Joining the cast of the West End production of The Woman in Black at the Fortune Theatre in January, Max Hutchinson plays the role of The Actor, but due to the pandemic, he had only performed for seven weeks before theatres closed around the world. Last year, Max played the role of Richard Hannay in The 39 Steps at the Barn Theatre and Theatre Royal Windsor, and early in his career, he toured the UK and Ireland with Murder on the Nile as William Smith. Max appeared as a Royal Footman in the 2019 Downton Abbey film, and later this year, will be seen in the release of Dream Horse alongside Toni Collette. Recently, Max answered our questions about playing The Actor in The Woman in Black, being cast in The 39 Steps and filming for the upcoming release of Dream Horse.
How has your time been so far as The Actor in The Woman in Black?
I was having a really lovely time playing The Actor before the pandemic. It was a bit of a dream come true really. We were seven weeks into our nine-month contract, so we were just getting into the swing of it! I hope it’s not too long before we can all get together again. It’s so strange to think of all my things sitting in my dressing room still. I’m particularly keen to get my hands on a little diary I’d been keeping for my son. The last thing I’d written in it was: “It looks like this virus is getting serious and they might shut us down”. So much has happened since then of course.
Had you seen the show before booking your role and what’s it been like joining a long-running West End show?
I first saw The Woman in Black when I was fifteen, I think, on a school trip. I fell in love with the show – I thought it was so clever how effective the storytelling was with relatively few props and effects. I dragged my dad back to see it again as soon as we were able to! I remember coming away and thinking that I would like to become an actor and play that part one day. I’ve seen it a couple of times since then also, as I’ve had friends in it. It’s made me jump every time!
It was actually quite a calm experience joining the show. Terry Wilton, who plays Arthur Kipps, has done the show before, as has Jade, our amazing DSM, so I felt as though I was in very safe hands! Of course, that does also bring a bit of pressure that you don’t want to be the one slowing everyone down! Robin Herford has directed every cast since it opened thirty years ago and we were also in the very capable hands of Antony Eden, as Associate Director. We were really lucky also in that we rehearsed on the stage, with props and costume for the most part, and that made the process really smooth as well. So, all in all, I felt very comfortable and supported!
How different was it preparing for this role opposed to your previous work and how did you feel on opening night?
I suppose the main difference is that this show is a two-hander for the majority – so it was a big learn! And as I mentioned, Terry has done the show before, so I made sure I was pretty much off-book when rehearsals started!
Opening night was fun! Again, it was quite a smooth transition. The previous cast finished on the Saturday night. Our first show was a Tuesday matinee – which the producer Peter Wilson came to, which did up my nerves a little! And then in the evening, we had our opening with guests and drinks. My parents surprised me by coming down to see it, which was lovely – particularly because it felt like completing a journey with my dad.
Why would you recommend seeing the show once theatres reopen?
I think the reason the show has lasted for so many years is that it encourages the audience to use their imagination. There is very little in the way of set and effects, so you really have to invest in the storytelling. I think that’s quite exciting for an audience, as often nowadays we’re ‘given’ everything. The show is also surprising in ways people might not expect. Some of my friends have said they didn’t expect it to be funny. I think people assume it’s going to just be ‘scary’ but there are many elements to it. It’s also a play about friendship and recovery – how we use storytelling as a coping mechanism.
How was your experience as Richard Hannay in The 39 Steps?
I loved playing Hannay. The fast-paced, action-packed ‘poor’ theatre approach of Patrick Barlow’s The 39 Steps is right up my street! It’s pure, silly, charming entertainment and I love it! My wife had actually been in the production in the West End back in 2013 so I fell in love with the show then. I was so pleased to get a chance to do it. Mind you – it was sweaty! The first half is about an hour of running around in a three-piece tweed suit.
You’ve played Sherlock Holmes in a couple of productions of The Hound of the Baskervilles, what was the role like to play?
Well, again, this was a spoof script, similar in style to The 39 Steps, written by a brilliant company called Peepolykus. We first did it in Germany and then brought it to the Jermyn Street Theatre, directed by Lotte Wakeham. So, I did play Holmes, but I also played about five other parts including the ‘baddie’, the butler and a glamorous Spanish lady called Cecile. The second half of the show starts with my character getting annoyed with the audience because someone has ‘tweeted something rude about him acting too slowly’ – so he forces the other actors to do a recap of the first half – but in ‘fast-forward’. I have never done so many quick-changes in quick succession and never been so exhausted by a section of a play as that recap sequence. But I’m super proud of it as we used to get a great reaction.
You toured in 2012 as William Smith in Murder on the Nile, how did you find the experience of tour?
This was one of my first jobs out of drama school and it was an amazing learning experience. We toured the UK and Ireland and played about forty theatres in total, I think. To see how audiences reacted differently in different locations was really interesting and to adapt to so many different spaces was brilliant. Also, I like exploring new cities so it suited me perfectly. It was the last job that the amazing Kate O’Mara did before she passed. She was an incredible lady to learn from and a real cast leader. It was also the job I met my wife on, so it has particularly fond memories for me!
How was it filming as James Lingsford in the upcoming release of Dream Horse?
This was a lovely job. I only had one day filming (it’s a little scene) but when I found out it was going to be with Toni Collette I nearly fell over! She’s a bit of a hero for me so that was awesome. I got to do the read-through with the whole cast and it was a really lovely team – I wish I’d had a few more days to get to know everyone a bit better! It’s such an awesome script – I think it’s going to be exactly what everyone needs right now – a proper feel-good British comedy drama. It’s all about a community pulling together, so I hope people go out and see it.
Can you tell us about being on set of the Downton Abbey film as First Royal Footman?
So, I’ve only done a couple of filming jobs and this was the first. It was really exciting to be on set and to be able to learn in that environment. I did eight or nine days filming and had a couple of lines, which sadly didn’t make it into the final edit! But the experience was just great. Although, I did manage to bang Dame Maggie Smith on the head with a tray while I was serving her in one scene. I was mortified about that. She carried on acting, which was kind, while I tried to subtly whisper to her “I’m SO sorry” out of the corner of my mouth. Oops.
How did your acting career come about and how was it attending Rose Bruford College?
I did a lot of ‘am dram’ in my village when I was growing up then got really into drama at school. I think I enjoyed showing off, to be honest. Then I joined the local youth group, then National Youth Theatre, then Rose Bruford. So, I think the more I did it, the more I became convinced that it was what I wanted to do for a living. I’m also incredibly lucky to have very supportive parents who always encourage me, along with some amazing mentors – in particular, my old drama teacher at school, who is just generally a brilliant human being. Rose Bruford was great – it was a lovely environment with great teachers. I graduated without an agent and I think that taught me to graft pretty hard. I managed to get an agent from a fringe show I did within the first year of graduating. Then I knew someone who worked at Bill Kenwright, so I cheekily emailed them and asked for an audition for Murder on the Nile and luckily I got that job and from there I moved agents again.
What are some of your favourite theatre shows to watch?
I love musicals. I watched the film of Mary Poppins at my Grandma’s house once a week for many years when I was growing up! I love Come From Away – it’s just magic. I love Merrily We Roll Along and the Menier production that transferred a few years ago was amazing. Caroline, or Change was brill. I watch quite a lot of Shakespeare. I try and watch anything I can really, wherever I can.
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