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Interview with John Hollingworth

John Hollingworth. Photo credit Michael Shelford
John Hollingworth. Photo credit Michael Shelford

Actor and writer John Hollingworth, (Captain Henshawe in BBC’s Poldark), is currently in the cast of The Norman Conquests, a trilogy of plays by Alan Ayckbourn’s at Chichester Festival Theatre, with performances running through to 28th October 2017.

John recently took time out to tell us about his role as Captain Henshawe in Poldark and also as Tom in The Norman Conquests.

Q: Firstly, can you tell us about your journey as Captain Henshawe in BBC’s Poldark series?
John: Henshawe was a dream role to play. Debbie (Horsfield – our brilliant writer) decided to build the character into a bigger presence than in the original novels. It meant that he went from being a smiling do-gooder to helping Ross on smuggling ventures to joining the ill-fated prison break in France – all out of loyalty for his friends. That was a hugely rewarding journey to go on as the character and increasingly fun to play as an actor.

Q: How tough is it to move on from an established role?
John: It is tough actually. On the one hand, it’s sad to leave such a fun job with such lovely people and on the other, it’s tough to wait out for the next role that’s comparably good. I signed with a great manager in LA last year and have been going up for all sorts of jobs over there and spending a bit of time there which has been fun. I was fortunate to have a quick return to Cornwall after Poldark to film some Doc Martin and then went onto the new Thomas Vinterberg film Kursk. He’s a director I’ve always idolised and he was inspiring to work with, as was Colin Firth. So I’ve been lucky that the transition out of Poldark has been a smooth one – and that was helped by the overwhelming response to Henshawe’s exit!

Q: Your career roles include stage and screen – do you have a preference?
John: I love both. I love to work, to be honest. It’s the role that’s most important and not the medium. I was lucky to train at RADA – which is a classical actor training – but my first job was a bit-part on Wuthering Heights on ITV that I filmed before I graduated. Then I got a bit-part on the film Dorian Gray and it went from there really. I’ve always been very grateful to be able to do both stage and screen. They can be quite separate communities that are reluctant to let folk cross the border between them.

Q: What is your favourite role to date, and why?
John: Henshawe is incredibly special to me – both for the journey he went on and for what he’s done for my career – but I have to say I’m having a stupid amount of fun playing Tom in The Norman Conquests. I thoroughly enjoyed playing Geoffrey Church in Making Noise Quietly at the Donmar. It’s such a wonderful space to play in and to have the luxury of doing a two-hander with the peerless Susan Brown in it was unreal. I’d kill to go back there. Henshawe wins though, hands down.

John Hollingworth (Captain Henshawe) Photo credit Robert Viglasky
John Hollingworth (Captain Henshawe) Photo credit Robert Viglasky

Q: You are at the Chichester Festival Theatre in THE NORMAN CONQUESTS A trilogy of plays by Alan Ayckbourn. What can you tell us about the plays and the characters that you play?
John: I can tell you it’s a monster to perform! The three plays in the trilogy are Table Manners, Living Together and Round and Round the Garden. Each play is set in one location – the dining room, the living room and the garden respectively. The plays all take place over one long summer’s weekend – Saturday through to Monday – in a country house in Sussex. Norman tries to seduce all the women in the house over the same weekend – with hilarious results. Ayckbourn is brilliant at farce – people talking at cross purposes, mis-timed entrance and exits, slapstick encounters – but he also nails the desperation of these six people marooned in a crumbling country house with nothing to eat for a long weekend as they face up to the difficult truths of their various relationships. That’s what’s most rewarding about playing it – moments of high farce suddenly descend into rather poignant and
moving moments of self-discovery.

Q: Do you have a favourite role/play?
John: Well all six of us play the same characters throughout – so I’m Tom, the eccentric neighbourhood vet who’s deeply in love with Norman’s youngest sister-in-law Annie – played by the very brilliant Jemima Rooper. My favourite play is Round and Round the Garden as that’s the one that sees the biggest change in Tom’s relationship with Annie from start to finish. I won’t say more than that. Simon Higlett has designed the show in the round – a first for Chichester – and delivered us the most brilliant and life-like set to play on and this play takes place entirely in the garden and there’s something fun and freeing about that.

Q: Having seen the video clip of rehearsals – it looks like a fun ‘production’ to work on… Can you tell us about rehearsals and ‘the team’?
John: It’s been ten weeks of laughing until we cry. If the audience find it anywhere near as funny as we do playing it then we’ll be fine. Our first preview of Table Manners was last night and the audience roared us through with laughter which was both hugely satisfying and a great relief.

Q: Why should everyone get along to see The Norman Conquests?
John: It’s a brilliant piece of writing that’s expertly marshalled by Blanche McIntyre and been very well cast by the always excellent Charlotte Sutton. I would say that though, wouldn’t I? But I don’t mean me. Fans of Mr Selfridge will know Trystan Gravelle – who plays Norman – well; Job Lot and Miranda fans can have a right old cackle at Sarah Hadland; Jemima Rooper – who’s led everything from Lost In Austen on telly to One Man Two Guv’nors at the NT – excels as Annie; Johnnie Broadbent – who seems the most employed actor in Britain and was outstanding in My Night With Reg is Reg and Hattie Ladbury – the only actor to work in more British theatre than Johnnie – is devastating as Norman’s long-suffering wife Ruth. It’s a lovely bunch to knock about with.

Q: What next for you after Chichester?
John: I’ll let you know as soon as I do!


Other television credits include Da Vinci’s Demons, The Hour, Our Loved Boy, Dark Angel, Midsomer Murders, Doctor Foster, Arthur & George, Josh, Top Coppers, Our World War, Crossing Lines, Da Vinci’s Demons, Breathless, The Hour, Endeavour, London’s Burning, The Man Who Crossed Hitler, Twenty Twelve, Casualty 1909, Being Human, Wuthering Heights. For theatre his credits include Geoffrey Church in Making Noise Quietly (Donmar Warehouse), Earthquakes in London (National Theatre On Tour/Headlong), The Deep Blue Sea (West Yorkshire Playhouse), Design for Living (The Old Vic), Women, Power and Politics (Tricycle Theatre), The Power of Yes (National Theatre), Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme (Hampstead Theatre). Films include Kursk, Transformers: The Last Knight, The Legend of Tarzan, Cinderella, About Time, The Dark Knight Rises, Pelican Blood and Dorian Gray.

The Norman Conquests

Creative team
Blanche McIntyre – Director
Simon Higlett – Designer
Johanna Town – Lighting Designer
Olly Fox – Music
George Dennis – Sound Designer
Charlotte Sutton CDG – Casting Director

Trystan Gravelle – Norman
Jemima Rooper – Annie
Sarah Hadland – Sarah
Hattie Ladbury – Ruth
John Hollingworth – Tom
Jonathan Broadbent – Reg



  • Neil Cheesman

    First becoming involved in an online theatre business in 2005 and launching londontheatre1.com in September 2013. Neil writes reviews and news articles, and has interviewed over 150 actors and actresses from the West End, Broadway, film, television, and theatre. Follow Neil on Twitter @LondonTheatre1

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