BAZ BAMIGBOYE: Rafe casts a magic Spall on screen

BAZ BAMIGBOYE: Rafe casts a magic Spall on screen

There’s a mirrored cocktail cabinet on the wall behind Rafe Spall as he chats to me from his home in the Cotswolds. Light bounces off the crystal tumblers and the bottles of spirits.

‘A lot of people, when they do Zooms, have books behind them,’ Spall says, ‘but this is much more representative of my time in the past 18 months. There have not been many books; but there’s been a lot of booze.’

Spall is a funny guy. And humour is how he copes when confronted with difficulty or hardship. ‘I make jokes; and I try to find comedy in every difficult situation I’m in,’ he says.

There’s a great moment in season 2 (which streams on Apple TV+ from today) when Chris and Lovibond’s characters dive into Camden Lock in North London.

I’ve become so invested in the show that I just knew Jason wasn’t going in after his friends

The 38-year-old’s comic chops have been honed through years of quality work on stage and screen. But he can turn from laughter to darkness with a mere narrowing of the eyes, as he showed to devastating effect when he held National Theatre audiences spellbound with his powerful portrait of disenfranchised white male rage in Death Of England by Clint Dyer and Roy Williams.

The monologue had a staggering 16,000 words. Hamlet has just 6,000. If someone was to ask him to play Hamlet now ‘I’d be like, all the parts?’ he quips.

Theatre acting, he insists, takes the most from you. ‘It’s the Test cricket of acting.’ Film and television, on the other hand, are ‘the 50-over game’. He clarified. ‘Still challenging, in their own way; but not everyone can play Test cricket, right?’

True. But his screen work is deceptively skilled. Take Jason, his character in the Apple TV+ situation comedy Trying. He and the incomparable Esther Smith (as Nikki) play a couple desperate to adopt a child. And they give a masterclass in conveying the importance of the issue without becoming depressing or mawkish.

Rafe Spall poses in the winners room at The Olivier Awards 2017 at Royal Albert Hall

As hard as you laugh at how Jason and Nikki deal with the perils and pitfalls of adoption, the series — written by Andy Wolton and directed by Jim O’Hanlon — still manages to move you. It helps to have a company including Imelda Staunton, Oliver Chris, Ophelia Lovibond and Sian Brooke.

There’s a great moment in season 2 (which streams on Apple TV+ from today) when Chris and Lovibond’s characters dive into Camden Lock in North London.

I’ve become so invested in the show that I just knew Jason wasn’t going in after his friends. And I was right.

Instead, he offers to hold their coats. ‘Selfishly, as an actor, I was thinking, “Thank f*** I’m not jumping into the Regent’s Canal on this November day!”.’

I can’t wait to see the third season, which films late this year. I’ve been following Spall’s career from the earliest days, when he appeared on screen in Shaun Of The Dead and Kidulthood, and on stage at the Royal Court in Nick Payne’s Constellations, through to big Hollywood movies such as Life Of Pi and The Big Short.

‘It’s a funny, very lucky way to spend your life,’ he says, ‘and it’s your duty to not take it too seriously, because you can think it’s the most important thing in the world, but then something like the last year happens and you realise that in many ways, it’s totally inconsequential.’

Spall told me he went to London recently, and happened across a band playing live. Further down the road, a theatre in Notting Hill had taken over a shop. Inside, a pianist was playing, while an artist painted in the window. He said he found himself unexpectedly moved by these random acts of creativity. ‘It’s like hugging,’ he said. ‘You can live without it for a bit. And you think it doesn’t matter. But it actually does.’

Return of Austen Powers

Impossible to forget watching Isobel McArthur and her five fellow female performers dancing and singing to pop songs while taking on every character in Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice. For one thing, it was funny — and new. It was also the last theatre show I saw as the country braced itself for the first lockdown in March of last year.

West End productions had shut. But Pride And Prejudice* (*Sort Of) was still gamely carrying on at the Oxford Playhouse, just before it had to halt its tour.

McArthur plays both Darcy and Mrs Bennet, with the other women playing everyone else

David Pugh, is bringing Pride And Prejudice* (*Sort Of) to the Criterion Theatre for an open-ended run from October 1

I can’t quite recall if we were using the term social distancing then, but I knew enough to sit well away from my neighbours in the stalls. A lot of folk had distanced themselves completely and stayed away.

I met McArthur, who first staged the work at the Edinburgh Festival, backstage afterwards and said I looked forward to seeing it again, soon. For reasons universally acknowledged, it has taken the show a while to return.

But I’m pleased to say that the producer, David Pugh, is bringing Pride And Prejudice* (*Sort Of) to the Criterion Theatre for an open-ended run from October 1.

He said the pandemic had enabled McArthur to do ‘significant work’ on the show. I remarked that it was pretty witty before. ‘It’s wittier now,’ he responded.

McArthur plays both Darcy and Mrs Bennet, with the other women playing everyone else. ‘It’s the ladies’ revenge,’ Pugh joked.

He told me he’s bringing theatre back ‘at the right prices’, insisting that the best seats for this one will be under £50. ‘There will be no high-priced premium seating, only affordable seating.’

As theatres reopened on Monday, we were up on our feet giving a standing ovation to The Mousetrap. ‘That’s something we hadn’t anticipated,’ said producer Adam Spiegel, clearly moved. ‘You couldn’t conjure that up.’

I last saw Agatha Christie’s long-running landmark 20 years ago. Yet it felt strangely comforting to see it again, with a fab cast including newcomer Alexander Wolfe, who had a star is born moment. Expect to hear more about him.

I last saw Agatha Christie’s long-running landmark 20 years ago. Yet it felt strangely comforting to see it again

As theatres reopened on Monday, we were up on our feet giving a standing ovation to The Mousetrap

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