Normanton-born Reece Dinsdale on the arts in Yorkshire and his love of the coast
PUBLISHED: 00:00 28 September 2017 | UPDATED: 15:59 02 October 2017
Actor Reece Dinsdale accepts a couple of important Yorkshire appointments as the arts enter a new and exciting era. He talks to Tony Greenway.
Reece Dinsdale is talking, a lot. Words tumble out of him, and he barely pauses for breath.
He realises it, too. Halfway through an answer to a question I asked him 10 minutes ago, he suddenly stops and apologises. ‘Am I wittering on too much?’ he says. ‘Sorry...’
But, honestly, He has nothing to apologise for. We positively welcome wittering at Yorkshire Life and like talking to people who have a lot to say and Reece has more to say than most, with a particular passion for Yorkshire – and Huddersfield Town FC – that practically bubbles over. We like that, too.
‘I’ve got a new lease of life about the arts – and especially the arts in Yorkshire,’ he enthuses. ‘I might not seem it, but I’m quite private and reserved in many ways. It’s probably why I became an actor, so I could express myself through characters and stories. But I only realised relatively recently that there’s a big world out there that doesn’t have to be London-centric. I live in the heart of Yorkshire. And I remember telling my wife: “I want to be more of a part of it!”’
Which is why, two years ago, Reece became the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s first-ever associate artist and, just recently, was announced as a patron of The Square Chapel Arts Centre in Halifax. He’s also taken a deep breath and plunged head first into the daunting echo chamber of social media, where you can’t hide from the reviews. ‘I’ve been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century by joining Twitter and reminding people I’m still alive,’ he admits. ‘I’ve always been averse to that kind of thing... apart from Huddersfield Town forums, of course.’ Of course.
In fact, Twitter is how he got involved with The Square Chapel. ‘They saw I had a presence on it and asked me about being patron,’ he says. ‘I went over to see the place and it’s an absolute gem with beautiful modern architecture meeting the old. And then you look at the fantastic performance space, new cinema and wonderful, varied programme of stuff they’re going to do... and I thought: “Why not be involved?” I was delighted to jump aboard.’ And, frankly, he was also fed up with people saying to him: “We don’t see you on the television anymore.” ‘If you’re not on TV, they think you’ve died and don’t do anything. I needed to remind people that being on telly isn’t the be all and end all.’
True, but not that long ago when you turned on your TV, Normanton-born Reece would invariably be on it. He was in the long-running ITV sitcom Home to Roost in the 1980s, with John Thaw; the terrifying nuclear apocalypse thriller, Threads; Sweeney wannabe Thief Takers and Kay Mellor’s vet drama, The Chase. He’s also guest-starred in every British TV drama going, from Life on Mars and Spooks, to Taggart, Dalziel and Pascoe and Waterloo Road and, of course, from 2008, he played insurance scammer Joe McIntyre in Coronation Street for an 18-month stint before the character was killed off in a boating accident. In between, Reece has had film roles in Kenneth Branagh’s four-hour Hamlet, Alan Bennett’s A Private Function, and won plaudits for his turn in ID, a drama about football hooliganism. He’s also branched out into directing for TV and nurtured an acclaimed career on big stages including the Royal Court and The National Theatre.
His association with the West Yorkshire Playhouse goes back to its earliest days in 1990, when he appeared in the John O’Keeffe play Wild Oats, the theatre’s inaugural production (‘My dad said: “You’ve got to do it, son – it’ll be like opening the batting for Yorkshire.”’). Other WYP shows followed before he returned in 2014 – after a 14-year absence – to take the lead in Alan Bennett’s autobiographical play, Untold Stories. Becoming our greatest waspish wit and British national treasure was a daunting challenge. ‘I’d never played a real life, living person before,’ he says. ‘I was lucky enough to have worked with Alan in A Private Function. He always gives the royal seal of approval to anyone who plays him on stage or film, so he was consulted and, luckily, because I knew him and he liked my work, he gave me the nod.’ To get Bennett’s distinctive voice just right, Reece acquired recordings of virtually everything he had ever done. ‘Alan doesn’t know this but he drove around Yorkshire with me for three months, because I’d play those recordings of his voice in the car. It was practice, practice, practice. It was difficult, but so worthwhile.’
