Thursday, 19 May 2022

Natural take on Coward pays dividends

MORE than 20 years after making his acting debut at the Mill at Sonning theatre, Tam Williams

MORE than 20 years after making his acting debut at the Mill at Sonning theatre, Tam Williams is back, but this time in the director’s chair.

Williams, the son of Upstairs, Downstairs star Simon and his first wife Belinda Carroll, was fresh out of drama school when he appeared in Double Cut at the theatre in 1993.

A career on stage and screen has blossomed since, including appearances with the Royal Shakespeare Company and an appearance alongside Daniel Craig in the latest Bond film, Spectre.

But as theatrical challenges go, Williams says his direction of Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit at the theatre in Sonning Eye has been up there with anything else he has done.

He said: “What we’ve tried to do in this production is make Noël Coward more accessible.

“When you think of Coward you picture someone with a cigarette in their mouth speaking in clipped English.

“We tried to make it as natural as possible, so that the comedy would come out of natural playing. Someone said it doesn’t feel like a Noël Coward play and I took that as a compliment.”

The theatre’s managing director Sally Hughes invited Williams to perform at the theatre after watching a performance of Dead of Night, which his troupe, Hotspur Theatre Company, wrote last year.

It was staged at the Mill in April 2015, although Williams did not perform on that occasion. He said: “It’s very nice to come back to the Mill after all these years to direct something. Sally has been brilliant, so encouraging and supportive.

“I’m learning my way as a director. I’ve been lucky as an actor to work with some fabulous directors.

“We have a great cast and I think that’s the best skill to have as a director — to get a good cast together — because then you are on your way to having a great play.”

The set was designed by Michael Holt to make the most of the arrangement at the Mill but Williams says playing to the audience at such a venue threw up its own problems.

He said: “The hardest part of performing at the Mill is having the audience all around you and how to present the effects without giving it away.

“Michael’s answered most of the problems, all I’ve had to do is stage it. We are really enjoying it but we are still working out what works best on stage. It’s a different space to most theatres.

“We play it slightly differently to how we would for a London audience, but that’s what makes theatre so compelling — you never have the same performance twice.”

The play stars Darrell Brockis as sceptical author Charles Condomine, Phillipa Peak as his wife Ruth, and Finty Williams as the mischievous ghost of his first wife, Elvira — who is unwittingly summoned by Charles’s dinner guest, the medium Madame Arcati, played by Elizabeth Power.

Williams also directs his mother and stepfather Michael Cochrane as Condomine’s friends Mrs and Dr Bradman.

He said: “I couldn’t have wished for anything better. I got to direct my mum and stepdad in the play, so it was a complete family affair.

“I read the roles and thought they would be perfect and it’s nice to be in a position to do that.

“It’s nice because the Mill is also where my dad has written as well as acted.

“He had some lovely success with the play Nobody’s Perfect which started at the Mill and ran around the world, including three or four years in Poland.”

In fact, Williams says the only downside to the job is the four-hour commute from his London home.

Blithe Spirit is playing until Saturday, November 19. For tickets call the box office on 0118 969 8000 or visit

More News:

POLL: Have your say