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Backstage with David Morrissey

Actor David Morrissey has been a respected face on our screens and stages for 30 years. Now he’s back to tread the boards in the wickedly funny British-Irish writer Martin McDonagh’s new play ‘Hangmen’

When were you last on stage?
'"Macbeth" at the Liverpool and Everyman in 2011. That theatre was a very emotional place for me, it was where I grew up and they were knocking it down [to rebuild it]. But my romanticism disappeared after working there because I thought: You have to knock this place down, it’s a death trap! I’m not an actor who does a lot of theatre, so "Hangmen" feels a bit arse-clenching.'

Have you ever had a terrible onstage mishap?
‘In "Macbeth", one of the actors fainted and I had to carry him off. I turned around and he wasn’t there and I thought: where’s he gone? He was on the floor, so I picked him up, rather unceremoniously, and threw him offstage. Luckily it was at an opportune moment and no one really noticed.’

Does doing a play get a bit routine once the show’s opened?
‘Sort of, except you have to re-mint it every day. It’s constantly in your brain. With TV and film you can leave it behind. I feel with theatre it’s harder to engage with my life. It disrupts your inner clock.’

Do you have pre and post-stage rituals to deal with that?
‘I tend to have a siesta before the show. Working out when to eat and when to have a wee is also always an interesting one. In this play the wee is going to be tricky because
we drink a lot during the show.’

That’s presumably because it’s set in a pub?
‘Yes, the body of the play takes place in a pub in Oldham on a day in 1965 when hanging is abolished. I play a character called Harry Wade and he is the last hangman in Britain at that time. Then a stranger walks into the pub and he starts to bring chaos to Harry and the lives of the people in his pub. The hangmen are me and Reece Shearsmith who is my assistant Sid, and our characters share more than one secret.’

Did you pick the project because it’s by Martin McDonagh?
‘Yeah, I’m a huge fan of Martin’s. But I had also always wanted to work at the Royal Court, so the combination of the two was quite sexy. When I read the play I loved it from the first page. It is very funny, it deals with the real moral dark questions of capital punishment but it also has very black
humour – as you’d expect from Martin.’

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