I caught David Troughton during the tea interval. It’s tough when your twin passions are cricket and acting. Trying to catch a few overs of England powering to victory when you’re appearing in a matinee is hard.
Now there is a pesky journalist eating into his down time ahead of an evening performance in York when the actor would have preferred watching the England hammer New Zealand on television.
But he’s much too much of a gentleman to complain and our chat touches on both cricket (his son Jim is a former Warwickshire and one-day international until injury forced him to retire) and a stage and screen career lasting more than 40 years.
David is currently touring the UK as the star of Goodnight Mister Tom. It opened in London last year and is now on the road. This week it’s York before moving to Richmond next week and completing its run with dates in Aylesbury, Woking, Bath, Cambridge, Cardiff and Newcastle.
This new production of Goodnight Mister Tom is a powerful and moving World War Two story about a London evacuee who is placed with lonely and reclusive widower Tom Oakley. Together an awkward, halting relationship is forged.
Michelle Magorian’s book, which has been adapted for the stage by award-winning David Wood, is one of those rare beasts – a hit children’s novel that also appeals to adults. There are harrowing moments but also plenty of scenes filled with warmth and humour.
And its refusal to talk down or sugar-coat the themes of loneliness, child abuse, and war is the secret of its success. Audiences of all ages regularly leave theatres having a quiet sob into their tissues.
I remark to David that when I saw the production in London at Christmas I found his performance filled with pathos. In my review I note that I described his “lugubrious face is a study in anguish, sorrow and loneliness as the Mister Tom of the title” (original review bit.ly/1ZmIZxO)
“I have got tetchy!” he declares. This latest tour of the show is running for a total of 187 performances, he tells me. “Like all theatre, it evolves with no two performances alike. I’m far more tetchy at the beginning now which contrasts with what happens further in the play.
“It’s a tremendous book. I used to read it to my three boys. It’s very Dickensian in its grandeur with highs and lows of emotion. It reminded me very much of Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant.
“It is harrowing but children need to learn that terrible things do happen. We over-protect our children and it doesn’t do them any harm to have an emotional connection to a story like this. Life is a learning curve. Children can take a lot more than we give them credit for.
“Tom lost his wife and child years before the play opens and he has withdrawn from life. He’s like the living dead. It takes something like this, forcing him to care for a little boy, to bring him back to life.
“It’s a part I’ve always wanted to play and it is a lovely adaptation.”
Acting has been a learning curve for David who started out in the business, following in his father’s footsteps, when he got his first break in a juvenile role in ITV’s Armchair Theatre when he was just 12.
He is, of course, the son of the iconic and quirky second Dr Who, Patrick Troughton, who reigned supreme on children’s television from 1966-69, and he has appeared himself in the long-running scifi series three times, the first as an uncredited extra in one of his dad’s last episodes.
But David, now 65, has gone on to carve an extensive career as a character actor and there are few TV serials that he hasn’t guested in – including Poirot, Midsummer Murders and New Tricks. He also has a regular role, with actor son Will, on radio in The Archers.
Son Sam is also an actor while Jim is currently training to be a fully-qualified coach and is still with Warwickshire Cricket Club. “He wants to coach England some day,” says his dad.
But it’s an educated guess that the theatre is David’s first love. He’s touring in Goodnight Mister Tom until May, gets a month off, then returns to the Royal Shakespeare Company to play the Earl of Gloucester alongside Antony Sher in King Lear.
He can’t wait as the London-born actor now calls Warwickshire his family home and has previously appeared in RSC productions including Richard II and III plus Thomas Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday.
“It will be great to be able to work from home again. I first acted with the RSC and Tony Sher in 1982 so I’m looking forward to it immensely. But I can’t give away any secrets as I don’t know anything about this production yet!”
Goodnight Mister Tom 2016 Tour Dates
April 5-9, Richmond Theatre April 12-16, Aylesbury Waterside Theatre April 19-23, Woking New Victoria Theatre April 26-30, Bath Theatre Royal May 3-7, Cambridge Arts Theatre May 10-14, Cardiff New Theatre May 17-21, Newcastle Theatre Royal