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TIM FRANCES BIOGRAPHY

                        

 

 

 

"In Defence of Actors" by William Hazlitt
"Their life is a voluntary dream; a studied madness. To-day kings, to-morrow beggars ... They wear the livery of other men's fortunes ...
They are, as it were, train-bearers in the pageant of life, and hold a glass up to humanity, frailer than itself." (scroll down for more)
 
With Hazlitt in mind, here is my potted Biography, picking out what for me have been the highlights so far,
and some of the people with whom I have worked. Download a one-page version here or a concise CV here


 

2017: a move to new representation with MacFarlane Chard Associates ... And a return to Chichester Festival in Jonathan Kent's production of Sweet Bird of Youth with Marcia Gay Harden. Reunited with my fellow clown from The 39 Steps, Daniel Tuite.
And then on to the biggest sex god of them all: Jupiter, in John Lyly's delightful The Woman in the Moon, with James Wallace at Shakespeare's Globe. Early Elizabethan, pre-Shakespearean verse that trips off the tongue with modern naturalness - deeply rewarding.

2016 sees an unbearably sad goodbye to Michael Cronin,
my agent of 16 years and best supporting friend you could ask for. You went way too soon, Michael - we all loved you and owe you so much.

The same day takes Tim Pigott-Smith and Christopher Morahan, jewels in the crown: privileged to have them both as friends. Farewell too to Howard Davies, lovely twinkling man and one of the very best.

2016 is a ten-month Breakfast at Tiffany's - touring the UK & Ireland, and spending summer back at the Haymarket in the West End. With Pixie Lott as Holly, directed by Nikolai Foster. Another Nazi for me - and a colossal pervert for good measure. One the very loveliest companies of cast & crew I have known: the kind of group for which the word "company" is most apt.
This man is my lucky star! 2015 continues with my fifth show with the guv'nor, Howard Brenton - The Magna Carta Plays quartet at Salisbury Playhouse, marking the 800th anniversary of England's questionable written democracy. Four hugely imaginative and contrasting plays by Howard, Timberlake Wertenbaker, Anders Lustgarten & Sally Woodcock, directed by Gareth Machin, putting a magnifying glass to quite what our democracy is and who it is for.

From the summer and on to Spring 2015, I had nine wonderful months in the West End hit, The 39 Steps at the Criterion Theatre. A tremendous team onstage & backstage and a great, gruelling and hugely rewarding time had by all. The cake iced by the joyous and brilliant Patrick Barlow. Then, back with Colin Blumenau, this time at the Park Theatre playing the hairiest man in history, Anthony Trollope, in Lady Anna: All At Sea by Craig Baxter - and the privilege of reading for Trollope's 200th birthday celebrations in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey. 2014 sees a reunion of the Globe & ETT team that produced Anne Boleyn. Led by John Dove and my number four with Howard Brenton: touring the country in Eternal Love. More work too with David Walliams in Big School for the BBC, working with Frances de la Tour and Steve Speirs.

2013: the joy of rehearsed readings writ large with two beauties: by Robert Armin at Shakespeare's Globe and by Henry Fielding at the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds. Armin was Shakespeare's Clown and Fielding invented the police. Not bad credentials. An equal joy is the heady cocktail of Regent's Park, The Sound of Music and Rachel Kavanaugh, plus of course having an irredeemably unpleasant Nazi to play. Being the hit of the summer in London iced the cake, with a win as Best Musical Revival at WhatsOnStage and a nomination for same at the Oliviers.

Delighted to say Christmas allows me to tick off another of those seasonal parts we dream of playing: Scrooge in A Christmas Carol with great old friend Guy Retallack directing: two planks and a passion theatre. Much fun too to be had with Julia McKenzie, David Walliams & Miranda Hart on Gangsta Granny for the BBC.

