Stephen Tompkinson on “beautiful Norwich” as he stars in Educating Rita
- Credit: Archant
Louisa Baldwin spoke to Drop the Dead Donkey and Brassed Off star Stephen Tompkinson as he marches into Norwich Theatre Royal in Educating Rita.
Stephen Tompkinson was born in Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, in 1965 and his contemporaries at drama school in London included Graham Norton, Jason Isaacs and James Nesbitt.
His first major role was as unethical reporter Damien Day in sitcom Drop the Dead Donkey, which ran from 1990 to 1998, and took an amusing look at the battle between serious and sensational stories long before the days of fake news.
Tompkinson went on to star in shows such as Ballykissangel, DCI Banks, 1996 film Brassed Off, which followed the troubles faced by a brass band after the closure of their pit, and Wild at Heart filmed in South Africa.
He now stars in Educating Rita by acclaimed playwright Willy Russell and plays troubled tutor Frank alongside Jessica Johnson as his student.
What is Educating Rita about?
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It is set in a tutor's office in a university just outside Liverpool and I play Frank the tutor who has started to take on some Open University extra work with one-to-one sessions but he also has a drinking problem.
The first person through his door is a hairdresser called Rita who messed up her education the first time around and wants a change in her life and is seeking it through art and literature.
He becomes her tutor and he feels a great kinship towards her and they become dependent on each other and it is about unrequited love.
Are you fan of Willy Russell's work?
Very much so and I have followed his work since I was a teenager and he has been very involved during rehearsals and came every week which was an honour.
He is an icon and I was delighted that he was thrilled with this production.
We wanted to make sure his writing is still the star of the show which is why it has endured for 40 years and will do long after we've gone.
Have you been to Norwich before and if so what do you think of the city?
I've played the Theatre Royal several times and there is a lovely cathedral and last time I was spying on the ospreys there and it was really beautiful.
How did you get your big break?
I did plays at school and my first starring role was as a red admiral butterfly in The Plotters of Cabbage Patch Corner.
I did theatre studies at A Level and then took on more serious roles such as John Proctor in The Crucible which persuaded my mum and dad that I was good enough for drama school and I got into the Central School of Speech and Drama and moved to London.
Three ears later I got my first job at the BBC Radio Drama Company and after six months I have been in 53 plays and it was a wonderful opportunity - I love being on the radio.
One of your best know characters was as reporter Damien Day in Drop the Dead Donkey, did you enjoy the role?
It was all a bit new and different and we were lucky at the time as it was lifting the lid on TV news which at the time we took for granted as the whole truth and it was a great deal of fun.
Your other famous roles was as a priest in Ballykissangel and as Phil in film Brassed Off, where do you get inspiration?
The writers dream up the characters in the first place from their imagination and then it is my job to elevate the character and I take inspiration from comedy legends such as Les Dawson, Laurel and Hardy, Tommy Cooper and Morecambe and Wise which were the people that made my family laugh growing up.
Doing Brassed Off it was a real honour to share a screen with Pete Postlethwaite and British film is so great, we are such a melting pot of different people on such a small island.
More recently you appeared in series Wild at Heart, what was it like to film in South Africa?
It was very special to be as close as we were to the animals and every year we built up trust with them and it was a unique experience.
We used to have a giraffe called Hamley who would regularly stick his head into the make-up truck and he was terribly curious.
It is always sad to finish a show like that as we built up a family over eight years.
Why should people get tickets to come and see Educating Rita if they haven't already?
Come and see the spirit of Willy Russell and see why the play has lasted 40 years and says as much today as it did in 1980.
Educating Rita runs at Norwich Theatre Royal until June 15 and you can purchase tickets, starting at £20.50, at theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk, call 01603 630000 or visit the box office.