Reece Dinsdale has spent three decades in the acting business but, as he tells Phil Penfold, playing Alan Bennett may be his most challenging role to date.
F Reece Dinsdale has a motto, you get the sense that it is “que sera, sera”.
After more than 30 years as a professional actor he has done just about everything – straight drama, television soap, a hugely successful sitcom, light material, darker plays, you name it. He writes, and he directs. He also loves a challenge and they don’t get much bigger than appearing centre stage playing a man who is regarded as a national treasure.
Reece is just about to open at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Untold Stories as Alan Bennett and admits it “has been a mountain to climb”. The first half of the play – a deeply autobiographical piece in which Bennett reflects on his early life – is a monologue with an accompaniment of a live string quartet. It is only in the second section that other actors are introduced.
“That always gives you the ‘ping-pong effect’,” says Reece. “There are others with whom you bounce the dialogue. Learning it all, well, let’s say that it is a massive piece for me, in which Alan talks about his love of music, and churches…..beautifully written, of course.”
Dinsdale was once a stalwart of the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and was in the very first show when the new Quarry Hill building opened – a revival of John O’Keeffe’s Wild Oats, in 1990. That was followed by Playboy of the Western World and then The Revenger’s Tragedy, and then there was a change to the artistic team, and it wasn’t until 2000 that Reece returned with Visiting Mr Green. Now he’s back again, joking that “14 years is quite a long time to wait for a return booking”.
Reece was due at the theatre later this year, but when the Playhouse’s new artistic director, James Brining, saw him at the National Theatre last year, he decided that he’d be ideal as Bennett. Interestingly, going back a few years, it was Bennett himself who saw the young Dinsdale in a production at the Royal Court and wrote a role for him in the film A Private Function.
“I shall never forget the first day that I went into the rehearsal room. I was surrounded by all sorts of big ‘names’ and familiar faces – Maggie Smith, Michael Palin, Denholm Elliott – and Alan came straight across, made a beeline to me, and he introduced me to all the stars. It was an extraordinarily generous gesture, and I was very grateful to him. He’d often turn up on the set, just to keep an eye on what was going on, and Jim Carter, who was playing the police inspector, christened him ‘Continuity Giggles’, because he was always gurgling with laughter.
“I don’t think that I’ve seen him again for the last 30 years and I’m wondering if he’ll come to see this production. I’d really rather not know if he actually was in the audience. That could be a bit disconcerting.”
‘MASSIVE PIECE’: Reece Dinsdale plays Alan Bennett in a new production of the playwright’s Untold Stories.