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INTERVIEW: RSC actor Tim Treloar who is in the Mischief Festival plays talks about his "lucky" career

From appearing with Sir Patrick Stewart in Broadway, being a regular face on primetime TV, to stepping into John Pertwee’s shoes to voice the Third Doctor, actor Tim Treloar says he’s had a “lucky” career. He talks to Gill Sutherland about his work and being back at the RSC in the Mischief Festival.

Meeting Tim Treloar out of the blue you might not immediately put him down as an actor – there’s zero tell-tale luvviness for a start. Over coffee at The Other Place, where he features in the two new 90-minute plays, O, Island! and Ivy Tiller: Vicar’s Daughter, Squirrel Killer, he comes across as humble and totally without pretension. When asked about his success, he demurely puts it down largely to “luck”.

Perhaps not surprising for someone who makes a good living as a voiceover artist, he’s a good talker: chatty, interested, animated and with a ready chuckle.

Until he was 28 he was essentially an office worker – even though the “office” was the Old Bailey, where he was a clerk.

One might easily speculate that this experience of the ‘real’ world is what gives his performances the edgy believability that he has been acclaimed for.

After our chat, I later spot on his Twitter profile that he’s a self-confessed “lazy mod” and that Paul Weller is one of his heroes – all of which further adds to my impressions that he is a proper top geezer.

You’re in both the Mischief Festival plays, but tells us about O, Island!, which opened first.

The premise is that a river runs through a town that’s on a hill. With global warming being what it is, the river bursts its banks and floods the town and creates an island which very quickly becomes a state. The populace reject their MP and vote in an elderly lady to be their new leader. As a result, what started off as this perfect state becomes like Nazi Germany. Where it was all about the people and community, it becomes all about fascism and totalitarianism and dictatorship. It’s about people all looking for something and the differences and similarities in people’s characters.

Tim Treloar as Mick in O, Island! Photos: The Other Richard/RSC
Tim Treloar as Mick in O, Island! Photos: The Other Richard/RSC

Why does the older lady get voted in above the MP?

When the MP tries to evacuate people off the island they don’t want to go because it’s their home. They are about to evacuate when Margaret comes up with a speech which is very inspiring and the people fall for her.

She’s called Margaret, are there undertones of Thatcherism?

You could say that. I don’t know if the writer intended that. It’s about popularism, I guess, and someone with the power to inspire people through their words, and what people in a desperate state are willing to hear.

In the rehearsal room have you looked at world politics?

No we’ve avoided that because Brexit and Trump have been in very recent memory.

It is relevant to the world we live in now with social media creating polarisation. People pick sides and anyone not on their side is wrong. That really echoes. It can take the rug under your feet at times. It’s an hour-and-a-half of a rollercoaster.

Tim Treloar. Photo: Rocco Redondo
Tim Treloar. Photo: Rocco Redondo

You’ve worked previously at the RSC.

Yes, this is my fourth time here. They’re a great cast, great company, the director Guy Jones is wonderful, the stage-managing team is magnificent. Yeah, it’s a lovely little family.

The last time I was here was Robin Hood, 2011/12. That included working with the Icelandic team from Vesturport theatre company. It was very different because even though they work in the theatrical world they don’t have the same sensibilities as the Brits, so it was much more rough and ready and earthy. I enjoyed that. And those boys can drink. The Icelandic for cheers is skol, because they used to drink out of the skull of enemies’ leader. There was a lot of that.

How’s your career been for the last few years?

Like everyone else’s it kind of went into a state of nothingness. This is my first theatre job in three years. I’ve done some TV and a lot of audio, and some online theatre. That sustained me along with the government grant, and I’m glad I had some savings.

Coming back with a lovely company and caring community, it’s really reignited my passion for theatre.

The O, Island! cast
The O, Island! cast

Where did you spend lockdown, tell us about home.

I bought a place in Hastings a few years ago – I certainly couldn’t afford to buy in London. So that’s been a great rock for me. I’ve got a girlfriend. It’s a relatively new relationship. She’s an actress so she understands. Life has its ups and downs, but I feel calm and content and quite hungry again.

You grew up in Bridgend, was it there you got into acting?

When I was a teenager, I joined a local am drama group because a friend of mine said there are girls there. We ended up discovering that everyone else was over 70. We were the only men under 70 so we ended up playing romantic leads at 14.

I moved from Wales when I was 14 and finished all my education in Kent. I joined another am dram group at the Erith Playhouse, which is where Michael Gambon started, and did that throughout my twenties. Then, aged 28, I chucked everything in to go to LAMDA.

