CLIVE MANTLE: NO CASUALTY AS GIANT RETURNS TO THEATRE

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He’s a towering figure of the British entertainment scene – and not just because of his height. Clive Mantle who many television viewers remember as Dr Mike Barrett from the BBC TV drama series Casualty is to make his first appearance at Nottingham Playhouse in more than 30 years.

Clive, all six feet five-and-a-half inches of him, is to play a nuclear physicist in Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children, a “gripping and funny thriller” which is set in the aftermath of a nuclear disaster.

He comes over as thoughtful, happy and grateful to be employed. His advice to people in two minds about seeing it: don’t get the wrong idea.

“It shouldn’t be viewed in terms of a bleak, post-nuclear fallout dirge – it really isn’t. It’s three very intelligent, bright people discussing what’s gone right and what’s gone wrong in their lives. The things that they discuss will ring bells with an audience. It’s very pertinent.

“There are two women and one man and they all have or have had relationships with each other over the years. There’s been a massive, catastrophic event at a local nuclear power station. It’s not their fault it happened. They’re part of the organisation that would try to put it right.

Towering figure: Clive Mantle [image: Anna Hull]

“They live in an exclusion zone just outside the safety area around the nuclear fallout and they’re leading a very simple, frugal life. It doesn’t sound it but it’s incredibly funny.

“It’s the juxtaposition of a huge, major catastrophe and everyday life continuing, people doing as best they can to live and carry on with good humour and intelligence and wit.”

Clive explains that the title, The Children, refers to the fact that if you have children they dominate your every waking moment – not only when they’re young but, in the case of one couple in the play, their eldest child is 38 and she’s still at the forefront of their worries, dreams and aspirations.

“It’s fascinating from that respect. It’s a brilliantly written piece. The dialogue flows – it’s very natural. It’s people at their rawest which often makes them flare or say the wrong thing to the wrong person or say something very funny to someone else.

“It’s not like there’s 20 minutes talking about children and then 20 minutes talking about a catastrophic event and 20 minutes talking about how they like their bread buttered. It’s all mixed in together so it’s this wonderful, vital conversation that bats backwards and forwards. It’s going to be a real joy to play.”

Clive was offered the role – he didn’t have to audition. That’s one of the advantages of being so well known through his television and film work.

“You pray as an actor first of all for work and secondly you pray for good work. This is not only good work – this is work right out of the top drawer. It’ll be a landmark part for me. I’m absolutely thrilled to be part of it.”

Clive will be appearing alongside Sally Dexter, otherwise known as Faith Dingle in Emmerdale, and Caroline Harker who played detective Hazel Wallace in the ITV police drama A Touch of Frost for 11 years.

“It’s just going to be a joy to be in the room with people of that calibre. I can’t wait.”

“I know Sally from the National Youth Theatre. I haven’t met Caroline yet but know her by reputation.”

Clive explains why he does not do much theatre these days: “Subsidised theatre is not a way to get rich. Maybe as a young, free, single actor you could just about scrape by.

“You’d walk over hot coals to work with people like Lucy Kirkwood (writer of The Children) and the director Kirsty Patrick Ward as well as Sally and Caroline. It’s just going to be a joy to be in the room with people of that calibre. I can’t wait.”

Clive Andrew Mantle was born on 3rd June 1957 in Barnet, Hertfordshire. He appeared in a number of productions for the National Youth Theatre before studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

He picked up film and stage work before landing the role of Little John in the ITV fantasy series Robin of Sherwood. The cast included Michael Praed as Robin in the first couple of series and Ray Winstone as Will Scarlet.

Clive as Little John in Robin of Sherwood

Clive reckons it’s the most enjoyable job he’s ever had on film or television.

“You might find it hard to believe but in a week’s time we’re all off to stay with Jason Connery (Robin from the third series onwards) in his lovely place, Ray Winstone and his wife, myself and my wife, and Mark Ryan (who played an assassin) and his wife.

“Eight of us will all be together 41 years after we started making the series. We’re still the best of pals and still in contact with each other. Instead of telling each other all our successes we’re now talking about our hip replacements, knee problems and what strength glasses we’ve got!