2012: kicks off with the great Howard Brenton for a third outing - this time with Anne Boleyn on tour for Shakespeare's Globe, directed by John Dove. I played fugitive Bible-translator, William Tyndale. Huge credit to Howard, John, a wonderful cast and crew, and everyone at The Globe and ETT - the show won Best Touring Production at the 2012 TMA Awards.  And an Olympic summer with Adolf Hitler's 1936 Olympics again, this time at Sadlers Wells. Then an 11th hour call-up to join Northern Broadsides' tour of A Government Inspector. After last year, a rewarding, full and happy 2012.
2011: So sad to say illness forced me to withdraw from rehearsals for Peachum in John Gay's fabulous The Beggar's Opera at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, and from working with Lucy Bailey. Very happily following this up with Kent in Tim Pigott-Smith's King Lear at West Yorks Playhouse for Ian Brown.

2010 sees a farewell to Bumble (incarcerated in his own workhouse) and Sikes (hanged and suffering hellfire) and a hello to another slightly psychologically disturbed creature: Adolf Hitler (growing the moustache as I type) in Tom McNab's new play 1936 at the Arcola Theatre. And joining with Howard Brenton again, this time on his new version of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists at Chichester Festival, for Christopher Morahan - old fashioned political theatre provoking huge passion, cheers and hatred alike - marvellous: very proud of this one. And finally, a long-held dream come true - Captain Hook.

2009
proved a fascinatingly populated year - with an ineffectual effete, with one of the WW2 RAF Few, a rigid Colonel protecting London from man-eating plants, a Hogarthian German quack, a sybaritic arse with a taste for cakes and ale, and a mid-life crisis having affairs with inappropriate women while complaining about the marmalade: Woyzeck (RADA), Land Girls and The Day of the Triffids (BBC), along with He's Much To Blame, Twelfth Night and Relatively Speaking back at the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds. 2009 ends with the rather wonderfully schizoid doubling of Mr Bumble and Bill Sikes in Oliver Twist for Bolton Octagon. Plus the lost movie from 2001 at last sees the light of day after much sinister adventure: That Deadwood Feeling is out on DVD.


 

2008 was a lovely, creative and inspiring year, with seven months at the National Theatre and another two at the most exquisite Georgian gem, the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds. First came the premier of Howard Brenton's Never So Good charting the much misunderstood and misrepresented life of Harold Macmillan, and the opportunity to work with Howard Davies, Jeremy Irons and a remarkable and wonderful company of people.

And then, another lovely company, this time presenting the unjustly forgotten work of Georgian star, Elizabeth Inchbald (a favourite of Jane Austen, her near contemporary) in Wives As They Were and Maids As They Are. Misbehaving women in libertine London at the end of the 18th Century - and the men who cannot and will not understand them - played out in the exquisite, now restored, Theatre Royal which dates from 1818. ("A superb performance comes from Tim Frances as Sir William around who the play revolves. Urbane, high-principled, occasionally touchingly tender, he runs the gamut" The Stage)

 

2007 ends in Edinburgh at the Royal Lyceum, giving my Wizard in The Wizard of Oz, complete with shaved head - marvellous. Kicked off the year in Stoke-on-Trent at the Most Welcoming Theatre in Britain (it's official), The New Vic, in Richard Cameron's The Glee Club - a beautiful play in a great house; directed by Theresa Heskins. Joyous and laughter-filled. A very special summer (2006) spent at an extraordinary theatre, Alan Ayckbourn's Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough: two new two-handed plays, Purvis & The Prodigal Son, directed by Tamara Harvey. True passionate collaborative theatre.

A spell of history lessons - A Man For All Seasons triumphant in the West End with Martin Shaw, directed by Michael Rudman for Bill Kenwright; playing Thomas Cranmer (
"spectacular production" The Guardian; "Tim Frances' cold Cranmer" Sunday Telegraph). With Paul Shelley, Clive Carter & Sophie Shaw. A lovely 7 months in terrific company ... ... And always a dream to play the darling of the French Revolution, Danton, which came true courtesy Simon Schama's new series for the BBC, The Power of Art, directed by Clare Beavan. David's The Death of Marat tells the story behind this iconic image of martyrdom and revolutionary spin. Glorious original thundering speeches rousing the people. Unrecognisable make-up and another great wig.








