Tony Robinson’s cunning plan to bring radical theatre back again

Tony Robinson

Tony Robinson - Credit: Archant

Last Sunday, the first exhibition celebrating the alternative theatre movement of the sixties, seventies and eighties opened at Ovalhouse in South London. Here one of its biggest supporters, the recently knighted St John’s Wood resident Sir Tony Robinson, talks to us about the movement, his career so far and future plans.

Hi Sir Tony. In light of your support for this new exhibition, what was your role in alternative theatre and why was it so important?

I worked in “alternative theatre” throughout the 1970s as an actor and director. It had an enormous influence on theatre generally, making it much less hierarchical and more open to fresh ideas and new writing. The problem is that so many of its good practices were absorbed into the mainstream, that pretty quickly alternative theatre no longer provided an alternative. Even its politics, which tended to be radical, socialist and feminist, began to be depicted on the stages of the RSC and the National Theatre. Then Mrs Thatcher’s brand of neo-conservatism became the dominant force in British politics and both alternative theatre and its politics soon retreated into the shadows. Will it return? Well, as far as I’m concerned, it’s certainly needed!

What are the biggest challenges when switching from theatre to television, or vice-versa? Do you prefer one medium?

I love variety. I never know what I’ve been booked to do from one week to the next. I don’t find changing medium much of a problem – it’s just like getting into the driving seat of a different car from the one you’ve got used to.

How has your knighthood affected your life and how will you use it?

I’m incredibly flattered to have been given a knighthood for services to my country; what a lovely thing to happen to anyone. But I don’t think it’s changed my life much. Hopefully I’ll be able to use it to help advance the causes I believe in; if nothing else, people tend to answer your letters and emails if you’re a “Sir”.

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What do you think of the local theatre scene? Are there any productions you’ve seen lately that have really stood out?

My wife and I love going to the Hampstead Theatre. In fact, I’ve been watching shows there for the best part of 50 years, since I was a drama student at the Central School of Speech and Drama just over the road. We particularly loved Terry Johnson’s Old Money. Maureen Lipman was brilliant in it.

What have you been working on since Time Team – are there any plans to bring it back? How do you follow up shows that lasted as long and were as popular as Blackadder and Time Team?

I’m due to open in a brand new production of The Wind In The Willows at the Duchess Theatre in December. I’m just completing a new series of Walking Through History for Channel 4, which will be transmitted November/December, and I’m due to go to Australia in the new year to shoot a series about Australians in the First World War. As far as I know, there are no plans to bring Time Team back. But, who knows, maybe one day. I don’t think you can follow up shows that lasted as long and were as popular as Blackadder and Time Team. But who wants to live in the past. Let’s move on to the next thing.