Sitting down to chat with Bristol Old Vic actor David Hargreaves is like settling down for a cuppa with a great friend. Despite his enduring career in the performing arts, he remains as humble and down to earth as catching up with your own father after many years.
David Hargreaves was born in a small town, New Mills in Derbyshire, in fact, not far away from Bakewell where you’ll find the original Bakewell Pudding. As David attests, this is truly the real deal, made with all kinds of gooey fare including eggs, almonds and sugar – lots of it.
David’s schooling consisted of one particular teacher, Mr Bramhall, regularly making a spectacle out of David’s artistic flair – holding up his paintings, he would proclaim “Hargreaves! You’ve painted another green sky!” David Hargreaves, is in fact colour blind – but what does that matter when you see the world through his eyes, anyway?
David tells me how he was absorbed from a young age, with literature, reading and acting in the school plays. His creative impulse was evident from the word go, which was channelled through not only his acting, but also his singing which he pursued as soprano in the local church.
“I’ve never been asked to do a musical. They tend to run for years, and the thought of doing eight shows a week. Doesn’t fill me with much joy!” David smiles.
David first came to work with Bristol Old Vic, just last year, when he appeared in The Crucible, directed by Tom Morris. Based on the Salem witch crafts in 1950’s New England, the production was originally performed at Bristol Old Vic in 1954.
Opening on 18 June, David will join Timothy West and Stephanie Cole, who has enduring ties with Bristol Old Vic for an adaptation of King Lear. They will join a cast from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, for what is sure to be a mutually enriching experience for both parties involved.
Talking about King Lear, David explains:
“It’s very much a play about supplanting the old – the impatience of youth with their elders. It’s turning the world upside down in their favour and it works a treat. All the other parts are played by final year students, who are obviously the actors of the future – it’s exciting. It’s a great cross-fertilisation, you learn a lot from them. Their energy is fantastic. Hopefully, they will learn a little bit from us, too.”
“I find verse very easy to learn because it has that rhythm that carries you along and you can pick it up. It’s like learning a song.”
Talking with David, it is clear that he is unafraid to flout the rules a little, tread the path less travelled and pursue a burning passion within him, so strong, that he is, quite simply magnetic.
“I always wanted to be an actor. I remember in the days that I went to school, you didn’t have a careers teacher at all, you just went to see the headmaster. I think the only thing I was any good at was English and Literature, and I always liked to do the school plays – you know, I liked showing off. But my father was very keen for me to get something behind me.” He recalls.
So David pursued teaching, inspired by a particularly engaging English teacher. He took up a post at a small theatre known as Unity Theatre, and gradually took those vital steps into his acting career. Admittedly influenced as a young child, by the monologues of Stanley Holloway, David was brought up on these powerful narratives. From this, has sparked the idea for David to present a series of five, individual monologues to mark the 250th anniversary of Bristol Old Vic. Drawn heavily from personal recollections and the affinity for which David has felt for certain playwrights, he has chosen excerpts spanning the entire life span of Bristol Old Vic – from 18th century William Oxberry to 19th century Anton Chekov and Alan Bennet.
“I’ve always quite liked doing monologues, and over the years I’ve learned mostly Stanley Holloways – I was brought up on them, from about the age of 3 years old. I thought it would be an idea to do a monologue from the centuries of when the Old Vic began in the 18th century. There’s a lovely piece by William Oxbury and a piece about Hamlet’s advice for the players, which Shakespeare pulls apart and picks to pieces. And then he comes up with his own rules.” David explains, at which point he slips into role, right in front of me (quite formidable!)
If we are to be fully successful as stage performers, David maintains the rules of the jungle, as put forward by Shakespeare himself, in response to the Players from Hamlet:
“Since the rules of acting are to get applause, Shakespeare ends by saying ‘Give way to envy and jealousy, and make yourself as miserable as you can at home, save all your energy and gaiety to waste on the stage.’ Rules of the jungle!”
Maintaining five very distinct monologues, one after the other, has been a challenge for David, who might well be a seasoned professional – but without the feedback from others, as is normally the case in a full cast production, David admits that this has been somewhat bewildering:
“It’s been difficult rehearsing. I’ve done the Chekov and the Alan Bennet ones before, but it has been difficult without any springboard. I am quite interested and fearful of what audiences will make of it.” David says.
But rest assured, if nothing else, you can expect a healthy sprinkling of comical parody thrown in for good measure. Something that David has not strayed too far from, in his many and varied roles including playing the part of Antonio in Twelfth Night, Polonius in Hamlet and Baptista Minola in The Taming of the Shrew.
Admiring the likes of Maggie Smith for her skills in monologue, and Alan Bennet for his scriptwriting, David is lured in, often, by the degree to which a play will tickle him. Without laughter, there is little point.
One thing is for sure, David’s formative years have left their indelible mark, and these influences have ultimately shaped much of his professional career and choices, with an affinity for all things Shakespearean:
“I liked Shakespeare. My favourite teacher was my English teacher. I find verse very easy to learn because it has that rhythm that carries you along and you can pick it up. It’s like learning a song.” David says.
So, even if he painted the sky green, this small detail doesn’t matter a jot, when you experience the world through the eyes of an actor so dedicated to expressing the true emotion of a character or a place, and unafraid to take you on that journey with him.
‘Wrong and Strong’, is David’s (self-proclaimed) motto. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
David Hargreaves performs five monologues as part of Bristol Old Vic’s 250th Anniversary Celebrations this weekend, 28 May. The event is free to attend and begins at 12pm. He will also appear in King Lear, which opens at Bristol Old Vic on 18 June. For more information: www.bristololdvic.org.uk