People and Personalities
Loving life in small-town Berko
Berkhamsted resident and actor Joseph Millson talks about his latest play and why he loves the small country town!
Until 17 October 2009
Box Office number: 020 7359 4404
The theatre is near Highbury and Islington Station, with a good service from Hertford and Welwyn on First Capital Connect.
Actor Joseph Millson is a resident of Berkhamsted who’s taken to life in a small country town like a duck to water since he moved there from London six years ago.
“What’s not to love about Berkhamsted” he enthuses, as we sit in his dressing room in the bowels of the Almeida Theatre in distinctly urban Islington.
“We stuck our fingers on a map, equidistant between grandparents, when we wanted to leave London five or six years ago. We didn’t really know much about it and one drive through that High Street and we were in love,” he explains.
“We thought we’d never be able to afford a house, we eventually found one and we’ve been as happy as Larry there.”
You may have seen him as Dr Sam Morgan in TV’s Peak Practice or in EastEnders as Jason James, ex fiancé of Lynne Slater. He’s currently on stage at the Almeida Theatre in Judgement Day, a play set in a small town where the wagging tongues of gossips can make or break you - happily it bears little resemblance to Berko!
Joseph plays the central role of Thomas Hudetz, a small-town station master who, in a moment of distraction causes a train crash in which 18 people die. At first it looks as though he has been exonerated, but the play asks ‘just how long can he carry on as usual?’, so it explores issues of guilt and responsibility.
Joseph in Judgement Day (Keith Pattison)
Joseph says “Thomas’s motto has always been following his orders and doing his duty.” He goes on to explain that its writer, Ödön von Horváth, wrote it in pre-war Germany, when the Nazis were just coming to power.
“And yet it feels as though it’s a play about the German people during the War and how they were able to say ‘no, we’re following orders and doing our duty. Nothing bad has happened, I’m doing nothing wrong – I’m not complicit with evil’ And yet it was written before it was all going on. I find it amazing.”
It’s a far cry from his recent role in the National Theatre’s revival of Tom Stoppard’s Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. Joseph played a dissident in Soviet Russia prepared to go on hunger strike for his ideals. Not only did he shave his head but he felt he had to lose a significant amount of weight to play the role.
“I lost nigh on three stone. I didn’t mean to. It’s very hard to aim at a couple of stone” he explains.
“It’s the press night and you go ‘Done it! Great!’ and then you go ‘Oh, I’ve got ten more weeks …how do I keep just this weight? And of course keeping up a similar regime it just kept coming off!”
He’s looking quite his old self now, and his mop of brown curly hair has grown back nicely too, so you can see why he was cast as Lord Byron in The Romantics - and why Beatrice would have gone for his Benedick in the RSC production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing in which he starred with Tamsin Greig, “I more or less put it all back on with a pizza and ice cream diet!” he laughs. Joseph keeps himself fit by taking his fold up bike on the train from Herts to Euston and then cycling to work at the theatre.
Joseph’s wife is singer and actress Caroline Fitzgerald. She makes a great contribution to local life by running the school choir at St Mary’s Primary School, where the couple’s two children are pupils. So it was Caroline who had to put Joseph right as they sat in the Berkhamsted café called Berko’s Kitchen.
“I said to my missus, ‘I wonder which one of them is called Berko serving in this café…?’ She went ‘you idiot – that’s Berkhamsted – it’s Berko!’” At least she stopped short of calling him a berk!
Recently I spoke to another contented resident of Berko, actor Adrian Scarborough, who plays Pete in the hit TV show Gavin and Stacey. He and Joseph are not just neighbours but great mates.
Joseph in EastEnders
“We have a two-man ale-drinking team. We get together whenever we can and sup ale, or go the Rex (Berko’s wonderful art deco cinema) occasionally”.
I ask him which is his local. “The Rising Sun’s lovely, on the canal” he says appreciatively “and The Lamb is probably where I drink most”. I ask if, like Adrian, he has an allotment. “I haven’t because I’ve got a garden with enough space for our veg – we grow a lot of veg."
Like Adrian Scarborough, Joseph is an actor who is always in demand.
“Last summer I was doing an opera, a horror film and a sitcom all at once” he reveals.
“I was in west Wales, Uxbridge and Glyndebourne. I had to get a man and a car on the cheap to drive me in between!”
The horror film has a working title Devil’s Bridge and Joseph reckons it’s turned out as a bit of a comedy,
“It’s all about three Essex lads being murdered by a mad Welshman” he continues.
“The sitcom is by the people who made Green Wing. It’s called Campus. It’s set in a red brick university and my character’s a chain-smoking lech!”
We’ll see Joseph on our screens this month, October, when Channel 4 shows the pilot. Meanwhile you can see him on stage at the Almeida in Judgement Day – and then at the Royal Court Theatre in a new comedy called The Priory by Michael Wynne.
But at the end of his busy working day there’s nothing he likes better than arriving back in Berko.
“I shall be just a little poetic for once” he says dreamily. “When I get home (after the theatre) the stars are out and I remember why I moved out of London…I’d rather be there than anywhere else.”
last updated: 06/10/2009 at 15:10