Martin Bassindale has been in every King and Country cycle, in Richard II with David Tennant, played Peto and Prince John in Henry IV parts I and II, and Boy in Henry V, and will soon be joining the Royal Shakespeare Company on their upcoming tour to New York and China. I spoke with Martin to find out more about his interest in Shakespeare
When did you first become interested in theatre?
Around sixth form in college. I was really quite shy when I was a kid and always hated getting on stage or being in front of people. Eventually I met a great teacher who really encouraged me to pursue it.
How did you get involved with the Royal Shakespeare Company?
The second job I did was with Simon Godwin in Bristol. I heard he was directing in the next season in Stratford and I asked him if I could read for a character in Two Gentlemen of Verona. I did a good job and now I’m here.
Has Shakespeare always been something that’s intrigued you?
Yes his work has always interested me. I first read some of the plays in English at school and really loved the stories. The high stakes, the violence, the passion. It seemed, and still does, incredibly epic to me and at the same time endlessly complex. I loved the poetry; the sounds of the words. It felt like being a detective working out a story.
You’ve been involved with First Encounters of Shakespeare, how did you find that?
It’s been one the most satisfying jobs I’ve ever done, and something I’m incredibly proud to have been a part of. The audiences were completely new to Shakespeare – we had some kids who still thought he was alive! We had grannies that had never seen Shakespeare, we had people who came in thinking it would be boring and complicated and went away beaming. Sadly, theatre is still seen to be an exclusive night out, and Shakespeare has become something commonly seen as intellectual, inaccessible and boring. It couldn’t be further from the truth.
I don’t know if there’s really such a thing anymore. Actors must be very versatile to work in different mediums like theatre, TV and radio. Certainly to be confident, playful and comfortable with Shakespeare takes a lot of learning, but it’s reassuring to know that even experienced actors keep learning with Shakespeare. I don’t ever think you get the ‘I’m a Shakespearean Actor’ badge.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve face?
Artistic integrity, understanding and tackling self-doubt, working in a large ensemble, trusting the gift you have and having the courage to use it.
What role do you most aspire to play?
I’ve been asked this recently. I think your dream role would quickly become your biggest nightmare if it were in a sad or fractious company. For me, the satisfaction of saying ‘To be or not to be’ on stage is far less than working with a tight-knit, supportive and playful cast.
Tell me more about your current role in Henry V?
I’m playing the Boy in Henry V. We’re actually doing Henry IV parts I and II as well at the Barbican, and my character arcs through all three plays. He starts as one of Prince Hal’s gang, and when Hal becomes King he doesn’t follow him to the court but sinks back into crime. I like to think of going to war in Henry V as the boy’s journey to gain the King’s favour.
What excites you most about performing on stage?
Theatre is live. As an actor the most exciting thing is that it is your responsibility to convey the story or, at least, one side of it. You don’t have producers or editors as a filter. I think theatre is a great mix of discipline and playfulness. It challenges you and keeps you on your toes.
Finally, what has been the highlight of your career so far and what’s next for you?
Creating The Famous Victories project with a group of 10 incredible people, and giving children amazing theatre in their dining halls.
What’s next? Hopefully more devising, creating and producing with collectives of brilliant, like-minded people.
To find out more about the Royal Shakespeare Company visit www.rsc.org.uk.