Most recently on stage, David Ricardo-Pearce was playing the role of Fred in Kiss Me, Kate at the Watermill Theatre and had previously worked on shows including Arthur Miller’s play The Last Yankee, The Lorax at The Old Vic, Hamlet and Crossing Jerusalem, and he has also taken part in many rehearsed readings with the Royal National Theatre. David has recently appeared on TV in both Traitors and Trauma and this year, he can be seen as Prince Albert in the short film Ma’am and he is part of the global online theatre space The Proscenium. Chatting to David, he answers our questions about his time as Fred in Kiss Me, Kate, playing Hamlet and filming as Prince Albert for Ma’am.
How did the run go at the Watermill Theatre when you played Fred in Kiss Me, Kate last summer?
So much fun. The company on that show were absolutely top class and I had a ball playing opposite Rebecca Trehearn. I think I’m right in saying it was the highest-selling show the Watermill has ever produced. It feels crazy to think back to that show in the current climate because in one of the numbers – Where Is the Life That Late I Led? – I ran through the audience sitting on people’s laps and singing in their faces. Who knows when we’ll be allowed to do that again? The Watermill is one of my favourite theatres – I began my career there in Sweeney Todd in 2004 – and it was a real pleasure to go back in such a joyous show.
Was there anything that drew you to the role and what did you enjoy most about playing Fred?
Fred’s a great character to get your teeth into because he’s a massive narcissist but has a complete soft centre. Also, his relationship with Lilli is so deeply messed up and just goes from disaster to disaster which is huge fun to dig in to. And the songs are amazing! Also, I was really keen to work with Paul Hart and that show felt like the right time to do that.
At the beginning of last year, you played Leroy in The Last Yankee, how was this?
Very different experience to KMK… intense four-hander which takes a very uncompromising look at mental health. Leroy is a descendant of Alexander Hamilton and feels the weight of the ancestry on his shoulders. He’s a strong, silent guy whose heart is breaking for his wife. Playing opposite Juliet Aubrey was really special, the connection between the two characters is pretty intense and draining. There’s a long scene in Act Two where they essentially say everything they have to say and work through a lifetime of pain, but there is hope.
What did you know about the Arthur Miller play before auditioning and how was it telling the story at Octagon Theatre Bolton?
Never heard of the play but David Thacker sent it to me and I was blown away by how powerful it was. Miller is a master, and David is an expert on delivering his plays – they worked closely on many shows together when Arthur was alive – so it was a privilege to sit in a room with David and work on this. We actually played it in a new space called the Library Theatre which is an old lecturer theatre which I think added to the institutionalised feel of the piece.
You played Hamlet in Hamlet, what is the role like to play?
Yeah, scary in a way. Because of the weight of history. But very special. Think the key was to forget every perception I had before starting rehearsals and just deal with what was in front of me in the room. It’s perfect writing in so many ways so I just tried to be present and play it with vigour. Sometimes those big parts with the famous speeches can feel daunting but actually they are the easiest parts to play on a stage because you get to speak to the audience throughout the piece so the audience are with you. And that feeling in a theatre, being able to directly share your innermost thoughts and fears and desires with the people sitting around you is I think the reason live theatre is essential.
Can you tell us about playing The Lorax in The Lorax at The Old Vic?
Joyous but painful. The Lorax was a three-man bunraku puppet, and I was voicing him and holding his head and his left arm. Which meant I was bent over carrying a really heavy head for a few hours a night. A lot of physio… Having said that, Ben Thompson was on the feet and spent the night scrabbling around on his knees… But yeah, the show is amazing – I read my kids The Lorax from time to time and how the team wrote a full-length musical around a fairly simple short story blows my mind. The Old Vic is a very special theatre to play and hearing the kids in the audience react to the play in such a vocal and engaged way was amazing. David Greig, Charlie Fink, Max Webster and Finn Caldwell are magicians the way they made that show. Max and Finn are also behind Life of Pi which is coming to town when the theatres are allowed to open again.
What was Crossing Jerusalem like to be part of and can you tell us about the show?