It didn’t hurt that the reviews were glowing. Not that Reece saw them. ‘I’m glad to hear they were good,’ he says. ‘But I don’t read reviews because I feel that whatever I’m doing, I’ve done to the best of my ability. So if I then read a review two days into the show with weeks or months to go, and I feel it’s pulling me to pieces, it’s very hard to remain positive and energised. And you know inside yourself if a production is working or not. I don’t need someone else to tell me.’ He followed up this stage success with another: Richard III, also at the WYP, in 2015.
Here’s the big question, though: what does being associate artist of the West Yorkshire Playhouse actually mean? Good point, says Reece. ‘We’re defining the role as we go along. Part of it is that they want me to perform on their stage. I might also work with their Youth Theatre and do some workshops. There are lots of possibilities.’
He’s back, front and centre at the West Yorkshire Playhouse this month in a re-imagining of Ibsen’s The Master Builder, adapted by current darling of British theatre, the prolific playwright and director, Zinnie Harris. But here, for the first time, Reece gets a bit coy. Although only a bit, mind.
‘It would be disingenuous to say we’re doing Ibsen’s The Master Builder, because we’re not,’ he says. ‘If you look closely it’s called (the fall of) The Master Builder. It has the same themes... but it’s basically a brand new play. It’s set in the heart of West Yorkshire in 2017 and we all speak in Yorkshire accents. I don’t want to say too much. I’d rather it was revealed on stage, rather than in print beforehand.’
As someone who won a 2014 Yorkshire Award for Services to Arts and Entertainment,
Reece is upbeat about the county’s theatre scene. But, we wonder, where’s the next generation of Yorkshire artists – the ones who’ll take up the torch from the Ayckbourns, Bennetts and Godbers? ‘I think it’s wonderful, what’s going on,’ says Reece. ‘There are some really vibrant souls doing work here, there and everywhere. Old orders have to make way for new blood. Look at The Square Chapel doing their thing; and Amy Leach has just come on board at the WYP as assistant director and she’s full of life. Her Romeo and Juliet was buzzing, had a youth slant – and the theatre was packed. You’ve got your Red Ladders and your Hull Trucks. You’ve got Conrad Nelson and Deborah McAndrew at Northern Broadsides. We’re going into a new time and it’s terribly exciting. I think the arts in Yorkshire are very much alive and kicking. I’m so confident that we will have a new generation of absolutely fantastic writers, producers, directors and performers.’
Reece blazed his own acting trail in Yorkshire 46 years ago when he got the acting bug, aged 12, in a school production of Tom Sawyer. ‘For the first time in my life I felt I was good at something, and from that point on I wouldn’t be thrown off the scent,’ he says. That was easier said than done, though, for someone of his generation who didn’t come from an acting family, but did come from Yorkshire. Not many working class lads from Normanton harboured acting ambitions or, if they did, they didn’t talk about it much. ‘My dad worked in the pit at the time and my mum was a health visitor,’ he remembers. ‘But acting was just this thing inside me. Aged 14, I joined a local am-dram group called The Normanton Players, who were all 45 and above. I thought it was the only way.’
After studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and living and working in London, he returned to Yorkshire 16-and-a-half years ago and now lives in Harrogate with his wife, actress Zara Turner, and their children. ‘It’s a great environment to bring up your kids,’ he says. ‘We bought an old barn first in the Washburn Valley in the middle of nowhere where there were glorious skies. When the kids got older and needed more than pigs and cows on the doorstep we moved into the heart of Harrogate. But the North Yorkshire coast is a place I still adore: the little places around Thornwick Bay, plus Staithes, Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay. As a 15-year-old I did a walk from Osmotherly to Ravenscar across the North York Moors through the night, about 20 of us with torches; these wonderful memories of the North York Moors and Yorkshire coast. That’s home for me. That’s Yorkshire.’