Anton Lesser has been on a quick walk around Oxford before our chat, revisiting old Endeavour haunts and seeing the sites “I just walked up that street where they tried to murder me once,” he laughs. “Do you remember?”
I do as it happens, Police Chief Superintendent Reginald Bright being set on by the mob in Series 6 of Endeavour when assigned to Traffic Division. READ OUR ENDEAVOUR INTERVIEW WITH HIM HERE “Although the Oxford Police Station scenes were filmed in Beaconsfield so I wasn’t here as much as people thought.”
The famous actor is now though – first in Endeavour of course, then in A Cold Supper Behind Harrods with David Jason at Oxford Playhouse during Covid, which was streamed online from an empty theatre.
“we’re hoping to deliver a really unforgettable experience”
Two Popes followed last year READ ABOUT IT HERE, and now he’s sitting in the Gladstone Room at Oxford Playhouse, his piercing blue eyes missing nothing as he discusses his latest project Red Sky at Sunrise: Laurie Lee in Words & Music alongside the up-and-coming young actor Charlie Hamblett.
“So we’re hoping to deliver a really unforgettable experience, because the music and writing are exceptional, and as actors you have to rise to meet that level of excellence. It’s been a big revelation to me because as a result it’s a very intimate production,” Anton explains.
It’s a Laurie Lee extravaganza – Lesser and Hamblett playing both narrator and a young and old version of the renowned author, accompanied by the fabulous Orchestra of The Swan.
Lee’s bestselling trilogy Cider with Rosie, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning and A Moment of War recounts the extraordinary story of when he famously walked out of the Cotswolds one midsummer morning and ended up fighting with the International Brigades against Franco’s forces in the Spanish Civil War.
What becomes immediately apparent however, is that having only performed Red Sky at Sunrise twice – latterly at a sold out RSC – while enormously enthralled, Lesser and Hamblett don’t know each other very well, which makes it all the more endearing.
“To recreate Laurie Lee’s world through words and music in real time with Anton, whom I hugely admire, has been so special because we have been able to create, react and run with the concept really quickly,” Charlie explains.
“I think for some actors this would be a nightmare, but there is also space in that freedom that we’ve both found really exhilarating.”
‘the music and the writing are exceptional, and as actors you have to rise to meet that level of excellence’
Charlie is from Stratford, so loved Red Sky’s rapturous reception on his home turf, but the duo are now touring the country with their one-night-only performances, minimal rehearsal time, while thoroughly enjoying the immediacy of the experience.
“Red Sky is so magical and unique,” Anton enthuses. “It has a really ephemeral live quality, and the audience is taken along on that journey and seem to find it really exciting.”
“I think for some actors it would be a nightmare, but there is also space in that freedom that we’ve both found really exhilarating”
“In fact When I first heard the music I was literally speechless,” Anton continues, “because David Le Page, the Director of Orchestra of The Swan, has such an awareness of the words, history and events being relayed, that it brings something really different to the table,” he adds.
“Which means that Red Sky sits somewhere between narration and performance which makes it even more magical – it’s a conversation between the orchestra and us which is very moving. “
Both actors are busy, both in demand, Anton with the likes of Game of Thrones, Wolf Hall, Killing Eve, Endeavour and even Star Wars, Charlie starring in Ghosts, The Burning Girls, Grantchester and The Secret Agent with Vicky McClure and Toby Jones).
Yet despite its challenging nature, both Anton and Charlie jumped at the chance to work together on Red Sky: “It’s really nerve-wracking and that gives you a huge buzz,” Anton explains – the liveness of it is so crucial because you have to make the text and music come to life. So we egg each other on throughout.”
“A lot of that spontaneity and space can get chipped away during filming,” Charlie adds, “but here you’re left to really embrace the performance. So you have to be on your toes the whole time, which makes things so much more acute. It’s a really fun project.”
RED SKY AT SUNRISE: Laurie Lee in Words & Music is at Oxford Playhouse on Sat 17 Feb. BOOK HERE