I Ought To Be In Pictures: The Mill at SonningBy Phil Creighton
July 15, 2010
Until August 21
The Mill at Sonning
(0118) 969 8000
As I sit down, I make a mental note where I’ve put my bag, after all, it’s not every day that you get to interview Raffles the Gentleman’s Thief. That said, there’s not much of value, or interest, for such a distinguished felon, but one can never be too careful.
Although it’s been more than 30 years since Anthony Valentine slipped into the posh clothes of the much-loved E W Hornung creation, he’s still remembered for his iconic role.
But it’s just another notch on the respected actor’s career which started in the 1950s with a role in the BBC’s sitcom Billy Bunter, has taken in Colditz, Callan and Corrie and now sees him directing The Mill at Sonning’s latest play.
“It’s a wonderful place,” says the 70-year-old actor, who is certainly a gentleman and definitely not a thief.
“The people here – all the people who work here across the board are absolutely terrific.”
We’re talking during a break in rehearsals for I Ought To Be In Pictures, which opens at the dinner theatre tonight. It stars Terence Booth – who directed the Mill’s last play – as Hollywood screen writer Herb Tucker.
“It’s a lovely, lovely story, it’s beautifully told with serious issues that are dealt with in such a way that the relief from the seriousness of it comes through the laughter,” says Anthony.
Herb walked out on his wife and family when his daughter was three and then “suddenly, without any prior warning, into his life walks his daughter as a teenage girl,” Anthony explains. “She’s never seen so much as a picture of him, as his mother wouldn’t keep them in the house and he never came back to see the kids.”
When she moves in with the dad she doesn’t know, demanding to get a job in the movies, Herb is forced to deal with his past, his responsibilities as a father, and his fear of commitment once and for all.
With it being a comedy, is Anthony tempted to play it for laughs?
“You never do that,” he says. “With farce you can, with a comedy you’re not playing it for laughs, you’re playing the reality of situation and hoping the laughs come out of the reality.”
And with such a distinguished career, is Anthony tempted to join in the production rather than standing in the wings?
“There’s a clear demarcation for me between acting and directing and I’ve never yet felt the urge to get on and perform with something I’m directing ... maybe something will present itself as a golden opportunity,” he says.
The actor is also happy with his backstage role. “I love directing, I love it,” he says. “In a sense it’s a similar sort of physiological experience to reading a book.
“When you read a book you automatically have your own personal vision of the context of the book, what the characters look like, what they do the way they do it – it’s described to you by the writer.
“He’ll describe to you a tall dark fella in his early 30s and you’ve got a picture in your mind of a tall dark fella in his early 30s. In essence, you’re imposing your vision – the characters are written for you.”
With rehearsals going well, Anthony is looking forward to tonight’s opening night, but why should people come to see it?
“Why should you come along to the show?” he says out loud as he ponders on the question.
“There’s something exciting about live theatre, much more exciting than sitting in front of the television set.”
And with that Raffles gets ready to return to the afternoon’s rehearsal.
I’ve stolen enough of the gentleman’s times.