Actor Adrian Dunbar on Line of Duty finale: ‘We’re shaping up for an end of series showdown’
- Credit: BBC/World Productions/Mark Bourdillon
Bridget Galton talks to Line of Duty actor Adrian Dunbar about hearing Beckett in the dark and appearing in a TV show with a high body count.
How to stage a radio play as a live theatre experience?
Veteran director Max Stafford Clark’s inspired answer is to blindfold the audience and let the actors move around them.
Add in Samuel Beckett’s surreal brilliance, and a 360 degree soundscape evoking 1950s rural Ireland, and it makes for an enigmatic immersive hour of theatre.
Adrian Dunbar, who helps run an annual Beckett festival in his native Eniskillen, first got Stafford Clark on board two years ago.
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Now the 58-year-old has stepped in as one of the leads for the West End transfer of All That Fall.
“It’s a radio play so you have to find a way of doing it for theatre audiences,” he says.
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“Max came up with the brilliant idea of putting them in a mask and having the actors move through the audience.
“The original actor got another job at the Globe and as I had a history with the piece it’s a nice engagement to go into the West End for a month.”
Set in Beckett’s hometown of Foxrock in County Dublin, Dunbar plays the laconic Dan Rooney in one of the playwright’s more naturalistic and perhaps personal pieces. It concerns a trip to the station by capricious witty septuagenarian Maddy Rooney (Brid Brennan pictured) to meet her husband’s train.
“It’s a lot of people’s favourite Beckett piece. It has a very heightened reality and a lot of black humour with this unnerving little story trundling along underneath that you can’t put your finger on. Foxrock is a home counties sort of place where people commute into the city. It’s quite twee, everyone’s got a little job and the soundscape is the rural countryside, the train, the odd car and bicycles.
“In our version you are taken into the dark into this dark world. It’s a unique experience.”
Dunbar warns theatregoers not to take their masks off.
“Some people do but all they see is some actors moving around. Most quickly put it back on because Beckett wanted the audience to receive it as of the dark when you are thinking and listening. You get transported into the world of the play, the proximity of the actors is sometimes unnerving when someone appears beside you in the dark and starts to speak. If you sneak a peek it’s like breaking the fourth wall.”
Dunbar points out it’s a return to the way that early radio audiences used to listen, sitting down expressly to tune in.
“Now it’s a thing in the corner that we listen to while doing other things but it used to be a collective experience.”
“Beckett is quite sophisticated and subtle in how he moves you around emotionally, mostly with his brilliant use of the English language he is a master at getting his point across.
He’s like a musician, a composer who knows the emotional effect his intellectual musings are going to have on the audience and he doesn’t waste words. If he can get it across in a few minutes so be it.”
Dunbar lived in Crouch End for 23 years before downsizing to a flat in Highgate.
“We didn’t intend to leave Crouch End we really like it and go back all the time but this flat came up and stuff happens.”
As well as acting in the likes of My Left Foot and The Crying Game, Dunbar also co-wrote and starred in Joseph Locke biopic Hear My Song and enjoys directing which he finds particularly fulfilling.
But with almost four months a year spent in Belfast filming gripping police procedural Line of Duty he finds it difficult to do all the things he likes doing.
“I am lucky to have the variety, I am not in control of anything that’s a big lesson. It’s easier to go with the flow and take it however and whenever it comes. I find myself in a nice place at the moment.”
He’s not kidding. Over three seasons Jed Mercurio’s knottily written thriller about police anti-corruption unit AC12 has won critical plaudits and top ratings.
Dunbar has given a masterclass in understated complexity as copper-catcher Superintendent Ted Hastings, famed for his no-nonsense grillings of suspects and murky private life. Indeed the series has coaxed career best performances from many a fine actor.
“At this stage of my career to get a part like that written by one of the best writers at the moment on a show that’s doing so well is amazing. I really am grateful that it’s come along. I think it’s turned a corner with the audience, tipping the balance between them being really interested in what’s happening with the characters with the plot running parallel. There’s a lot going on.”
Police famously refused to co-operate with the series but retired officers have lent their experience.
“They are very procedural but fascinating for people to see how things work. I know it’s very close to the real thing because some officers have said certain scenes are very true.”
With a fourth series due to start filming in August, Dunbar is anticipating more lengthy interview scenes that require heroic feats of memory.
“We spend days doing these interrogations, they’re like little one act plays with six characters sitting around a table. We all go ‘Oh My God’ but you’ve just got to learn it, you can’t split it up. That’s how you earn your money, staying in a the weekend learning the lines.”
Working with the likes of Martin Compston, Keeley Hawes and Vicky McClure has been a blast, ‘though the series is famous for killing off some pretty big names.
In one episode Gina McKee wound up in a freezer, in another Jessica Raine was defenestrated and this season Will Mellor, Daniel Mays and Hawes have met grisly ends.
“We’ve killed off some wonderful actors. You think you’re not allowed to do that to Call the Midwife Jessica! But there you go,” laughs Dunbar, adding tantalisingly. “We’re shaping up for a bit of a showdown at the end of this series.”
All That Fall is at the Arts Theatre until May 14 (outofjoint.co.uk). The finale of Line Of Duty season three is on BBC2 tonight at 9pm.