Chichester Festival Theatre opened this year’s summer season with Hugh Bonneville – Downton Abbey’s Earl of Grantham – in his first major stage role following the conclusion of the phenomenally-successful TV series.
The summer season now concludes with Kevin Doyle – Bonneville’s footman Joseph Molesley in Downton – on stage in the Minerva, in James Graham’s political comedy This House (until October 29).
“I think just after Downton we were all very keen to move on to other things straightaway,” says Kevin, “and I know most people have been able to do that. We finished on the Friday, and on the Monday I went straight into Happy Valley which was all very different indeed. It was all planned. I had had a while before to prepare.
“People ask a lot about the whole Downton Abbey phenomenon. The whole whirligig can all get a little bit intoxicating if you let it. What I always say is that all you had to do was to turn up and concentrate on the work and make the work the best it could possibly be. When you get something that is as successful as Downton, and I imagine it is the same with Game of Thrones, there is an awful lot of paraphernalia that goes with it, and I think you can easily be distracted by that – people wanting you to go to things, going to awards evenings and so on. I just think you have got to be very careful with all that. The only important thing is turning up and doing the best work you can do.
“I don’t think the global success hit us until we were half way through the second series, and that can turn your head a little if you are not careful. But you just have to remember that these things are very temporary and that the best approach is just to knuckle down with what you are doing. For some of the young people in the series, they might have been thinking that it was always going to be like this, maybe if they were on their first job. But if you have been in the business for a while, you know that this kind of thing just doesn’t come along very often.”
In fact, Kevin doubts it will again: “I would be very surprised. I can’t imagine another show having that impact. People ask how do you explain the success of it, and I just turn the question back on them. People will say it is the costumes or the period or the love interest, but what I think Julian (Fellowes) managed to encapsulate was an extraordinary period of English history, with so much change going on. The whole show only spanned 14 years, but you just think of the extraordinary changes that went on within the household.”
And it is extraordinary times too in the play he is now doing in Chichester. This House starts in 1974. The UK faces economic crisis and a hung parliament. In a culture hostile to cooperation, it’s a period when votes are won or lost by one...
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