Really interesting experience for me. I’m Jewish by birth but have never practised, and Julia Pascal, who wrote and directed the piece, is a leading Jewish academic and playwright so to be in that world for a while playing a tightly written piece about the tensions within Jerusalem was fascinating. It’s a family drama. A family crossing Jerusalem to have lunch for a birthday. Gideon – my character – is terrified about returning to the army because of a trauma he suffered and the monster he became. And his marriage is at breaking point. Very good play and the Park is a great space to perform. I still work with Julia from time to time, which is one of the things I love about our business – the unexpected bonds you make and people you’re drawn to.
Are you able to say anything about the short film Ma’am where you play Prince Albert?
It was funded by Bumble for a project called Female Film Force which supports female filmmakers to make female-led films. It’s a brilliant short by Joy Wilkinson, who was a joy to work with, and there’s a cracking performance from Jess Regan as Victoria. We filmed in this amazing country house in Devon and it was a very happy set. It’s currently doing the festivals circuits and I understand it’s doing pretty well – just got an official selection for St. Louis International Film Festival which is Academy qualifying so that’s pretty exciting. Also, I got to transform my Fred beard from Kiss Me, Kate into a Prince Albert tache and sideburns…
Last year, you appeared in an episode of Traitors, what was your role like to film?
We filmed in the desert outside of Ouarzazate, which was so hot that it was almost impossible to keep hydrated. Like filming inside an oven. But it was a pretty fun shoot – I got to drive an old army jeep and pretend to be a gunrunner… One of the great perks of the job is getting to visit a corner of the world you’ve never been.
What was it like on set of Trauma and playing Luca Fernandez?
That was a lovely experience for me as I got to play with Adrian Lester who was one of the reasons I became an actor in the first place. As far as I can remember, we shot in a deserted high school transformed into a hospital ward so the green room was an empty classroom. Glamorous…
Can you say about some of your other roles?
My first screen job – in Extras – was a pretty surreal moment for me. I was in Edinburgh walking up Arthur’s Seat, visiting my girlfriend at the time, when my agent called and said they’d set up a meeting for this new Ricky Gervais sitcom. I was fairly annoyed as I’d just got to Scotland and had to get a train straight back to London but they were starting shooting later that week as Samuel L. Jackson was in town promoting Coach Carter and had agreed to be in the show. So they had to get the episode cast super quick. So yeah, on Monday morning I was walking up Arthur’s Seat, and on Thursday I was on set with Ricky Gervais and Samuel L. Jackson. It was a funny time back then – one day I’d be driven to set in a car with heated seats and the next day I’d be back pulling pints in the local pub.
You’ve been involved with a number of rehearsed readings with the Royal National Theatre, what are these like to be involved with?
They’re always fun, yeah. Usually a day or two – getting into a room with a bunch of great actors and playing with a draft of a script. The National obviously gets a lot of the good new plays so it’s always interesting to see what they’re mulling over in terms of programming.
Was there anything that inspired your acting career and how did it come about?
I had been doing some acting at school and university in various plays and musicals and enjoyed it immensely. Then my girlfriend suddenly announced she was applying for drama school at the Bristol Old Vic. I didn’t even know drama school was a thing, or acting was a real career choice. I applied too, we both got in, and that was that. I was in the business and there was no turning back. I think it was just the only thing that I had a real passion for as a young man and the idea that I could spend my life working in a job I loved was too exciting to not pursue.
What do you enjoy doing away from your career?
I have a family now so most of my time is spent with my wife and my kids, not getting any sleep. Or at the zoo. I’ve recently got into cold water swimming, which I think is a response to the whole COVID situation. I also love pretty much all sports and am obsessed with Andy Murray.
We understand you are part of The Proscenium, what can you tell us about this?
It’s a global online theatre space where we make audio drama for adults and kids. We’ve just launched it with some new writing and some poetry and are about to record a Christmas show. The hope is that it becomes an online rep company where we produce a season of shows each year, and invite other companies to develop work with us as well. The guy who started it lives in Hong Kong and the resident writer is based in San Francisco and we have actors from Canada and South Africa working with us so it’s a way of trying to bring together creative energies from around the world into one space – but without all the air travel…
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