Paul Flynn talks to Tim Booth about a new stage in his career .
The short trip from Bolton to Manchester in the modest Saab (rear windscreen missing, tapes everywhere) of erstwhile James frontman Tim Booth is enough to persuade you that the man himself is of a slightly more actorly disposition than he is of a true, blue-collar, rock’n’roll one. Not to dismiss his self-evident services to muslc with the pop group that are currently, to quote music biz parlance, ‘doing a Beautiful South’ with their formidable Greatest Hits package, just that it’s odd to sit in the passenger seat of a pop star’s motor having a cerebral discussion on the nature of argument. Here, though, is a man that began his musical life with the scholarly invitation to “go and read a book, it’s so much more worthwhile”.
Argument, then: Tim doesn’t have them. The character that he is to play in his first professional theatrical engagement, Len in The Octagon’s revival of Edward Bond’s maladjusted ’60s gang drama Saved, can’t stop. To his desired end of character consumption he’s begun to have them and only this morning argued with a flatmate over breakfast in the cockney accent that he’s getting to grips with. Impressively, when he files off into his newly learnt tongue he doesn’t take the usual shortcut of punctuating every sentence with ‘Innit.’ “I want him to take over me,” he says. Meet the real Methodman.
Tim Booth’s acting history is erratic but committed. His contemporaries as a drama student at Manchester University number impressive alumni: Bhaji On The Beach brains Mera Sayal, playwright Charlotte Keatley and, most famously (fill in the occupation at your own leisure) Ben Elton. He acted under Elton’s direction, then “James came along and I was happy to do it.” He’s been offered parts before, including Tommy on Broadway (“I went to see it and turned it down.” Wise man) and is a discerning spectator, describing both Theatre de Complicite and Sam Shepherd as “inspired.” More relevantly, away from the glare of publicity, he teaches Five Rhythms Movement work at the Metropolitan University’s drama campus in Didsbury and is a watchful student himself. In anticipation of a move into acting -“If I just did James I’d go crazy. This is a risk, but that’s how I live my life” – he spent three months last year at Acting For Life in Los Angeles studying under Jean Bour.
The Octagon connection came about after artistic director, also Saved director, Lawrence Till approached a mutual friend with an eye on Tim for providing a score for the show. They met and Tim was promptly offered the role of Len. For Till, only a week and a half into rehearsal, Booth has a clear reverence. When asked if there was any sense of’ aye-aye, there’s a pop star in the room’ with the other actors he’s quick to deflect the suggestion. “Not here. Not with Lawrence. Which is really reassuring. He is really reassuring. So detailed, so calm, so clear. And extremely good fun. He has a magical way of keeping the focus away from tensions outside of the script.”
Saved is at Bolton Octagon from 14 May to 6 June.