Image by Richard Hubert Smith
With widely praised performances in several major UK theatres, Alex Waldmann is carving out a name as one of the country’s most exciting acting talents. Currently starring in Widower’s Houses at Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre, Waldmann spoke to A Younger Theatre about the production and his career so far.
Originally staged in 1892, Widower’s Houses is George Bernard Shaw’s first play, and is markedly different to some of his later work.
“It’s interesting to see how he started out,” said Waldmann. “It’s a very satisfying, well-constructed play. By comparison, a lot of his later works are much longer and more verbose.”
Despite this production’s period setting, the play’s themes of inflated housing prices and financial exploitation remain resonant for contemporary audiences.
“I don’t think you have to update it because it will always be relevant. Whenever you revive it, there’s always a housing crisis in London, and the same issues keep coming up. There’s a moment in the play where the crisis is blamed on population growth, and still today we hear people saying that we’re over-populated and blaming the problems on immigrants.”
Today, of course, the state of the economy doesn’t only affect those struggling to find a home. With government spending cuts now rife, Orange Tree Theatre recently lost its Arts Council funding, but Waldmann is confident the theatre will overcome this challenge.
“It’s going to be tricky, but they’ve got the team and the energy and the vision, to do it,” he said.
Supporting Orange Tree is something Waldmann is clearly passionate about. Just ten minutes from his London home and his young family, the theatre’s location has been a gift for him. Nevertheless, he’s interested in more than its proximity.
“It’s a really exciting theatre to work in and to see things in. It’s got a rich history, and it’s currently London’s only permanent theatre-in-the-round. I love the feeling of being right in the middle of the audience – it makes them feel more a part of everything. There’s nowhere to hide, so you have to be very present and involved.”
It might sound tough, but being surrounded by an audience in this way is now more familiar to Waldmann than working in conventional cross-arch theatres. As well as having performed at the Globe, he also spent two years with the RSC in Stratford.
“It was difficult at first because my family didn’t move up with me until the second year, but it was worth it because King John and As You Like It are two of the things I’ve done that I’m most proud of. I also got on really well with Pippa Nixon and the other actors there. I’d be happy to work with them again anywhere. It did eventually start to feel like a home to me and I’d like to go back, but this year I’ve made a choice to try to have a break from classical theatre because I’ve done quite a lot of it now.”
Although most of his previous work has been on stage, it’s easy to see Waldmann’s subtle, naturalistic acting style working well on screen. However, whether or not his move into new territory will include more TV and film work depends on what becomes available and when.
“I’d love to do more television and film, but partly it’s just been a question of timing. There’s always been another theatre job that I’ve wanted to do. Also, it’s a different ladder in a way. If I go for a job on TV, I’ll be up against people who have a lot more experience on screen, and even though a lot of people start out in theatre, once you become very well-known on screen it can be difficult to go back.”
With several great theatre roles having followed in quick succession, you could be fooled into thinking it comes easily to him, but Waldmann is still constantly hard at work.
“You’ve never really made it. I think it was while I was in Stratford that I was described as a ‘rising star’ and I’ve been a rising star for about ten years now. But as long as I’m never falling, I’m happy. It’s been lovely to work with so many great directors, and to be able to do so many of the things I want to do, but I know that it could come crashing down at any time. I feel like I work hard, but I’ve also been very lucky, and I’m always grateful for that.”
His ten years as a “rising star” have given Waldmann plenty of time to hone his craft and make industry contacts, experience which has been useful in setting up his own production company, SEArED. According to Waldmann, the most “transformative” moment in his career was probably working on Troilus and Cressida with Cheek by Jowl in 2008.
“I don’t think any experience has had more of an impact on the kind of actor I am now as working with Declan Donnellan did. He was like a mentor to me, and what I learned then is at the heart of everything I do now.”
More important than career-defining moments or specific skills, however, has been the gradual and ongoing process of learning more about himself and the kind of actor he wants to be.
“I think the main thing I’ve learned is probably not to take myself too seriously. But the only way you can ever really learn is by trying things out and finding out how to be yourself. It’s hard, but you have to mess up a lot of auditions before you get it right. I still mess them up sometimes now. But the mistakes and the knock-backs make you a better actor in the end – it’s all about experience.”
Widower’s Houses is showing at the Orange Tree Theatre until 31 January, with £10 discounted tickets available for under-30s. See more details here.