In the final ever tour of By The Waters Of Liverpool, Tom Roberts plays John Forrester in venues around the UK, including Liverpool M&S Bank Arena, when the production opened at the beginning of September. The play is based on the Helen Forrester book, and is currently open at St Helen’s Theatre Royal before heading to Southport, Halifax, Lytham and Wirral, with the tour ending 29th of this month. On stage, Tom had his West End debut playing Sammy in Blood Brothers, and over the years, he has been in numerous pantomimes including Aladdin in 2021. Tom played villain Scott Emberton in Coronation Street in 2020 and DC Flanagan in Emmerdale overseeing Alex Moss’ murder in 2013, reprising his role for Ross Barton’s acid attack in 2018. Early in Tom’s career, he played semi-regular character Tony in 2point4 Children, after originally only booking for one episode, and also being a voice actor, he is the narrator of Crimes That Shook Britain for Channel 5. We caught up with Tom about touring in By The Waters Of Liverpool, portraying John Forrester in the play and his time in Coronation Street and Emmerdale.
You are currently playing John Forrester in the UK Tour of By The Waters Of Liverpool, can you tell us about the show and your character?
The show is set just before the outbreak of the Second World War and follows the story of Helen Forrester, a young woman who moves with her family to Liverpool. We follow her as she strives to find work, make fresh connections in a tough new environment and deal with her strict parents. Life is tough and her resilience is tested. I play Helen’s father, John. A deeply principled man who lost all his previous wealth after the stock market collapsed. Deep down, he cares for Helen and the other children but he struggles to show compassion… not helped by a stern and bickering wife.
How was it opening the show in Liverpool at the M&S Bank Arena at the start of September and how was it rehearsing for the play?
A lovely opening in the play’s home town. The Arena, set right in the docks which play a big part in the story, was the perfect opening venue. Rehearsals also took part in the city – really great getting to know the cast and finding the best ways to work as a team.
How is the run going so far and what is it like seeing the audience response to the production?
It’s going really well. Audiences seem to have loved it, both in its home area and further afield. We have even had standing ovations – something usually reserved for musicals!!
What did you know about Helen Forrester’s book before auditioning and what is John Forrester like to portray?
I had heard of her but, not being from Liverpool, I was perhaps not as aware of her as other cast members. I have researched her and her story is certainly a fascinating one. She has sold a huge amount of books and it’s easy to see why.
How does it feel to be performing in the final ever tour of By The Waters Of Liverpool and what is it like telling the story?
It’s a privilege… albeit a little sad that this is the last tour. We are determined to present a wonderful send off to such a compelling story. It really is all about the story and it’s one we are relishing telling.
Why would you recommend booking tickets to see By The Waters Of Liverpool and who do you think will enjoy watching the show?
Certainly. It’s appeal is broad as the themes and storyline are pretty universal. Whilst it certainly appeals to those who may even remember the time around WW2, it also appeals to anyone who likes a good, human story. It’s a lovely mix of bittersweet moments and rich comedy… there is even dancing!
In 2020, you played Scott Emberton in Coronation Street, how would you describe the character and what was the soap like to be part of?
Scott was an out and out baddie. He had come back into the street to get revenge on one of the regulars (Johnny). It was a wonderful experience and I worked with some pretty iconic characters – Ken, Rita etc. All very friendly and welcoming.
What was your storyline like to work on and how was it filming your final scenes?
I loved the opportunity to explore the character. He had some pretty tough scenes and it’s always nice to play someone who is very outside your own personality. The final scenes were very dramatic… I was arrested and held at gun point whilst police helicopters circled above. Not a bad way to go!!
What are some of your favourite memories from playing DC Flanagan in Emmerdale and how was it returning to the show to reprise your character in 2018?
Flanagan was a long-running detective, who was investigating a serious crime. Again, cast and crew on Emmerdale were very welcoming and I loved the scenes in the village… it is a fascinating location! Going back was a joy and I hope to make another visit at some point.
Early in your screen career, you played Tony in 2point4 Children, what was this like?
It was a great break for me. I was only scheduled for one episode but they decided to make him a semi-regular character. Loved recording to a studio audience, but it was pretty nerve-racking!
What do you remember most from your time as Sammy in the cast of Blood Brothers for your West End debut?
I loved Blood Brothers. Still do. Sammy was another bad lad. The challenge was to play someone from eight years old to adult but that was great fun too. Interestingly, there is another member of this cast who also played Sammy – Danny Taylor – so we have shared a few stories!!
Having performed in pantomimes on a number of occasions, is there anything you enjoy most about this type of show and how different do you find them to your other work?
Panto is fun but hard work too – sometimes three shows a day. It’s a unique style… completely over the top and much bigger than straight plays or TV. I’m mostly a baddie in those too!
Can you tell us about some of the other acting projects you’ve been part of over your career so far?
Many and varied! Lots of soaps, TV dramas, theatre (West End and regional), radio and TV narrations (I’m the voice of Crimes That Shook Britain for Channel 5). As an actor, you just want to keep working so you keep options open as much as possible.
How did you get into acting and was it something you always wanted to do?
I started doing amateur drama, which I loved. Then trained as a Drama/English Teacher before going to drama school in my late 20s.
Do you have any favourite films, TV and theatre shows to watch?
So many… Films from the top of my head – The Shawshank Redemption, Mississippi Burning, The Godfather, Jaws, It’s A Wonderful Life. Love a lot of theatre, including musicals… and can’t beat a bit of Strictly on the TV!
How do you like to spend your free time?
Walking my dog, Charlie. Playing guitar/singing, cooking, playing tennis, catching up with friends.