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The Green Room: If you could be an actor in any era, which would it be?

Summer Strallen and Tom Chambers in Top Hat at the Aldwych Theatre, London, in 2011. Photo: Tristram Kenton Tom Chambers and Summer Strallen in Top Hat in the West End in 2012. The dance musical sought to recreate the glamour of the 1935 film starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers – was this a great era to be a performer? Photo: Tristram Kenton

Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…​​​​​​

Gary Abblett is a 38-year-old jobbing actor with experience at the National, RSC, in the West End and on the road

Annie Walker is 25. Since graduating from drama school, she has worked in regional theatres and is also a writer and street performer

Jenny Talbot, 39, has nearly 20 years of experience in West End and touring musical theatre with occasional forays into TV, film and plays

Adam Lovett is a 45-year-old actor who has appeared in Oscar-winning film, BAFTA-winning TV, and at the RSC and National Theatre

John Pepper is 31 and for the past 10 years has worked as an actor in regional theatres, the National and in radio, television and film

Albert Parker is 60 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA-winning sitcoms, theatre and TV


Jenny The 1980s and 1990s – British musical heaven! A time when homegrown talent was writing huge, hit shows. It must have felt so satisfying.

John Right now. I’d like to be an actor right now. (Teasing.)

Annie The golden days of MGM: Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, Grace Kelly, Technicolor and big bands. When actors and actresses were amazing at performing in all respects and had true discipline.

Gary Today is best of all, surely. And hopefully tomorrow will be even better.

Annie The greatest entertainers are dying out, though, and I would love to keep that old Vaudeville style of comedy and song and dance and charm alive. Oh, Bruce!

Adam This one is easy for me. As a person of colour, there has never been a better time to be an actor.

Jenny That’s great, Adam.

Adam I don’t fancy trying to corner the market in 19th-century little Indian boy parts. It also kind of depends what type of actor you are.

John How brilliant would it have been to be in silent movies – to have been one of the first people to be working it all out?

Jon Adam, judging by the way casting worked then, you would have spent the entire 19th century playing Othello. (And if certain critics had their way, you’d be doing it in this century too, but that’s another topic…)

Adam Funnily enough, I’ve always had a hankering for being a 19th-century Victorian actor-manager – playing all the parts, running the theatre, directing everything (or bringing the whisky on a silver platter at 11pm to the white actor who has just played Othello).

Jon So Adam is Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Jenny is opening Cats and Les Mis, and John is Charlie Chaplin. Have I got that right?

John It’s impossible not to look back on the past without rose-tinted opera glasses.

Albert I’m tempted to say the 1940s/1950s. Fedoras, train calls, meeting colleagues at Crewe station on a Sunday and the chance to yell “stop that train” from the footbridge.

Gary The old days of rep, when everyone had sex with each other and chain-smoked and alcoholism was compulsory – that must have been pretty good too. I remember working with an actor on Saint Joan once and he said: “I remember the last time I was in this play – at Leatherhead Rep.” Extraordinary! In the 1970s they were doing Bernard Shaw there. Probably with two weeks’ rehearsal max, too.

Albert The camaraderie of weekly and fortnightly repertory and touring companies must have been amazing. I was lucky to experience something a little like it in the 1970s and 1980s, when repertories still existed.

Jenny As a woman, it’s a pretty exciting time right now. So much potential change after this whole Time’s Up and Equal Representation of Actresses’ 50/50 campaigns.

Adam Doesn’t everyone just wonder what it must have been like to be one of the King’s Men? Or Burbage’s company after that? Shakespeare brings in a new play, you get to do it for the first time – I mean, come on!

Jenny It would have been nice to be around during the Noel Coward/Ivor Novello era too. Except for the war – that, not so much.

John Jenny and Adam, you are bang on the money with both of those. Although in some respects I think the most exciting time might be in five, 10, 20 years’ time – if things keeps moving in the right direction.

Jenny Fingers crossed – if the funding doesn’t disappear entirely and we don’t end up living in a post-Trump horror movie…

John That would be a great movie.

Jon My dad worked with an octogenarian actor in the 1960s who remembered the time before agents and casting directors.

Jenny Ooh, what was that like?

Jon Apparently you’d just go to your club, look at the noticeboard, and if a theatre somewhere was doing one of ‘your’ plays, you’d get on the train. Only if you were a man.

John Bloody hell.

AdamLovely. “Hello, I’m here to play Othello…”

JennyA gentleman’s club, I presume, Jon?

Jon Yes, I’m afraid it only worked if you were a man. For women it was more a case of visiting a producer’s office, which has its echoes to this day, of course.

Jenny I love reading and learning about productions of yore and realising that nothing much has changed. I love the backstage and dressing-room scenes in Topsy-Turvy.

Jon I’m fascinated by long-lasting pieces of business, too. There’s a moment in Guys and Dolls where Nathan, Benny and Nicely are singing The Oldest Established and suddenly the whole ensemble comes in. When I did it, the choreographer asked us to turn to leave then swivel on our heels as we saw the chorus coming towards us. She said: “This has been in every production of this show there has ever been” and she was only half-joking.

Jenny It’s all fabulous.

Jon Nobody wants to be a Greek, then? Waiting for the new Euripides and getting your mask on?

John Meh.

Jenny Mmmm. Togas.

Jon I’m also going to put in a word for 1950s Broadway. Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Guys and Dolls (again), West Side Story.

John Oh yeah, of course.

Adam Very good shout. I’d grab that for sure.

Jenny Now I’m daydreaming about being in the original cast of a Sondheim.

Jon Have you seen Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened…? It’s a documentary about the original, failed production of Merrily We Roll Along. It’s amazing.

Jenny It is amazing and devastating. I wept like a baby.

Adam Ooh, I have to watch that.

Albert I think that starting a career now is one hell of an uphill task. I take my hat off to everybody who is graduating this year into an increasingly uncertain world where sustaining a career is the real problem.

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