Time out: John’s in the Nick of time

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Midsomer sidekick is solo again

AS a former detective in TV’s deadliest series, actor John Hopkins faced plenty of warring couples.

JOHN NETTLES (DCI Barnaby) and JOHN HOPKINS (DS Scott)

JOHN NETTLES (DCI Barnaby) and JOHN HOPKINS (DS Scott)

From today until April 7 the one-time Yorkshire student and former Midsomer Murders star has to deal with a battling husband and wife determined to drag him into their emotional tornado in Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? at the Crucible

John reveals Edward Albee’s American classic was a catalyst for his acting career. “I had a really enlightened A-level English teacher. He had us study it when we were 17, which was an extraordinary time to read it.

“We watched the film and compared and contrasted, saw what wasn’t allowed in the film that was allowed on the page.

“It was a stagepost in me deciding to be an actor, realising the power of words, how dangerous they are and how frightening and cruel they can be.”

John plays biology boffin Nick in the new production of a story made famous by the Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor film. Along with his wife (Lorna Beckett), he witnesses the relationship of George (Jasper Britton) and Martha (Sian Thomas) unfold in extraordinary style.

The latest ex-Midsomer veteran– alongside John Nettles (in Hamlet) and Jane Wymark (Racing Demon) – to appear at the Crucible, John has also appeared in TV hits Merlin and Trial & Retribution.

He did two series as DS Scott.

“I was a kind of George Lazenby of Midsomer sidekicks – hit and run,” he quips.

“The first sidekick wanted to leave so I had to step in which is a tricky thing to do. I’d come from doing a lot of Shakespeare, so there was pressure on me.

“It was my first big TV job, I was already nervous and there was a clear sense of ‘Don’t mess this up’.

“It wasn’t the most relaxed experience. It was like a learning wall, not even a learning curve, and I just ran into it.

“It was great fun, incredibly lucrative, but I had to remind myself after a year I didn’t become an actor to make a huge amount of money.

“I came in to tell stories I was excited about so after two years of standing near John, getting things wrong so he could get them right, I was hungry.”

In between series John did a very low budget sci-fi film called Experiment while other theatre credits include The 39 Steps, Anthony & Cleopatra, The Tempest and The Country Wife. He also appeared in Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland film.

John has seen Crucible shows and has been in a fringe theatre piece in the Studio with a Leeds university pal but says Woolf is a dream ticket: “This was on my wish-list of plays to be in and this was on the wish-list of places to work.”

John’s character is an academic “basically being beaten up verbally”, while also looking out for his brandy-loving wife.

“Nick can be quite a punchbag and I don’t normally play characters like that,” says the actor.

“Physically he’s a sturdy lad but he gets beaten around a lot. He doesn’t know how to fight. The rules of the game aren’t rules he’s familiar with.

“Nick’s very adaptable as a character and ambitious. He tends to be all things to all men, but these people just keep shifting their ground. In the end he tries to resort to violence or physical threats because he has nothing else in his armoury.

“If you were a scientist surrounded by liberal arts people dismissing what you do for a living it would be enraging.”

Set in the early 1960s, Woolf has wider social connotations, represented by George and Martha’s shortcomings.

“There seems to be a spotlight shining on the discontent at the heart of the American dream, the American marriage.

“There’s that sense of ‘We won the war, we won the peace’ and yet 15 years on things aren’t as cosy as they should be.

“It’s a comedy as well, this play. I didn’t really get that watching the film – perhaps because of the lack of an audience.

“An audience will often decide what a show is and we’re finding a lot of laughs in it.

“It’s laughter in the dark because these people are skilled at punching each other with comedy, with every weapon; sexual cruelty, a huge amount of irony and sarcasm.

“George and Martha are existing conversationally on five levels at once which my character is desperately trying to keep up with.”