To many, actor Don Warrington is still fondly remembered for his role as Philip Smith in the classic 1970’s sitcom, Rising Damp in which he appeared alongside Leonard Rossiter and Frances de La Tour. In recent times he has attracted legions of fans for his appearances in TV programmes including Death In Paradise and Strictly Come Dancing. As a stage actor, Warrington has won critical acclaim for roles in productions ranging from Glengary Glen Ross in the West End to Elmina’s Kitchen at the Birmingham Rep.
For The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester and Talawa Theatre, Warrington has appeared in All My Sons and King Lear, the latter drawing large audiences when it was broadcast as a stage to screen production on BBC 4. Warrington is currently rehearsing Death Of A Salesman at the Royal Exchange Theatre in which he is playing Willy Loman opposite current Equity President Maureen Beatie. The Reviews Hub’s Richard Hall met Warrington during a break in rehearsals; they discussed the enduring appeal of Miller’s plays and in particular Death Of A Salesman.
You have previously appeared at the Royal Exchange in All My Sons and King Lear what is the attraction of performing at this theatre?
It’s a wonderful space to work in. It really is unique and although it is a big theatre to perform in it creates fantastic levels of intimacy. It’s also a very vibrant and exciting theatre and Sarah Frankcom the Royal Exchange’s Artistic Director, who is also directing this production is doing a terrific job.
Having played King Lear and now preparing to play Willy Loman both of which are hugely iconic roles does it feel as if they are connected in any way?
They are connected in the sense that the themes of both plays are universal. We all have families whether we like it or not and we all come from somewhere. Miller deals with this in the play by showing a dysfunctional family and what love can do to each family member.
Shakespeare and Miller’s plays continue to dominate the repertoire. What do you think lies at the heart of their enduring appeal?
As I’ve just said they both touch on and illuminate universal themes. We all identify with characters in these plays because they are all experiencing to some extent or another, what we are feeling. I suppose the nature of drama is that it amplifies this feeling so we get a clearer picture of ourselves.
Have you in rehearsal explored any parallels between Miller’s vision of America in the 1950’s and the present day?
There are some parallels but I haven’t really thought about them in any depth. I don’t think you need too as the play speaks for itself. The play tells a story which can be made applicable to America today. I suppose it’s self-evident really.
To what degree is your interpretation of Willy Loman shaped by your knowledge of the play and your own life experience?
I’m being very faithful to the text because it’s so beautifully written. As an actor you do what you do and you use the text to help you work that out. The part asks of you certain questions and in order to try to be faithful to it you have to answer them.
As an actor what is the appeal of Miller’s plays?
I haven’t really thought about it. All My Sons came along and I thought why not. Similarly Death Of A Salesman did and I wanted to work with Sarah Frankcom. I like working in this theatre and the play is a great piece of work, so again I thought why not give it a go?
What is special about performing the play in the round?
It will make it immersive; people will feel that they are in it as opposed to observing it. The nature of this theatre is that it draws people into its heart and makes them feel more involved.
For those watching this play for the first time what do you hope they will take away from the experience?
We will all try to do our job and be as clear as we can to tell the story and then it’s up to the audience to do the rest.
If you could give advice to your young self about what you’ve learnt in your career what would it be?
Be surprised by nothing!
You’ve undertaken some extraordinary roles are there any left on your wish list that you’re still looking to play?
I don’t have a wish list, I never have. I take it as it comes. Things turn up and you explore them. You find out stuff about them and decide if you want to do them or not. I just want to keep on working.
Death Of A Salesman is at The Royal Exchange Manchester from 11 October to 17 November. For further information visit www.royalexchange.co.uk
Richard Hall | Images: Johan Persson