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29 October 2014

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Theatre & Dance: Features

Chris Rankin rehearses the role of Loevborg
Chris Rankin rehearses as Loevborg

New direction for Potter's Percy Weasley

With three Harry Potter films and a BBC drama under his belt, Norfolk actor Chris Rankin returns to the stage as the director of a new theatre company and star of its first production, Ibsen's popular classic Hedda Gabler.

Chris Rankin had a whirlwind 2004. He finished filming on Harry Potter and The Prisoner Of Azkaban, worked on a BBC drama called The Rotters Club to be screened from 26 January on BBC2, starred as Percy The Henchman in panto and became the director of a new theatre production company.

While relatively unknown to UK audiences, the Painted Horse Theatre Company has been established since the mid 1990s in Ireland. Its founder and artistic director, Jim Rymer, joined forces with Chris to bring its work to a wider audience.

As well as taking on the role of director, 21-year-old Chris has the starring role of Loevborg in the company's first production, Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen's.

The play is a tragedy exploring the role of women in the 19th century. Hypocrisy and double moral standards are explored by dramatising the hidden conflicts in society by opening the doors to the private rooms of the bourgeois homes.

Chris Rankin, as Loevborg, shows what can be hiding behind beautiful facades, moral duplicity, confinement, betrayal and fraud.

Life as Loevborg

"I'm thrilled to be playing Loevborg. It gives me an opportunity to explore the depth and range of such an interesting and diverse character," said Chris.

"I'm loving Hedda Gabler. It's an amazing experience for me, as an actor, to work on a classic play like this. We've been spending a lot of time looking into the details of the characters and their backgrounds.

"We're very lucky to have a stunning cast, made up of professional actors from London and local talent from north Norfolk. The production is very new, very sexy and quite shocking in places. I certainly never expected this from my first reading of the text," he added.

Talent and education

Elizabeth Scott and Tony Nelson in Hedda Gabler
Actors Elizabeth Scott and Tony Nelson

Although Painted Horse is a professional company, it is committed to including local actors wherever possible, with a view to developing and nurturing that talent.

It will be encouraging and developing interest and understanding of theatre through workshops and after-show talks to schools and community groups - highlighting the various techniques and approaches used in the production.

"Rather than taking educational productions into schools, we bring the show to a theatre, as that's where it works best," said Rankin.

"My experience is that children don't get the opportunity to go to the theatre as much as they should. Most theatre in education companies travel to the schools, but we keep our productions strictly in the theatre and bring the children there - which is where theatre needs to be.

"After the show, we then run workshops with the children and as far as I know are the only company which does so within the price of the ticket," he added.

A challenge

Taking on the role of director is a first for Chris and a challenge that he relishes.

"In November 2004, we held open auditions to form a full-time company of actors for the Painted Horse Theatre Company," he said.

"People came from all over the UK to The Garage in Norwich for the auditions and we had enquiries from across Europe. We've been very lucky to cast an international company, including actors from Israel and Barbados!

"I'm learning very fast about how a to run a company and do all the complicated things like trying to get hold of the set, designing the programmes, looking after the cast and making sure everyone's happy," he added.

Hedda Gabler can be seen at The Playhouse in Norwich on 21-22 January and at The Seagull Theatre in Lowestoft on 4-5 February. For tickets to the Norwich performance call 01603 598598.

The company's next production is Oscar Wilde's masterpiece Salome, which opens at Sheringham Little Theatre in March 2005 followed by a tour of East Anglia until May. More details from the box office on 01263 822347.

last updated: 19/01/05
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