The definitive
Liverpool Listings Guide

      STAGE MAGICIAN

      STAGE MAGICIAN
      Twice nominated for an Olivier award, Ian Bartholomew has spent the past 35 years working as an actor in theatre, television, radio and film. After receiving outstanding reviews for his portrayal of the title role in last year’s Playhouse production, ‘The Resistable Rise Of Arturo Ui’, he returns to Liverpool and the Playhouse as Subtle in Ben Jonson’s, The Alchemist, this month.


      Coleridge claimed that The Alchemist had one of the three most perfect plots in literature, would you agree?
      Well I haven’t read the whole of literature so all I can say is that it’s a very, very strong plot. It’s a really well constructed play and it carries you along very swiftly. What do you call a perfect plot? It’s just a damn fine play that’s stood the test of time.

      The play premiered in 1610, what is it about the play that still allows it to resonate so clearly with a modern audience?
      I think it’s because it’s peopled with characters that we know and that we understand because we all have a price. It’s relevant now because it’s about people. It’s telling a story about people who are tricked into something they wouldn’t necessarily do just because they want something. It’s about people’s greed and out of that comes comedy, empathy, sympathy, all sorts of things. The bottom line is you can convince anybody to do anything if you quote the right price. There are very few people who would resist what they really, really wanted.

      Your character, Subtle is a manipulating con-man, does he have any redeeming qualities and does your performance encourage any sympathy?
      Does he have any redeeming qualities? Probably not. I don’t think anybody comes out of the play particularly well, because if you’re one of the people being conned you’re made to look stupid and if you’re one of the people doing the conning you’re made to look greedy and avaricious. He’s not a nice man but I think what we should have is a sense of fun. He’s a baddie really but they’re always much more fun to play. There are bits of me that I have to find to do it but that’s what I do as an actor. And while it’s a play it’s also a satire on theatre and what we do, suspending our disbelief, so the play is mirroring what is happening in the theatre.

      When you take on a role in a widely performed classic such as The Alchemist do you approach it any differently to other work that maybe people aren't so familiar with?
      No. In many ways people think they know this play but I don’t think they do, I don’t think they know it as well as they might, so I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. When I approach something like this I consider whether I’m going to have fun doing it and whether it’s a good part and the answer to both of those questions in this case is yes. My job is to make sense of what the playwright has written whether it was written 400 years ago or yesterday. If I get caught up in considering whether I have to do this differently than somebody else I’m already setting myself boundaries that aren’t necessary.

      After 35 years working extensively in theatre, tv, radio and film, what have been the highlights and do you have a preference for any of the mediums?
      Last year, Arturo Ui at the Playhouse, was one of my most memorable things to be in. It was a great cast, a great translation and a great director. Everything came together and that happens very rarely. The Iceman Cometh delivered on all levels and working with Kevin Spacey in the National was fun.

      The one that I always really enjoy is theatre, it’s why I wanted to be an actor, it’s why I signed on the line. When you work with a bunch of people who are all aiming to do the same thing, to entertain and make people think and you’re all there in the room with the same collective experience, there are times when it’s absolutely fantastic. There are times when it’s incredibly dull of course, we’ve all seen those and I’ve been in several of them, but when theatre works it tells a story like no other medium can. It’s immediate and an emotional response. I’m very lucky to be doing a job that I love doing.

      What do you feel has helped your career endure?
      Staying healthy. And probably bloody mindedness apart from anything else. But also waiting out those times when you’re not working and just keeping the faith that something will come along and if it doesn’t then do something else. I’ve always done that, if I’m not working I will find something else to do be it looking after my children or helping somebody else out in their workplace. I find other stuff to occupy myself and then I don’t get so worried that I’m not working.

      Is there a particular role you've yet to undertake that you'd like to one day?
      Richard III but I’m doing that next year, we’re still negotiating with various theatres for that. There are a couple of Shakespeare’s that I’d like to have a crack at at some point but Richard III will do for now.


        •