“We’ve aged as the rest of the nation has. I don’t think any of us could run around a forest any more but we still love each other dearly and we’re in contact every day and it’s great.”

In 1992 Clive signed up to play general surgeon Dr Mike Barrett in Casualty. He explains the importance of that role to his career.

“All the time before that I’d been beaten up or was beating other people up as a heavy in shows like Minder or Dempsey and Makepeace. Casualty was a real mould-breaker for me. It just goes to prove that someone six feet five-and-a-half can be a proper and fulfilled member of society with a fantastic profession and not just a bank robber. They wanted a nice, jolly, happy chap and basically that’s what I am.”

After 85 episodes of Casualty and 32 episodes of the sister programme Holby City, Clive felt it was time to move on.

“By the time I left it had grown into this huge machine. It was about 48 weeks a year. I’d still be there now if I could have gone off and done a couple of plays, radio and a film or something like that for six months – that would have been fantastic.

“The relentless month after month after month of turning out episodes got to me in the end. It was difficult to unlearn the lines from the previous week in order to learn the lines for the next episode! They were slight variations of each other. I wasn’t getting enough of a break.

“The character was popular so he was in lots and lots of episodes which was lovely and gratifying. But it meant I wasn’t able to keep going at the standard I wanted. I think corners would have been cut had I carried on.”

Clive as Lord Greatjon Umber in Game of Thrones

Since then he’s remained a familiar face on television, playing roles as varied as Geraldine Granger’s love interest Simon Horton in The Vicar of Dibley and Lord Greatjon Umber in Game of Thrones.

On stage he played Tommy Cooper in a show about the eccentric comedian called Jus’ Like That and on half a dozen occasions has taken on the role of the lumbering and intellectually challenged Lennie Small in John Steinbeck’s masterpiece Of Mice And Men.

As if that were not impressive enough, Clive is writing his fourth children’s book and last year appeared in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe for English National Opera.

He says he was “very pleased to be part of that, especially as I wasn’t singing. There were three actors in it. We were the main comedy roles. I was very fortunate to be out there on that magnificent stage, the Coliseum in London. What a thrill to be out there in front of 2,500 people. It certainly focuses your attention.”

Over the years Clive has worked in Nottingham a number of times. Last year he was at the Theatre Royal in the Peter James thriller Wish You Were Dead as well as joining up with a choir called Tenebrae when they were at the Royal Concert Hall – although he wasn’t singing.

The Children will be the first time Clive has performed at Nottingham Playhouse since 1991 when he was in The Pocket Dream by Sandi Toksvig and Elly Brewer. But he has seen his wife Carla Mendonça on stage there in Michael Frayn’s classic farce Noises Off and a couple of other plays.

“Nottingham’s been very good to me over the years,” says Clive. “The Playhouse especially is magnificent and I love it – a good, loyal audience and they put on some fantastic work. I’m very happy to be back.”

Surprisingly Clive doesn’t know what he’ll be doing after The Children.

Sally Dexter, Caroline Harker and Clive in rehearsal for The Children [image: Manuel Harlan]

“I’m very happy when the bills are paid and I’m very worried when there’s a period of unemployment looming ahead. That makes me very restless. Mercifully throughout my life something’s always cropped up.

“I’m really happy when you get to be part of something extraordinary. Not every job is extraordinary, it has to be said. A lot of jobs promise they’re going to be the new best thing and they turn out not to be.

“I’m very lucky to have been part of some amazing programmes and projects which have more than balanced some of the pretty ropey things I’ve been in as well. You’ve got to keep working – you can’t just wait around for the really brilliant jobs. Otherwise I’d have starved to death 30 or 40 years ago.”

Clive is philosophical when looking back on his long career and has learned that setting goals can lead to disappointment.

“My target has changed: I want to continue to work and try to do the best work I possibly can to the best of my ability. And to make sure the audience get their money’s worth.”

If you have any doubt about Clive’s talents and whether he gives value for money, go to see The Children which will be at Nottingham Playhouse from Saturday 23rd March until Saturday 6th April.

* This article originally appeared in Country Images magazine

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