CULTURE: Houston's Gunpowder Plot; William Houston Is the First RSC Actor to Play Ben Jonson's Anti-Hero, Aelius Sejanus. Terry Grimley Met Him during Rehearsals

The Birmingham Post (England), July 21, 2005 | Go to article overview
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CULTURE: Houston's Gunpowder Plot; William Houston Is the First RSC Actor to Play Ben Jonson's Anti-Hero, Aelius Sejanus. Terry Grimley Met Him during Rehearsals


Byline: Terry Grimley

When William Houston was last with the RSC in Stratford he was playing the title role in Edward Hall's production of Henry V and I made the mistake of accepting his challenge to a game of pool.

This time he's about to play another title role, in Ben Jonson's Sejanus: His Fall, and we settle for a quick game-free chat in the cafe at The Other Place.

So what's he been up to since the last time he was here?

'After Henry V it took quite a while to come back down, so to speak. I took a job at the National Theate in Peter Hall's production of The Bacchae. Having worked with Ed on Henry V I was very keen to work with his dad. It was great - we took it to Greece, to the amphitheatre at Epidaurus, and played to 12,000 people. There was an incredible sense of history.

'I would have wanted to continue working with Peter but I had been in long-term theatre gigs since I left drama school and my agent thought it was time to put a hold on that and see if I could make my way into TV and film. I had done a few things before, but not a lot.

'So I did Henry VIII with Ray Winstone, playing one of the Seymour brothers, and that was great fun, it had a fantastic cast and it was wonderful to see all those people walk through - Helena Bonham-Carter, Joss Ackland, Edward Fox.

'Then I did North and South for BBC, playing a striking northern mill-worker. I had old friends in that - Tim Piggott-Smith and Lesley Manville, who was in the first season I was in up here. I made some short films as well, and then came back here, really - not too much in three years, a bit of recovering and then playing the waiting game.'

In the Gunpowder Season in the Swan Theatre he has been playing Flaminius in Philip Massinger's Believe What You Will while rehearsing Sejanus.

'At the moment the characters are spilling into each other. It's very difficult not to drag Sejanus on the stage at the moment and try ghim out with Flavio, because both characters are in your blood.'

The trusted henchman of Emperor Tiberius, Aelius Sejanus was a ruthless plotter who rose to become sole commander of Praetorian Guard and for a short time the most influential citizen in Rome, but eventuallyhe over-played his hand and was executed on Tiberius's orders in 31AD.

'He's very well documented, but not as well as the emperors of the time.

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CULTURE: Houston's Gunpowder Plot; William Houston Is the First RSC Actor to Play Ben Jonson's Anti-Hero, Aelius Sejanus. Terry Grimley Met Him during Rehearsals
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