 

Moving swiftly on to a massively lovely return to Salisbury Playhouse to play Bernard in William (Shadowlands, Gladiator) Nicholson's elegantly sad Map of the Heart, directed by Fiona Laird. Judith Scott's Ruth & Tim Frances as brother Bernard ... are careful and detailed performances. They make a shared history ... ReviewsGate.com Christmas 2004 at the Warehouse Theatre Croydon for Femme Fatale - a musical pastiche of 40s B-movies and film noir - a must see for RosieJenkins' beautiful eyes alone! Tim Frances is superb as the fast-talking, ruthless Irwin and equally good as the henchman Manfred... The Stage. There is staunch support from Tim Frances as a succession of menacing heavies... Michael Billington in The Guardian ...
...
And earlier, the blackly satirical Proving Mr Jennings by James Walker, with Daniel Hill and directed by old sparring partner Guy Retallack. (Theatreworld Magazine, September 2004: Tim Frances gives a virtuoso performance as the infuriatingly calm and patronising Colonel Loveday. Avoiding the temptation to over-labour laughs, he delivers the most absurd lines with a deadpan seriousness and conviction which accentuate the humour … A marvellously entertaining evening that still provokes thought and debate about serious issues.) A wonderful, committed bunch of people, a terrific piece and as happy a job as you could wish for.


 

Have also been filming again with Nick Copus for the BBC - a futuristic thriller, What If Drugs Were Legal. Just done an episode of My Dad's the Prime Minister for the BBC - great to be working with producer Matthew Francis again. Recorded my first Radio for a while: She Fell Among Thieves for BBC, a wonderful old-fashioned Buchan-esque British thriller where I am one of two very classy gentlemen who save innocent young ladies and Empire alike from the evil clutches Honor Blackman. Damn fine larks.

And not long finished shooting the last episode of the new series of Bad Girls, playing a laconic and grumpy copper, Sgt Leadwell. Most recently, it was a real joy to be the new boss in The Inspector Lynley Mysteries for the BBC - Asst Commissioner Hillier, resurrected from Elizabeth George's books and possibly the first charming & personable cop-show boss in the history of television. A lovely job, re-united with Sharon Small (The Nun, Greenwich Studio Theatre), and meeting Nat Parker for the first time since the National Youth Theatre in 1980. A delight being directed by the late and much missed Sebastian Graham-Jones - a tremendous man and superb company over a glass. Prior to that, I got to play the Tony Benn of the 17th Century: John Lilburne in the BBC's Cromwell, with the irrepressible Jim Carter as Cromwell.

Since 2000 I have been represented by Michael Cronin at The Narrow Road Company, during which time I have done a goodly number of televsion jobs, including Andrew Davies' adaptation of Othello for LWT - featuring a stand-out performance by Christopher Eccleston as Jago/Iago, and directed by Geoffrey Sax - of Tipping the Velvet fame.  Another highlight in this time was a month spent on East Enders for the BBC, as the cunning manipulator of the jury on Little Mo's attempted murder trial. (There are still some out there who haven't forgiven me!) Lovely company and crew - how sweet to see Mo and Trevor curled up together on the green room sofa like the best of friends. Directed by lovely Dearbhla Walsh ("Shameless" ... the series, not the woman).

 

 

 

Way the most bonkers period was spent in Canada filming on the off-the-wall sci-fi series Lexx. I have long ago given up the thought of ever playing Heathcliff or Romeo, but the idea of Puck never even crossed my mind, yet here I was, giving my majorly pastiched fairy (in every non-pc sense of the word) in the weirdest show on TV. Naturally it was enormous fun, very liberating of my feminine side. Alongside these was a nice little bunch of good old TV soaps - I am alas no longer part of that most exclusive actors' club: those who have never done The Bill. I also got to pick up a dose in Doctors, and bury a regular in Holby City.

as Puck in Lexx with Brian Downey as Stanley Tweedle

This time also saw the beginning of what I hope very much will be an ongoing working relationship with director Nick Copus, with two short films for the BBC. Crashing a WW2 Wellington bomber, and playing a seriously screwed-up wife-beater in a black fright wig, courtesy wonderful costume designer Naomi Elliott. Daft times galore on the feature film That Deadwood Feeling, for director/writer/producer brothers Mark & Simon Ubsdell. DVD on Amazon! Superb grandstanding performance from David Soul. And Dexter Fletcher: you are possibly the funniest man in the history of the world.

