Actor’s long association with playwright

Malcom Sinclair in rehearsals for Racing Demon opening at the Crucible on Feb 10 2011
Malcom Sinclair in rehearsals for Racing Demon opening at the Crucible on Feb 10 2011

IT is probably true to say that Malcolm Sinclair feels at home in Racing Demon, opening at the Crucible next week as part of Sheffield Theatres’ David Hare season.

He appeared in the original production at the National Theatre in 1993 of the play about a group of eccentric clergymen in a South London parish, although now he has been elevated to the central role of Lionel Espy, the jaded liberal clergyman who finds himself assailed by a young evangelical recruit on one side and the Bishop of Southwark on the other.

But that is not Sinclair’s only connection with David Hare. He was in the playwright’s most recent play, The Power of Yes, again at the National and was also directed by Hare in a production of Shaw’s Heartbreak House at the Almeida.

The Power of Yes was a documentary drama about the City’s sub-prime blunders and was different from anything the actor had done before. “It was a huge learning curve but good to do and very funny,” he reflects. He played Adair Turner, the chairman of the Financial Services Authority, who came to see the play.

“He asked to see me afterwards and said, ‘I don’t think I am as aggressive as I appear in this drama’. I told him that was the point, it was drama, but his wife wasn’t to be placated.”

Also helping him to feel at home is the fact that he is familiar with the theatre, last appearing in 1998 as Malvolio in a production of Twelfth Night directed by Michael Grandage.

His memories of the Crucible go back to the Seventies and a production of musical My Fair Lady and, even more memorably As You Like It, directed by Peter James, in which a young Alan Rickman played Jacques with Ruby Wax as Audrey and Sinclair as Orlando.

But back to Racing Demon. “I love the play,” he says, adding that it is a world he feels connected to as the brother of the current Bishop of Birmingham. Malcolm Sinclair could be considered an Establishment figure of a different kind, however, as the President of British Actors’ Equity.

“The play asks questions such as why the good always fight among themselves,” the actor continues, “and I think when he came to write about the church it was to ridicule it and use it as a metaphor for the country but like the priest he met in South London he came to have some respect for it, though you do see how ridiculous the Church of England is.”

The popularity of the BBC sitcom Rev, he says, shows that it is a world that still holds an interest for the public, even if it is no longer part of their own lives.

“Rev is the son of Racing Demon though the Tom Hollander character is probably a more liberal and decent man.”

Racing Demon, directed by Daniel Evans, is in the Crucible Main House from February 10 to March 5.