King Lear Cast Bio | James

With the company now in rehearsals, we interview the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School actors cast to play alongside theatre professionals, Timothy West, Stephanie Cole and David Hargreaves in King Lear.

Here we get to know James, one of the Theatre School’s talented rising stars.


James Sidwell
Burgundy / Cornwall / Kernow

BOVTS: Alonso in The Tempest, Otter/ Squirrel Raymond/ Motorist Rupert/ Stoat Ian/ Policeman in The Wind in the Willows (both Redgrave Theatre); Silvius in As You Like It, Dima in Ladybird, David Cameron in Peter O’Toole Evening, Mr Fowler in Separate Tables, Sparkish/ Harcourt in The Country Wife, Various in Metamorphoses, Ralph Clarke in Our Country’s Good. Pre BOVTS: Laertes in Hamlet (Bare Knuckle Theatre); Cornwall in King Lear (Edinburgh Fringe); Will in Hello Mrs Silverstone (Empty Pocket Theatre); Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (Act One).

Where are you from and how did you get into acting?
I was born in Bristol and grew up nearby in Stroud. My first foray into acting was when an older friend directed a production of Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters at school. I was a fan of the books, and was rather in awe of the group producing it (now a very successful sketch comedy group). So I signed up, and landed the time honoured role of soldier 2. I was dreadful; managed to bring on the wrong prop, say the wrong line, and generally barely avoided falling off-stage in terror. But it then somehow became a matter of ‘just one more try, I’ll get it right this time’. I never have. I don’t know anyone who’s ever stepped offstage convinced they’ve turned in a flawless performance (actually, a few, but the sentiment wasn’t particularly shared by either the audience or their long suffering colleagues). I think that’s what keeps drawing me back to acting; it teaches you that there’s no such thing as perfect, but once you accept that and just play, everyone tends to have a lot more fun.

Who are you playing in King Lear and what challenges have you faced in that role?
I’m playing Cornwall, and I suppose the main issue with him is that with ‘villains’ everywhere; there’s a huge temptation to, figuratively speaking, don black robes and cackle, go for the archetypal ‘bad guy’. That’s where I’ve most noticed the training kick in; your instinctive approach is to go back to the basics of ‘what does this character want, why, and how do they go about getting it’. Once you accept this, it’s actually very liberating to pursue goals so single-mindedly and selfishly, as we (probably quite rightly) put a cap on a lot of those desires in real life, even if there’s a part of us that would rather not. When you find that element of yourself in the character, it makes them more real for you, and it can help you sympathise with their point of view a lot more, even if you don’t agree with their methods. Makes it easier, and a good life lesson as well.

What’s your favourite thing about training at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School?
I think one of the things that really defines the school as a training establishment is its holistic and open-minded approach to established practitioners and theories – Rather than saying ‘this is Meisner, learn everything about Meisner and recreate it perfectly’, they introduce you to a load of possible methods, but are completely open about the fact that some of it might work, some of it might not, some of it might work  for this, but not this… Then they encourage you to play. Obviously I’m not saying that other schools don’t do this, but it’s I think it’s this mind-set of acceptance and curiosity that will be one of the most valuable things I take away from my training here. It’s an approach that makes you think critically about new possibilities and opinions and decide upon their merit for yourself on the basis of efficacy. And, hey, look at that, another good life lesson! Arts education = transferable skills, people.

How does it feel to be taking the Bristol Old Vic stage in your graduating show?
Attendees of last year’s Peter O’Toole Gala will recall me leaving that same stage with my face in a sling. Good show though… And hopefully learned from this one too; don’t get cocky in stage-combat. Unlikely to see a repeat. Although I DO have a confrontation with Timothy West in this production, and I bet he can throw a cross like a champ, so stay tuned.

King Lear continues our 250th Anniversary Season in our Theatre 18 Jun-10 Jul. To find out more about the show and to book your tickets, click here.

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