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Life, death, sex and rebirth all tackled in new Hampstead Theatre production

PUBLISHED: 15:17 11 July 2007 | UPDATED: 14:35 07 September 2010

Tom Georgeson

Tom Georgeson

TV star is sympathetic to even the most depraved of characters, finds Bridget Galton TOM Georgeson believes in researching his acting roles. When playing a serial killer in Bryony Lavery s Frozen, the 65-year-old visited a paedophiles treatment centre.

TV star is sympathetic to even the most depraved of characters, finds Bridget Galton

TOM Georgeson believes in researching his acting roles. When playing a serial killer in Bryony Lavery's Frozen, the 65-year-old visited a paedophiles' treatment centre.

For his latest role at Hampstead Theatre, he spent time with Camden Town funeral director's Leverton & Sons.

"I met a lovely undertaker who had taken care of the Queen Mum and Lady Di," he says.

"It was fascinating talking to these people who have a knack for helping people to mourn and bury their dead with dignity.

"He told me, 'When I am dressing and laying out a corpse I talk to them.'

"He gave me his card and I was very grateful. I have given it to my wife. I want him to bury me."

Georgeson's character in Nell Leyshon's Glass Eels is not only an undertaker but a fisherman.

The actor visited a fishmonger, but his attempt to extinguish a live eel revealed how hard it would be to reproduce on stage.

"It could have been traumatic. He hit it on the head six times but the poor bugger didn't die. Then he hit it with a mallet and it was flopping all over the place. It was very visceral.

"After that we skinned it and he chopped it up for me. I took it home and ate it. It had a lovely, fine taste."

Georgeson plays the grandfather of a 15-year-old experiencing her sexual awakening in rural Somerset.

Leyshon's coming-of-age tale is about "death, life, sex rebirth - all the big stuff," he says.

The writer has already won plaudits for her previous play at Hampstead Theatre, Comfort Me With Apples. Like Glass Eels, it engaged a stark lyricism to evoke a vanishing rural way of life.

Georgeson says the dialogue teems with symbolism about sex and fertility - presenting a challenge for actors.

"Nell would say it's not poetic or lyrical but that the dialogue is based in reality," Georgeson explains.

"She hears her dialogue almost like music when she writes - but it needs to be grounded by the actors. It needs to be made realistic."

Georgeson decided to become an actor after playing Laertes in a school production of Hamlet.

Over "a fag and a lemonade behind the science block", he and the leading man made a pact to tread the boards.

"Once on stage, I thought, 'This will do me.' I discovered I had a voice. I probably liked showing off."

Acting in his native Liverpool in the early 70s, he worked with Alun Armstrong, Bernard Hill, Jonathan Pryce and David Bradley. "We were having a wonderful time and doing fantastic stuff".

One play was by fellow Liverpudlian Alan Bleasdale whose TV work Boys From The Blackstuff and GBH he went on to appear in.

Since being cast in1990s cop series Between The Lines, much of Georgeson's work has been on screen - most recently as Clamb in the acclaimed adaptation of Dickens' Bleak House.

But Georgeson insists he wants to work, quietly, in all arenas. "There are other actors the same as me. We are not stars. We don't want to be stars.

"I don't want to test myself against whoever played Hamlet last. I don't want to be the next Olivier. As far as I am concerned I am a storyteller - a servant to the writers. A tool to be used."

However Georgeson, who semi-jokes that "all actors are endemically lazy", is choosy about his stage work.

"I am a bit lazy and theatre work is very hard. That's the biggest decision I have to make - 'Do I want to work hard?' Sometimes I have to kick my arse and say, 'Get out there and do it.'

"In this instance I forced myself to say yes because I thought this play was worth it.

"I like new voices, new writing, where you are creating the role from the page. I revere writers. They are the well - the fountain of theatre."

Lavery's Frozen was one such script, bravely evoking the humanity of a serial killer while unflinchingly detailing the effect his crimes had on one distraught mother.

Georgeson's paedophile Ralph was both chilling and hauntingly forlorn.

"There is a stupidity to our terrible preoccupation with paedophiles.

"When I was doing the research, I went to a therapy centre for people convicted of paedophilia.

"The people who lived round about demanded it be shut down. Yet while they were on therapy not one of them reoffended. And when therapy ended, they did reoffend. I had great sympathy for these men.

"They are as human as I am. Their sexual urges are the same as mine except that something has clicked and they relate to children. You have to remember that about all your characters. They are human beings like you."

Glass Eels runs at Hampstead Theatre until July 21.

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