If you hadn’t gone to drama school at 28, what career would you have pursued?

Well, I was a civil servant at the Old Bailey, a clerk at the court. I had security, a pension, I could take holidays when I wanted to... I once asked one of the judges who was a theatre nut: ‘Am I being a bit foolish? Throwing it all in?’ and he said ‘Yes you possibly are’. But I was lucky it worked out.

I won the Carleton Hobbs Award [prestigious award given to graduating drama student] and then my first theatre job was actually here at The Other Place with Richard II in 2000, and I did a year-and-a-half here. After that the Royal Court, West End and Broadway followed. There were the odd bits of unemployment but I managed to keep a steady career until Covid hit.

You’ve worked on some amazing productions, including Macbeth with Patrick Stewart – tell us about that and other highlights.

Yes, I was Ross. Patrick is great. He’s one of the lads. We were in a tiny dressing room in Chichester. Very quickly he lost the airs and graces. We started in Chichester, and then went to the West End. The reviews were so good we went to Broadway for ten weeks. Then we filmed it. That was a wonderful experience.

I worked with Sir Robert Downey Jr on Doolittle. He’s a lovely man, kind, gentle, wonderful. That was a couple years ago. We’re still in touch.

I met Prince Charles here when he came to see Richard II. He has that knack of making you feel like there’s no one else in the room. That was my first job as well.

I remember behind the stage there was an exit and I came off stage with a machine gun. I saw this royal bodyguard suddenly tensing – out of instinct probably. I remember going ‘no no no!’.

Leader Margaret played by Linda Broughton
Leader Margaret played by Linda Broughton

And you are the Third Doctor Who for the audio series?

I am. When we’ve finished here, I’ve got another episode. Then I go to Chicago for a Doctor Who convention. I’ll be going to LA, Chicago and Slough. I love meeting the Whovians they’re lovely and they’ve made me feel very welcome. I grew up hiding behind the sofa, so working with Tom Baker was such a buzz, and then having dinner with Sylvester McCoy...

How did you get the Doctor Who gig?

I got a part as a Victorian zombie lord [puts on characterful affected voice] and Tom Baker and Nicholas Bridge, who is the executive producer, heard my voice and realised I sounded like Jon Pertwee. And so they approached and said do you want to do this? It’s the first doctor to be recast [Pertwee died in 1996]. It was quite frightening because a lot of people thought it was sacrilege to do it but it’s worked out amazingly and the fans have loved it. Now I’m in the tenth volume, I think. I’ve been doing it for seven years, and we do three or four a year. I spend a week before to get the voice back, watching all the videos.

More generally, what do you put your success as an actor down to?

Luck is a huge thing. I had to give everything up, including selling my flat. I gave up my job, security; I gave up things my friends were doing: having kids and buying houses. I had to stay focused and not give up and not quit. I’ve been incredibly lucky that I’ve got work because a lot of people who are more talented than me haven’t got work.

Luck is the thing: who sees something you’re in. And try to be a good company member and be nice to people.

The am dram helped me because I played a lot of characters. I wouldn’t want to be what my natural casting is – which has been either police officer, criminal or someone’s dad.

Back to O, Island!, tell us about the character you’re playing.

The character’s called Mick. He’s the father of Laurie. He wants to be a good dad but I don’t think he has the equipment to do so. He’s a lost man, a man-child that is influenced very easily.

He finds a purpose during the play, and not necessarily a positive one. It’s an important part.

It’s been a difficult one to master to be honest because it’s a huge journey in a small space of time. The difficultly is finding a truthful journey from an insecure man to a would-be alpha male.

O, Island!
O, Island!

What has the rehearsal process been? It’s quite intense because it’s a small cast?

There are eight of us but only four of us are in both plays, so there are two that are only in one play and two that are only in the other.

It’s been a new thing for me. I’ve had the RSC experience where you open one play and then while you are doing that you rehearse another one. But I’ve never rehearsed two and then opened them one after another within a week, but it’s been an invigorating and exciting experience. It’s quite a short run which means every moment is precious. The plays are similar but different.

What do you think the audience will get from it?

I think hopefully shell-shocked and will make them think. Theatre is meant to make you think, as well as entertain and inspire.

The RSC Mischief Festival features two new plays: O, Island! and Ivy Tiller: Vicar’s Daughter, Squirrel Killer. The festival is currently on at The Other Place and runs until 5th November.

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