Getting ART-y with Stephen Tompkinson ahead of Northampton date

Stephen Tompkinson in ART
Stephen Tompkinson in ART

Actor Stephen Tompkinson’s career is all about long standing relationships at the moment.

For he appears alongside Nigel Havers and Denis Lawson in the Yasmin Reza comedy ART coming to Northampton next week at the same time he appears in the new BBC drama series Split.

Both are about long standing friendships and relationships falling apart.

Stephen said of ART: “It is about three Parisian friends who have known each other for 25 years when one of them, Serge, decides to spend an a lot of money on a white painting, and Marc hates it.

“My character Yvan essentially mediates between the two and tries to keep the peace.”

This is a return for Stephen to a role he played 18 years ago and he says that a lot more is at stake than when he first did the play.

Stephen said: “We have changed it from 15 years to this new version, and there is a lot heavier odds with it now being a friendship that has lasted for 25 years.

“These men are all of a certain age and for all of them, they are not going to get another friendship that lasts as long as that ever again.

“But because of the nature of the play, it is one that looks at the world of art and the painting has a very polarising effect on the audience, there are some quite fierce debates around it.”

And while on the surface the show might not appear to be the most taxing as three men discuss the pro and cons of modern art, Stephen says the show has other challenges.

He said: “As there is only the three of us on stage for the entire time and the way the material needs to be performed, it becomes very much a mental workout. You come off after each performance exhausted. I was told this by the original director and I thought I would be okay but he was definitely right.”

He is also enjoying going out on tour for the first time in eight years.

“It is nice as it is a lovely way to see the country, you essentially have the day to yourself to have a look around,” said Stephen.

“I’ve never performed at Northampton before so am looking forward to going there.”

For a career packed with television and film highlights from Ballykissangel and Brassed Off to Wild at Heart and DCI Banks, Stephen says that variety is the spice of life.

He said: “I like the different challenges and opportunities that have been presented and as long as they still come up, I’ll carry on doing different things.”

It might be nearly 30 years since it was first broadcast, but Stephen still gets asked about one of his first roles, reckless reporter Damien Day in the sitcom Drop the Dead Donkey.

Stephen said: “A lot of the script was written in the build up to the record so 25 per cent of the material wasn’t written when we started rehearsals. The writers were very clever. You didn’t have a lot of that kind of satire around except for Spitting Image at the time.

“He was a dream of a character to play, he would have sold his own grandmother up the Zambezi for a good story.”

Stephen can currently be seen going through marital difficulties in the drama series Split, on BBC One.

He said: “It is an honour to be in an Abi Morgan show. It is about divorce lawyers and my character is currently going through difficulties with his on-screen wife, played by Meera Syal.”

However, as we chatted just after episode one was broadcast, he was careful to avoid spoilers.

ART is at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton from Monday to Saturday, May 14 to 19.

For tickets call 01604 624811 or visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk.