Spotlight On… Actor, Director and Producer, Nigel Harman

Nigel Harman has become a familiar name and face following his popular appearance in EastEnders as Dennis, the Son of Dirty Den. Since then he has gone on to appear on stage and screen as well as turn his hand to Directing and Producing. He has just finished a short run at Birmingham Repertory Theatre in What’s In A Name and Break A Leg caught up with him to chat about the play, his varied career and what his next ventures are going to be.

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Nigel as Vincent in What’s In A Name

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, Nigel, tell me about What’s In A Name and what you think the strengths of the production are.

It’s basically a play about a family getting together and sharing a few too many home truths. We’ve all been at that dinner party where a little bit too much wine is consumed and that thing that you shouldn’t say, you end up saying and it leads to a whole myriad of discoveries. The strengths of it are that is incredibly funny in places, I think most people come along and recognise the characters, they feel like they know them and that they have a friend like them. I also think that the structure of the play is brilliant, so we’re always climbing up a mountain until we reach the end and get to the top.

What sort of audience reaction have you had to the piece?

Really warm, the Birmingham experience has been brilliant. From the moment we started it wasn’t a case of the audience sitting back and judging whether this is funny, they have come to enjoy themselves. Some nights people in the audience are laughing so much that they lose it and we have to wait before we continue. The whole experience at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre itself including the audience themselves has been a warm and supportive experience.

What challenges present themselves when playing a central character like Vincent?

He never leaves the stage, so when you’re on you’re on and you’ve got nowhere to hide if it’s all going wrong.  All of the actors at some point drive the play but Vincent does a lot of driving. You just have a good time and put all that aside once you’re out there. I set the scene for the audience which is quite nerve-wracking if I’m honest. All five of us have responsibility in the play so it doesn’t make it feel like I’m on my own.

Moving to your television career, what are your highlights from your days in EastEnders?

I remember when Les Grantham came back and we did a week of special episodes, there was me, Les, Letitia Dean and Scarlett Johnson who played my sister, that was a highlight because it was an important piece of story telling at the time. I’m proud of the reaction that the show got and my character got at the time, too. Although when I won spectacle wearer of the year and I pointed out that I had never worn spectacles I started to think that things were a little bit weird. It was a mad and crazy time, nothing has come close to that kind of intensity, because you’re there all the time and you’re on the telly all the time. It’s nice that the character is respected and loved, it makes walking down the street a lot easier!

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Nigel as Mr Green in Downton Abbey, not such a loved character as Dennis in EastEnders!

Will there be any more series of Mount Pleasant in the future and was it as much fun to film as it looked?

We are doing a ninety minute special and then I think that will be it. I will be going off to film in two weeks’ time. I think we’re just doing a farewell. Is it as fun as it looks? Yes! hat’s because we all get on so well, we have a laugh and the scripts are really tight. The filming days are really long but we still find time to enjoy ourselves! It works as a show because we all respect and laugh with each other all the time, so when the cameras roll we just carry on doing that.

You’ve turned your hand to directing theatre productions, how does that compare to performing?

It’s a lot less stressful, you make the structure, you make the foundations and you make them as slick and tight as possible but ultimately you then hand over to your actors and say it’s over to you now. I love it, I love being part of the whole process, sometimes with acting I really want to be involved in the conversations that have nothing to do with me. Being a Director is brilliant in that you can shape something from the ground up and have your own vision, work with designers, lighting designers and sound teams to create a piece of work, I find it fascinating, very rewarding and it engages me in a level of conversation I don’t really get from acting. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about acting again as I have been doing more directing than acting the last year or two and I’ve enjoyed acting. I forgot what it was like to stand there before the first preview and think “why am I doing this?”.

What’s next for you after this play finishes?  

Well there will be the special one-off episode of Mount Pleasant which will be ninety minutes long. I might be directing a musical in London in the summer. I know for sure that we will be touring with Shrek again which opens in Edinburgh in the second week of December, it will be on national tour for a year. Taking that show out to people’s home towns is brilliant and when we did it a couple of years ago it went massive. It was so much a part of the local community in every place we visited – I loved it.

Thanks to Nigel for talking to Garry McWilliams (in the absence of Helen!) – we wish him every success with everything that’s coming up in the future. If What’s In A Name has another run, we highly recommend it.  

Photo Credits: Broadway World, ITV, Birmingham Repertory Theatre

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What’s In A Name ~ Birmingham Repertory Theatre

What’s In A Name runs at Birmingham Repertory Theatre until Saturday 11 February 2017. To book tickets, follow this link: http://www.birmigham-rep.co.uk

Star rating: *****

I liken this piece, written by Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre De La Patelliere, to the work of Yasmina Reza. Exploring dysfunctional family settings, breaking down each character until they’re each stripped bare and vulnerable and it’s hard to imagine how they will work through the fall-out. There’s also the French origin in common, of course and I see the similarities with God of Carnage (by Reza).

What’s In A Name has been adapted and directed by Jeremy Sams, this play was a belly laugh inducing raucous ride with foul language that added impetus to the heated debates that ensued and a cast who demonstrated an acting master class de force. It’s a ninety minute comedy drama which twists, turns and even shocks at times. The fact that there is no interval also works in its favour, none of the impact or momentum is lost and the roller coaster ride that the audience collectively embark upon is hair raising for all the right reasons.

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Sarah Hadland plays Elizabeth

Elizabeth and Peter have planned a dinner party to which they have invited Elizabeth’s brother, Vincent, his partner, Anna and friend of the family, Carl. Vincent and Anna are expecting a baby and having had their recent scan, Vincent is itching to tell the gathering about the name they’ve picked for their Son. He is slightly disappointed at the reaction to the decision to call the boy Adolphe, especially given the names of his niece and nephew, Gooseberry and Apollinaire! However, as we discover that Vincent is fond of a wind-up, intentions become clear. There are bigger surprises to come than an unborn child being named after a mass murdering dictator, too.

Nigel Harman plays Vincent, he’s a spoiled little brother who takes on the role of the narrator before the dinner party that he has been invited to at his sister’s house, gets going. His sister, Elizabeth is played by Sarah Hadland and they are a remarkably believable brother and sister pairing. They exchanged banter and unpleasantries at a heady pace and were perfectly cast as the neurotic sister and smug, joker of a brother. Jamie Glover packed a punch as Elizabeth’s husband, Peter. He was assertive, over-bearing at times and the chemistry he shared with Hadland made them a spikey and very typical married couple which I’m sure many members of the audience could identify with! Raymond Coulthard was fairly benign to begin with as life-long friend and second trombone player, Carl. He is portrayed as gay or certainly comes across that way, which paves the way for revelations later on. Olivia Poulet is a haughty and self-assured Anna, it is obvious that she despairs of her partner, Vincent and although she is pregnant, she already has a child to look after in many respects!

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Raymond Coulthard plays Carl, with Sarah Hadland as Elizabeth

What’s In A Name resembles a snapshot into every day family life. The witty, observational script combined with a cast who are all at the top of their game ensures that this production wouldn’t look out of place in the West End.

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