kafka’s The Castle for Radio 4, to be directed by Jonathan Miller.
Strangers on a Train brings back acclaimed film and stage director Robert Allan Ackerman to the West End for the first time in 12 years. His previous West End credits include Our Town with Alan Alda, When She Danced with Vanessa Redgrave, Burn This with John Malkovich, A Madhouse In Goa with Vanessa Redgrave and Torch Song Trilogy with Antony Sher. On Broadway, he has directed Taken in Marriage with Meryl Streep, Bent with Richard Gere, Extremities with Susan Sarandon and Slab Boys with Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, and Val Kilmer. Strangers on a Train will be designed by Tim Goodchild, with costumes by Dona Granata, lighting by Tim Lutkin, projection design by Peter Wilms and sound by Avgoustas Psillas for Autograph.