Prior to these, I had a wonderful fifteen months with Stephen Daldry's now legendary An Inspector Calls, on tour and luxuriously in London's West End (I still have proprietary feelings about the Garrick Theatre), playing Gerald Croft. A tremendous part, with some wonderful actors - including the delightful Bryan Murray, Denis Lill, dear friend Sophie Arnold (in white, opposite) and that fabulous powerhouse Marjorie Yates (second from left opposite).

Great joy in ongoing work with directors and friends like Rupert Goold (Habeas Corpus at Salisbury and Romeo & Juliet at Greenwich), the blessed Margarete & Julian Forsyth (The Nun, Greenwich Studio Theatre) and Han Duijvendak (five shows at Lancaster Duke's Playhouse and Century Theatre as was - a magical month touring India).

A stint at the Royal National Theatre, beating loonies without mercy in Marat-Sade and, as his understudy, jealously watching the indestructible and joyous Corin Redgrave walk away from all trouble. How I wanted that part! And I do have to go back a bit to being a green and callow youth joining Sir Anthony Quayle's Compass Theatre for his King Lear. I remember watching this giant of British theatre night after night in wonder.


An Inspector Calls Company, Garrick Theatre 2000


As an actor, you cannot be good alone. It is all and only about sharing something, so this biography
is a nod to the other people I have sometimes fleetingly come across - some kept as treasured partners and friends.

from "In Defence of Actors" by William Hazlitt (1817)

PLAYERS are "the abstracts and brief chronicles of the time;" the motley representatives of human nature. They are the only honest hypocrites. Their life is a voluntary dream; a studied madness. The height of their ambition is to be beside themselves. To-day kings, to-morrow beggars, it is only when they are themselves, that they are nothing. Made up of mimic laughter and tears, passing from the extremes of joy or woe at the prompter's call, they wear the livery of other men's fortunes; their very thoughts are not their own. They are, as it were, train-bearers in the pageant of life, and hold a glass up to humanity, frailer than itself. We see ourselves at second-hand in them: they show us all that we are, all that we wish to be, and all that we dread to be.

The stage is an epitome, a bettered likeness of the world, with the dull part left out: and, indeed, with this omission, it is nearly big enough to hold all the rest. What brings the resemblance nearer is, that, as they imitate us, we, in our turn, imitate them. How many fine gentlemen do we owe to the stage? How many romantic lovers are mere Romeos in masquerade? How many soft bosoms have heaved with Juliet's sighs? They teach us when to laugh and when to weep, when to love and when to hate, upon principle and with a good grace! ...

Actors have been accused, as a profession of being extravagant and dissipated. While they are said to be so as a piece of common cant, they are likely to continue so.  With respect to the extravagance of actors, as a traditional character, it is not to be wondered at. They live from hand to mouth: they plunge from want to luxury; they have no means of making money breed, and all professions that do not live by turning money into money, or have not a certainty of accumulating it in the end by parsimony, spend it. Uncertain of the future, they make sure of the present moment. This is not unwise. Chilled with poverty, steeped in contempt, they sometimes pass into the sunshine of fortune, and are lifted to the very pinnacle of public favour; yet, even there, they cannot calculate on the continuance of success. With respect to the habit of convivial indulgence, an actor, to be a good one, must have a great spirit of enjoyment in himself—strong impulses, strong passions, and a strong sense of pleasure; for it his business to imitate the passions, to communicate pleasure to others. A man of genius is not a machine. The neglected actor may be excused if he drinks oblivion of his disappointments; the successful one if he quaffs the applause of the world in draughts of nectar.  There is no path so steep as that of fame: no labour so hard as the pursuit of excellence. If there is any tendency to dissipation beyond this in the profession of the player, it is owing to the prejudices entertained against them. Players are only not so respectable as a profession as they might be, because their profession is not respected as it ought to be.