Interview for Chichester Festival Theatre
You’ve performed at Chichester previously in The Handyman in 1996. What’s brought you back?
Hugh: The place and the play. I have a real soft spot for Chichester Festival Theatre – I’ve lived in the area most of my life and I’ve seen many productions over the years. I’d never read An Enemy of the People before Jonathan Church sent it to me and it absolutely leapt off the page. It feels incredibly contemporary, with its central theme of the whistleblower’s voice being drowned out by public opinion; one minute he’s a hero, the next a pariah. The project came my way just as I was saying goodbye to Downton Abbey, so the timing was perfect – a ‘no brainer’, as they say.
You play Dr Stockmann, the ‘whistleblower’ of the play. What attracted you to the role?
H: Dr Stockmann is a fascinating, flawed character. Initially inspiring, his single-mindedness and bristling energy become the very traits that bring about his downfall. He rubs people up the wrong way; he’s impetuous, self-righteous, and his rigid, tunnel vision of what is right ultimately drives him to the edge of sanity.
An Enemy of the People opens on 22 April. How are rehearsals going?
H: It’s twelve years since I’ve been on stage. You access a different part of your brain when working on a TV or film role because it’s such a fragmented process; you rarely shoot scenes in sequence and often find yourself clinging on to the shape of the narrative by your fingernails. So it’s great to be in a theatre rehearsal room again, engaging with the story over a sustained period, gradually uncovering the play’s themes and the characters’ relationships. We have a world class director in Howard Davies, a fabulous cast and creative team, all happily beavering away together to put on this passionate, exciting play.
An Enemy of the People runs from 22 April to 21 May in the Festival Theatre.
Read the other cast Q&As in the series.