Spotlight On… David Robb

He’s best known, these days for playing Dr Clarkson in the hugely popular Downton Abbey, but actor David Robb has had a varied career to date including theatre acting galore! David is currently appearing on stage in Alan Bennett’s Single Spies and I had a chat with him to find out what his memories of Downton Abbey are as well as his opinion on the play he’s currently starring in.

How are you enjoying your roles in Single Spies and have you performed any Alan Bennett material, before?

I’ve never done any Alan Bennett, before, this is my first time. I’ve found it enjoyable on a certain level, although he writes slightly waspishly. The duality of the piece has certainly been picked up on by the audience. I do feel that Bennett lets the Cambridge Spies off lightly.

It’s an intense evening when I kick off in the second act, during rehearsals I had been talking for such a length of time that I had to have a glug of water. I said, “I’ll have to have a drink of water at some point” and that was worked in.

Are there any roles in theatre that you have an ambition to play or any particular theatres that you’d like to tick off your list?

Not particularly, when one gets to my age you’re grateful to be in work.

I worked at The Old Vic years ago and that was special, on stage where Olivier performed. Otherwise the venue to me is just a space one performs in.

You were excellent as Dr. Clarkson in Downton Abbey, what are your favourite memories from the show and do you think it was the right time for the series to finish?

It was possibly the right time to finish the series, although there is a conflict between the UK and the USA, whereas the USA feel bereft about the decision to end it. Of course, it couldn’t have carried on with Dame Maggie Smith, she would have been 112 years old and it was becoming hard to retain people. Nobody could have foreseen the massive success that the show has become, hopefully people will carry on buying the box sets!

It didn’t matter who one was doing a scene with, everyone got on, that is unusual in a large cast. Part of the show’s appeal is that Julian Fellowes has gone back to the Hill Street Blues days, where you have a massive cast and kill someone off unexpectedly every now and then.

What led you to become an actor and were you influenced by anybody?

I was at school in Edinburgh in the 60’s, it was an extraordinary time, in the course of a couple of years jet travel came in and there was pop music. Anything was possible and careers that seemed exotic were possible. I was roped into doing school plays, realised I was good at it and at the age of 16 I thought I could do it as a career.

What’s your preferred medium between screen and stage acting?

I’m classically trained so I find that the discipline of theatre acting keeps one grounded, but I prefer to be in front of the camera. I like having done a scene and then being able to move on. For me, there comes a point in theatre when you feel you’re repeating yourself.

What’s next for you after Single Spies?

I don’t know yet, but there is a possibility of a bunch of the Downton Abbey cast (depending on who’s around) going over to America for a few weeks. It will be a show that goes on tour with Question and Answer sessions. It appeals to me to go back and see more of America and ‘bob around’.


I’d like to thank David for his time, it was a pleasure to interview him!








Single Spies ~ Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Alan Bennett is a playwright that most are familiar with, if not for his plays then certainly for his films (which started as stage productions), History Boys and Lady in the Van. From my personal point of view, he never fails to astound with the topics he chooses to pursue and this particular piece pushes the boundaries, further.

There are two individual spy stories relayed, each one covering a myriad of emotions, heart-breaking with cringe-worthy moments which combine to create the humour. Bennett is an honest story teller who excels in finding the sublime in the ridiculous. An Englishman Abroad (previously a television move) has Guy Burgess as the central character, played by Nicholas Farrell who connected with the character on many levels. Burgess was a British radio producer who died in 1963, he was a member of the Cambridge Spy Ring that passed secrets to and from the Soviets before and during the Cold War.

Belinda Lang plays Coral Browne who was an Australia-American actress and who met Burgess in 1958. Lang plays her with a great deal of humour, grace and intelligence. The chemistry between Lang and Farrell is notable and the set embodies the piece, too.

A Question of Attribution which was also a television movie follows Sir Anthony Blunt who was an art historian but also a member of the Cambridge Five. David Robb plays Sir Anthony, his performance is witty and yet incredibly moving. Blunt is under scrutiny from Chubb (Farrell) and the dialogue moves backwards and forwards between them seamlessly. However, once Her Majesty the Queen joins the equation while Sir Anthony is at Buckingham Palace on a painting swapping exercise, there is a shift in the story. Lang’s portrayal of Her Majesty The Queen rivals that of Dame Helen Mirren’s. The interaction from there became more engaging due to the introduction of such a well known figure. The set for this particular piece was glorious, as one would imagine, the length and depth of the stage at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre lends itself to the grandeur Buckingham Palace.

This is Bennett at his best, observational, whimsical and deeply moving. It’s brilliantly cast and I am including the supporting cast in that. Single Spies stays at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre until Saturday 27th February and with a full house on the evening that I was fortunate enough to be present, this could be a sell out!

Visit for more information and to book tickets.

Photograph credits: Alastair Muir

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