‘I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to come from Blackpool’

Richard James-Neale and Steven Miller as Roderigo and Iago
Richard James-Neale and Steven Miller as Roderigo and Iago
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When Richard James-Neale left Blackpool to train as an actor, his mother asked him what he wanted from the opportunity.

“It was my first day at drama school and mum was a bit teary-eyed – which I’m sure a lot of parents are when their children fly the nest – and she said ‘What do you want?’,” Richard recalled.

“And I told her I just want to be able to do this. I don’t want to be famous, rich or well renowned, I just want to be able to make a living out of acting – this simple thing of telling a story.

“It’s quite a selfless thing. I enjoy story-telling and that’s it.”

Richard first got a taste for the stage in productions at Montgomery High School, Bispham, where his drama teacher encouraged him to audition for the youth theatre at the Grand Theatre.

His first production there was O U T Spells Out, a play charting the lives of children shipped to Australia and New Zealand, away from danger, during the Second World War, many of who ended up in labour camps.

“When I was 13, the Royal Shakespeare Company came to town with Cyrano de Bergerac and I was in that, and it was then I decided I wanted to be an actor,” he said.

“Paul David Gough ran the youth theatre at that time, and he was a really great help to me, with audition technique to get into the National Youth Theatre at 16.

“I’m proud to say I had that introduction and training, and to have got that in Blackpool.”

After attending Blackpool Sixth Form College, Richard went on to Mountview, where he gained a first class honours degree in 2006.

And this week he comes back to the North West in Frantic Assembly theatre company’s production of Shakespeare’s brutal thriller Othello, at The Lowry in Salford.

The play is a modern restaging, which retains the classic Shakespearean text while telling the story around the pool table and fruit machines of a pub in West Yorkshire during the 2001 race riots, a time which saw terrible divisions and some unexpected alliances – reflected in the centuries-old tale.

Richard’s returned to the production after first appearing in it back in 2008 in the same role.

“I have been lucky since graduating to have regular work, especially doing quite a lot of Shakespeare, working at the Globe and the National Theatre too.

“And, of course, Othello with Frantic Assembly in 2008. It’s so good to be back with that show six years on. Out of everything I’ve done, this is probably what I’m most proud of; it’s exciting and rewarded from an artistic point of view, and it’s just a really good show to do.”

In Othello, Richard plays Roderigo – a friend of Iago, used to his own ends, while head over heels in love with Othello’s wife Desdemona.

“In his own head, he’s the young love character,” Richard explains.

“He’s of a similar age to Desdemona, has grown up with her and believes it’s his right to have her.

“But because Iago has such amazing, persuasive technics, he uses Roderigo, makes him a pawn in the game and he loses all his money.

“What’s great about coming back to the play and the role, is that originally, I played Roderigo as a bit stupid and slow, and he couldn’t quite work out what was going on, it has developed now I’m a bit older.

“There’s also a different chemistry with the guy playing Iago.

“There was definitely an element of me wanting to come back to the character, as I’d enjoyed it so much. But also, it’s not often you get to work with an exciting company like Frantic Assembly.

“The way they devise movement is so fresh and different and I’ve never experienced something close to that, so I was desperate to go on the journey again.”

Frantic Assembly are typically hailed for their ground-breaking physical theatre, and working with modern playwrights in creating new pieces.

The original production of Othello came to light when the team was challenged, as a joke, to stage the play, in response to their work so often being focused on the themes of sex, jealousy and murder – all key elements of the original Shakespeare script.

“They were worried at first about taking it on, but their skills in story-telling from the physical point of view and getting that across meant it became a fresh way to work rather than getting bogged down in the language,” Richard said.

The attraction of Shakespeare’s historic texts remains today – and there’s a certain call from the past for Richard too.

While he’s travelled the country on tour, there’s one place he’s got his eyes set on.

“I’ve not yet have the opportunity to come back to the Grand, or Blackpool in general, as a professional,” he said.

“Growing up in the youth theatre, I thought all theatres looked like the Grand.

“In my first job out of drama school, a national tour, I couldn’t believe how lucky I had been to work in that Matcham theatre.

“It’s such a beautiful venue, so I’m desperate to come back.

“It’s definitely an ambition of mine to come back to work in Blackpool in some capacity.”

Although he’s yet to fulfil that ambition, Richard has a clear message to any young people with theatrical dreams.

“I know Blackpool’s not the wealthiest place in the world, with the most opportunities for young people,” he said.

“But the Grand’s youth theatre was one thing which was really good for me.

“It was somewhere I could go and train, and be able to make a career of; I didn’t have to commute to Preston, Lancaster or Manchester.

“There are a lot of dance schools and a history of people coming through Blackpool entertainment to go into ‘end of the pier’ work, but it’s quite different to have gone into straight drama,” Richard added.

“I’m really proud to be able to say I come from that tiny corner of Lancashire, to be able to show it’s possible to do this from Blackpool.”

* Othello, The Lowry, Salford Quays, Manchester tonight until Saturday, November 29. Call 0843 208600 to book.