As an actor Reece Dinsdale is pretty versatile. Here, he tells Nick Ahad about his connection to Leeds and why he’s taking on Richard III
Reece Dinsdale is scrolling through dozens of family photos on his phone. He’s looking for a picture of himself in the guise of Alan Bennett taken last year when he appeared at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in the playwright’s Untold Stories.
I did see the show, I try to tell him, but he seems genuinely excited about showing me how he scrubbed up as Bennett.
I’m glad he persevered. I’d forgotten how extraordinarily uncanny it was when Dinsdale played another Yorkshire son. I remember being impressed at the transformation, but not quite so shocked at just how alike Bennett Dinsdale appeared.
It feels like this photograph is the key to Dinsdale’s remarkable longevity in the acting profession. His chameleon looks allow him to play all manner of characters, something of which he has taken full advantage.
To some he will be best remembered as the youngster who landed the remarkable role of Matthew, playing opposite John Thaw in Home to Roost, when he was just in his twenties.
Others might recall him as a terrifying undercover cop infiltrating a gang of Yorkshire football hooligans and losing his sense of self in the aptly titled I.D. More recently people will probably recognise him as Gail Platt’s on-screen squeeze Joe McIntyre.
What’s most fascinating is that the roles could not be more different from each other and Dinsdale is entirely convincing in each of them. That’s just some of his most high profile television work – he’s had hundreds of stage roles too.
Clearly, age has changed Dinsdale, but to go from playing a feckless teenager in Home To Roost in the mid-80s to a police officer lured into the lifestyle of neo-Nazis a few short years later, spoke to the talent of an actor who must be something of a blank canvas for a director.
Now, at the age of 56, his canvas is about to be covered with every imaginable colour as he prepares to take on the role of the Richard III.
“Where do you even start?” wonders Dinsdale.
“The Playhouse put it in front of me, asked if I wanted to do it, and I thought I’d have a bash.”
When he played Richard III, Antony Sher wrote a book about the process, Year of the King, in which he wrote, ‘I can feel the power of the words doing the work’. When Kenneth Branagh played the part in Sheffield he talked about the enormous physical toll of Richard III.
Dinsdale, Yorkshire-born and bred, on the other hand, ‘thought he’d have a bash’.
“Well, it’s acting, isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, but I don’t take it too seriously – and I think that’s what’s kept me sane,” says Dinsdale. “I absolutely love my job and I give it 100 per cent, I throw myself into it, but then I come away and hopefully am happy with what I’ve done. If I’ve done that, I can hold my head up high and leave it be. When I’m with my family, for example, I leave it alone – it’s not like I carry myself as an actor at home. If I started talking about ‘my process’ at home I imagine the kids would say ‘oh right’ and go back to their iPads. I have a normal life. I go to see Huddersfield Town.”
In a world of vacuous reality stars, it is heartening to hear a talented actor who has actually achieved much, running away from the hyperbole which sometimes circulates his business.
The truth is, however, he is fully aware of the challenge he faces when he brings Richard III to the stage at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on September 25.
The production is being directed by Mark Rosenblatt, the Playhouse’s associate director and, while Dinsdale sounds like he has a great attitude to his job, he knows the magnitude of what faces him come the end of September.
“Every day I remind myself that all I can do is put one foot in front of another. If I start to think about the part, the mountain, well, I’ll freak out and I won’t get on the stage,” says Dinsdale.
“Earlier in the year myself and Mark got together and spent a week just working on it, seeing what our thoughts were about it, about where we wanted to take it and what we thought the play was doing and saying.
“I think we found a main thrust for the piece and for the part. What we’ve ended up with is something that is very much a psychological drama. We’re going to be doing something quite interesting and exciting. Eventually, for us, the play is about conscience, the onset of conscience and whether people are capable of committing such terrible deeds, such despicable and abhorrent things without conscience – or will it always be there biting at you?”
Richard III, Britain’s last king of the House of York, is not well served by Shakespeare. While history – and the discovery last year of his bones in a car park in Leicester – may tell us differently, Shakespeare created a king who is the epitome of evil. He made him physically deformed, just in case there was any subtlety lost on the audience – his “hunchbacked” king is so evil that the darkness in his heart twists his body. Shakespeare does, however, give the actor playing Richard a huge amount of fun to have in the first half of the play.
Dinsdale says: “Once he gains the throne and then takes the decision to kill the children, that’s when he starts to fracture and the warm, witty and charismatic Richard we’ve been seeing so far, loses all of his polish. As soon as he kills the kids, something very dark comes upon him. The liaison he has had with the audience up until that point, fades away to nothing and then you realise the audience has been taken on a journey and been duped.
“They’ve gone with this guy, laughing at his jokes and laughing at him knocking people off here and there, having his evil way, but as things turn and actually when you really think about it, these are despicable acts, the audience realises they too have blood on their hands. We want them to be in Richard’s head. Hopefully we will end up with this huge psychological drama that opens up all kinds of questions about conscience and guilt and what have you. We’ll see how it pans out.”
Richard III is on at West Yorkshire Playhouse, September 25 to Oct 17. Tickets available from 0113 2137700, www.wyp.org.uk