Max Hutchinson talks about humour, horror and tragedy in THE WOMAN IN BLACK

Hello and thank you for taking time out to talk to us today at West End Wilma.
Thank YOU very much!

What have been some of your highlights in your career so far?
I think I’m very fortunate that I’ve enjoyed all of my jobs so far! I’ve not had any shockers – I know others who have! I recently shot a scene on a film that’s coming out in April called ‘Dream Horse’, which I’m really excited to see, as it’s an amazing story. My scene was opposite Toni Collette who I just think is incredible, so that was a real highlight! I also did a bit of work on the National Theatre’s 50th Anniversary Gala performance a few years ago and being in the room with all those actors I admired was amazing. I got to rehearse with Alan Bennett and all the original History Boys. I’m really enjoying this job too mainly because everyone is so nice and also because it’s a part I’ve wanted to play since I was about fifteen!

What is your current show about and what attracted you to the part you are playing?
The show I’m doing at the moment is ‘The Woman In Black’ at the Fortune Theatre. It’s a ghost story about a solicitor called Arthur Kipps who has endured a haunting and tragic experience in his youth but now the time has come for him to tell his family about his ordeal. He has written it all down and comes to an actor for some public speaking lessons. The actor manages to persuade him to turn it into something more like a performance for his family and so these two people tell his story, with the actor playing the younger version of Kipps and Kipps himself playing all the other characters. Like I say, I saw this play fifteen years ago and I remember thinking “I’d like to play that part”. I think I’m attracted to the fact that the audience is encouraged to use their imagination a lot – we only use a few props and costumes to suggest locations and characters. I’m attracted to the direct address we have with the audience (even thought the conceit is that we are rehearsing in an empty theatre) and I really enjoy the variety – there are lighter parts, jumpy bits and tragic moments. It’s also about a growing friendship and trust between the two characters and I really like that my character’s main motivation is to help Arthur Kipps.

What West End show would you like to see make a comeback and why?
This is really hard. I absolutely loved ‘Caroline, or Change’, which I saw at the Playhouse. I thought everything about that show was fantastic – especially Sharon D. Clarke’s performance. So I’d love to see that again. Or ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ – the Menier production that transferred to the Harold Pinter a few years ago. I didn’t train in musical theatre but I love musicals! I get very jealous watching them! I’d also bring back ‘The Jungle’ because I missed it.

If I asked your friends to describe you in three words, what would they be?
Now, I slightly cheated on this one because I put this question in a WhatsApp group of old drama-school mates, expecting the inevitable torrent of unprintable abuse or things like “Very Impressive Nose” or “Big Bird’s Doppelganger”, but I was quite taken aback that they actually said some nice stuff. My mate Dave said “Kind, Funny and Hard-Working” – which was nice of him. He must have been drunk.

What has been the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
I haven’t had anything that embarrassing happen to me really. Although my trousers did split down the backside fifteen minutes from the end of the show the other day. I spent a quarter of an hour looking very shifty while trying not to turn my back to the audience.

I was on stage when something rather amazing happened to someone else about seven years ago. An actress I was on stage with started covering her mouth during a scene – which was a new choice. When we got offstage she explained that two of her teeth had fallen out (they were veneers). Incredibly, someone else in the cast found the teeth who also happened to be the son of a dentist and had a couple of veneers himself. Said member of the cast then ran out to his car, got his home dentistry kit (which he had for such emergencies), and then stuck our cast mate’s teeth back in for her, all in the fifteen minute gap she had offstage before she was on again. With hindsight it’s amusing; at the time there was panic.

Oh – it wasn’t an embarrassing experience on stage but I did manage to bump Dame Maggie Smith on the head with a tray while playing a footman in the Downton Abbey film. I was mortified about that.

What are your thoughts on theatre etiquette? What things annoy you when you are performing or when you are in the audience?
I suppose my theatre etiquette gripes are the usual ones…anything that detracts from what’s going on onstage: phones, conversations, sweet wrappers etc.

We are living in a time where films are often being turned into stage plays and musicals. If you had to choose one, what film would you like to see adapted to the stage?
This is tough. I’d love to see a musical adaptation of Pixar’s ‘Up’?! Or what about a David Nichols book (but also a film) – ‘One Day’ maybe?!

If you could be the opposite sex for the day, what theatre role would you love to have a go at playing?
Probably Martha in ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Or Beatrice in ‘Much Ado’. I watched the film of ‘Mary Poppins’ weekly at my Grandma’s house as a child so I’d love to play Mary Poppins too! I’m not very good at giving one answer am I!?

If you won the lottery and could stage one theatre show of your choice, what would you choose and who would be your dream cast?
One of my favourite stories is ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. Tom Hanks would make a pretty awesome Atticus I reckon, with Sally Cookson directing.

Why do you think people should come and see your show?
I think people should come and see ‘The Woman In Black’ because it’s got a bit of everything – some humour, some horror, some tragedy. It’s an opportunity to really use your imagination. We hope it’s a very effective ghost story, of course, but it’s also about friendship and how we all use storytelling as a coping mechanism.

REVIEW: THE WOMAN IN BLACK (Fortune Theatre) ★★★★★

Photo: Tristram Kenton