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Andrzej Lukowski: How Game of Thrones has been great for British theatre

Kit Harington in True West at Vaudeville Theatre. Photo: Marc Brenner
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I’ve never watched Game of Thrones. Not because I have any problem with topless dragon fighting and whatnot, it’s just there are so many episodes that by the time I really clocked it was a thing, it felt a bit late to catch up.

Nonetheless, this hasn’t stopped it becoming a fairly big part of my life over the last few years. That’s because its enormous success has become so intimately entwined with British theatre.

With its hordes of characters, default Brit accents and Northern Irish filming locations, GoT has been a huge employer of UK stage actors.

It first came on to my radar in 2013, when I interviewed Ciaran Hinds for The Night Alive, a Conor McPherson play at the Donmar. The veteran Irish actor played a chap called Mance Rayder for several seasons of the show, and my first serious encounter with GoT came from studiously boning up (thanks Wikipedia) in advance of our chat.

In fact, Hinds expressed a certain amount of bemusement at the show, but noted it was great that it was employing so many Irish actors.

He’s not the only established stage name to pass through its ranks. It is a thrill to note that the likes of Diana Rigg, Charles Dance, Aidan Gillen, Indira Varma, Jonathan Pryce and Michelle Fairley have been introduced to its vast global audience.

And many of the hitherto unknown leads have become famous. Kit Harington, the thespiest of the show’s younger stars, has used his newfound clout to bring large audiences to revivals of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and Sam Shepard’s True West.

In the past year, Maisie Williams – GoT’s Arya Stark – has appeared at Hampstead Theatre in I and You, Stephen Dillane was at the National Theatre and Ellie Kendrick (Meera Reed) made her playwrighting debut, Hole, which was staged at London’s Royal Court. Iwan Rheon, who played Ramsay Bolton, also took the lead in a West End play in last year’s Foxfinder. While Gwendoline Christie’s return to the stage next month as Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is hotly anticipated.

But the thing that’s really endeared GoT to me is how it’s touched the lives of far more obscure actors. It didn’t take long to realise that the sudden influx of press releases proclaiming the presence of a Game of Thrones ‘star’ in a fringe theatre show probably required a bit more digging into – as a rule most of them have been in a few episodes tops.

But how great to have that on your CV as a jobbing actor. How great is it that the playwright Luke Barnes was able to make a living – and get some space to write – by playing a member of the Night Watch for three seasons? And isn’t it wonderful that Jack Gleeson, the dude who played the psychotic Joffrey, has parlayed that into a globe-trotting fringe theatre show called Bears in Space, which I believe is literally about some bears in space?

There is not a huge amount of money in the acting profession and it is great that a GoT paycheck – plus CV appearance – has helped so many keep themselves afloat.

I am sure there are even fans of the show who will be somewhat relieved it’s over, with the last episode airing this Sunday, if only because it’s wearying people going on and on about it. But no doubt about it, Westeros has been good for UK theatre.

Andrzej Lukowski is theatre editor at Time Out London. Read more of his columns at thestage.co.uk/author/andrzej-lukowski/

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