IF you want to know what it is like to be enthusiastic about a career give actor James Clifford a call.
IF you want to know what it is like to be enthusiastic about a career give actor James Clifford a call. His love of the theatre is all-consuming, totally infectious and utterly overwhelming.
He hasn’t even started on rehearsals for his role as Aladdin in this year’s pantomime at the Kenton Theatre but already his brain is working on the script, trying to see places where he can make a joke work better or see a way to improvise.
At the age of 26 he has been in the business a relatively short time but he bubbles like a teenager about to step on the stage for the first time.
A degree course in journalism in Cumbria was the plan, but then the head of the performing arts department at the university saw James in Little Shop Of Horrors and journalism was jettisoned for an arts degree.
Acting had always been something he wanted to do and since university he has thrown himself into making one of the toughest careers work. It means the occasional stint — as short as possible — in an office as bills have to be paid.
“It is a profession full of insecurity, you don’t know where the next cheque is coming from but it is all I want to do,” says James, who was born in Spain where his mother was working.
But for the rest James pitches himself into acting mainly with the Immersion Theatre company that he set up three years ago.
They have a provincial tour of A Midsummer Night’s Dream lined up for next year (no prizes for guessing that James is playing the naughty fairy, Puck) and after a week’s try-out at the Brockley Jack theatre in south London the first stop will be a venue he has come to love — Henley’s own Kenton Theatre.
“I honestly don’t mean to sound cheesy but I love the theatre,” he says. “I love the town and the sense of community you get, especially with the pantomime. We are just getting so excited about it.”
James was a hit in last year’s Cinderella when he played Buttons opposite his then girlfriend, Rochelle Parry. She is back again at the Kenton this year as the Genie but they are no longer a couple although they are both deeply committed to the Immersion Theatre.
“We have a deep friendship and love working together,” says James, who says one of the main attractions of the Kenton pantomime is that it is traditional.
“I love the fact that there are no names in it, just people who are very good for their roles. We want to give a proper theatrical experience.
“We are doing it for the love of it on modest salaries but I am not in the business to get rich, I just love acting. I would come back to the Kenton rather than a better paid job. I can think of nothing else that would come close to satisfying me than acting.”
His CV is impressive and reflects his love of classic and tradional plays. Among his credits are roles in Titus Andronicus, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Importance Of Being Earnest, Measure For Measure, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and Wuthering Heights.
The panto cast get together on December 2 for rehearsals and James says: “I just can’t wait. It is a real test of your improvisation skills, they are never sharper than when you are in rehearsals. We all interact so you can’t have a set script. Pantomime is a totally different genre, for a start the audience is different. I love the improvisation and am looking forward to the rehearsals where Heather (Simpkin, the director) gives us a lot of a freedom and we can try and work out whether a joke will work or fall flat on its face.”
When we spoke James had spent four hours stuck in traffic returning from a schools’ workshop as part of an anti-bullying campaign. Given that he set off at 6am he could be forgiven for being less than happy with the day. Not a bit of it.
“It was brilliant. The reaction from the kids was wonderful,” he says. “We are not just preaching at them, they get totally involved.”
You get the picture now — James Clifford, one lucky guy just doing what he loves.
* Aladdin runs at the Kenton Theatre from December 19 to 28. To book tickets go to www.kentontheatre.co.uk, call (01491) 575698 or visit the box office, which is open Monday to Friday, 11am to 3pm, and Saturday 10am to 1pm.