A Dinner Date with David Troughton

A Q&A with the star of the RSC's Titus Andronicus.

Star of the RSC’s new modern-dress production of Titus Andronicus, David Troughton is the son of the second Dr Who, Patrick Troughton, part of a well-known British acting dynasty, plays Tony Archer in Radio 4’s countryside classic The Archers and in his spare time, is a regional ACO [Association of Cricket Officials] cricket umpire.

The charming and unassuming 67-year-old RSC Associate says he’s “an old hat at this” and is always Health & Safety on set – stopping people slipping over on fake blood, that kind of thing. This is one of the hazards you face in his profession, especially in a grotesquely violent play like Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus where there is ALOT of blood! Be warned it’s not one for the faint-hearted…

Have you had many people fainting yet?

We’ve had a fair few fainters. With Titus you do expect that. The events are gruesome; the subject is gruesome. When there’s blood people do tend to pass out.  A member of the audience fainted on Saturday just as I was in the middle of my emotional bit.

With 14 deaths, brutal rape scenes, mutilation and cannibalism, why do you think modern audiences should see Titus Andronicus?

It’s by Shakespeare and is a cauldron of ideas. It’s an experimental play; it’s like he’s on acid. I think it’s very interesting even if the writing isn’t as mature. Nothing ever changes from the 16th century to now. There’s still war, look at Isis, there will always be war and conflict. We never learn. Should we carry out our revenge? Is it good for us to take our revenge? Is it good for us to watch? Titus says justice has left the world and revenge takes over.

Can you elaborate on the contemporary setting?

We are in contemporary Rome, and it’s as if we are still fighting wars and trying to stop people invading us.

How is the misogyny and violence against women handled by director Blanche McIntyre in a modern setting? 

The violence is what it is.  Two brothers rape a young woman, with a mother who gives her permission. You cannot get away from that.

As one of Britain’s finest classical actors what is it about a role like Titus, you particularly relish?

My story is that I have been a soldier for 40 years and come back from war having lost 21 sons in battle and meet my daughter who I don’t really know. The point that he realises the importance in a relationship, is only in death. I like a journey. I like to delve quite deeply in the verse. Because there were no psychologists in Shakespeare’s time he manages to explore and interpret feelings in words. The character uses the rhythm of the verse. That’s how I would approach it. This is man who is exhausted. I make a lot of his physical decrepitness. He says he is old and feeble. He’s a brilliant general but cannot deal with real life. It’s totally out of control and he tries to make it OK.

When you’re performing such a gory, bloody play, how do you switch off afterwards – a game of cricket or drop of something stronger perhaps?

Backstage in a violent play like this, it’s a frenzy of technical activity with actors being fitted with blood bags. Everyone involved in a fight scene takes part in a Fight Call beforehand – and that takes an hour. I’ve never been in a play where there are so many fights and dangerous scenes. We have everything in this play. If you thought too deeply about the subject, you would obviously go mad. I find it absolutely knackering!  But it’s like being a sportsman you build up stamina as you go along. Afterwards you calm your body down. I don’t drink.

Blanche McIntyre made her RSC debut with The Two Noble Kinsmen last year, what was it like working with her on Titus?

Absolutely fantastic! We are like-minded. We like to start at the beginning of a play and have no preconceived ideas. I’m pleased with how it’s developing. We have tried so many ideas – it was a real creative cauldron. I’ve never been in a production where we’ve developed the props and make-up as we were going along. We’ve all given our ideas and it was a real creative collaboration.

Have you worked with many of the cast before?

Patrick Drury, who plays my brother Marcus, and I last worked together in the 1970s in the National. I’m an old hat at this. I’m always Health & Safety. Slipping on fake blood is a hazard, there have been a couple of falls in Julius Caesar.  Nia Gwynne (Tamora) was also in King Lear last year.

What’s the fake blood made of?

I think it’s some kind of glucose. When I had my eyes gouged out in Lear last year it tasted rather sweet.

Antony Sher as King Lear and David Troughton as Gloucester in Gregory Doran’s 2016 production.

Fans of the The Archers will recognise you as the voice of Tony Archer…

I love doing radio! The Archers is great fun and you don’t have to learn the lines. I started learning Titus two months before rehearsals started with my wife. He has more lines than King Lear. Titus has 709, Lear 680!

It’s festival season – are you a fan? 

Pop concerts don’t excite me, I don’t like big crowds – but my children love them. It was never part of my youth. It’s the lavatories – they sound hideous! I like my home comforts.

Do you prefer classical?

Yes I’m very Catholic in my taste. I like Bruch’s Violin Concerto.  It depends on my mood. When I’m driving I always have Classic FM on.

As a local Warwickshire resident, what do you like about living in the county?

I love being 10 minutes from the RSC.  Originally, we rented in 1982 and then moved in 1985. We had two small children at the time, later three, and the education choices were more than Hertfordshire. I have never regretted it. Now we have moved out of our family home in Stratford and we live in a village just outside. Sam and William, two of our sons live in London and Jim (First Team Coach, Warwickshire County Cricket Club) is in Birmingham. We used to like taking our children to The Houndshill pub on the Banbury Road, Stratford. It’s a lovely family pub with lovely open spaces, now we take our grand-children. I like the canals, the narrow boats and Hidcote Gardens. I love cottage gardens.

The Houndshill pub

Titus Andronicus is the latest in the RSC’s Rome series and runs until Sept 2 in the RST, Stratford-upon-Avon before transferring to the Barbican, rsc.org.uk

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