An Interview with Hilton McRae

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The world premiere production of Howard Brenton’s The Shadow Factory will be hitting the stage of Nuffield Southampton Theatre (City) 7 February – 3 March. Set in 1940, it tells the tale of when Southampton was bombed and the Woolston Supermarine Spitfire factory destroyed. This doesn’t stop Southampton, however, and the city’s remarkable residents start making spitefire parts from their establishments, under the orders of Lord Beaverbrook. We talk to Hilton McCrae, who plays Lord Beaverbrook, about the The Shadow Factory and his other upcoming projects.

Hilton McRae on 'The Shadow Factory'

Culture Calling: Hello and thank you for speaking with Culture Calling. Could you please start by telling us a bit about The Shadow Factory?

Hilton McRae: Although the spitfire factory was bombed by the Germans, most of the machines were left intact, and so Churchill asked Beaverbrook - who was then the minister of aircraft - to do something about it. Beaverbrook then makes the extraordinary decision to take over garages, laundries and restaurants in Southampton and make these people build pieces of spitfire, which were then assembled in the airport just up the road from Southampton. Therefore, enough planes were built to help win the war.

CC: Do you know what inspired Sam Hodges to direct this adaptation of Howard Brenton’s play?

HM: I presume because he’s been appointed the director of the Southampton Theatre and he wanted a local story.

CC: What attracted you to this role?

HM: The play is so brilliant - I’ve done a couple of Howard Brenton’s before and I love his madness, his attack and the way he uses all those like weapons, it’s very exciting stuff. It’s a really great piece of work.

CC: What other characters are in the play and who are they portrayed by?

HM: Anita Dobson is playing Lady Cooper who owned Hursley House, which is outside Southampton. It was requisitioned so that they could bring in the people who designed the spitfire, which was about 200 people. She was basically forced out of her home. She lived in the attic for a short while, and Beaverbrook ran a security check on her staff and figured that they were all suspect and got rid of them, so she lived up in this attic all on her own. And Daniel York plays Len Gooch, who was the works engineer, the Supermarine of the factory who reported to Beaverbrook once the machines were in place, and he and Beaverbrook went up to Southampton, requisitioning all of these businesses. The local story is that David Birrell runs a laundry and then sets up a defeatist team - but I won’t tell you more than that!

CC: Would you like to tell us a bit more about your character, Lord Beaverbrook?

HM: Beaverbrook was a millionaire at the age of 30. He was born in Canada then came over and became an MP for a while. Another thing is that he started the Daily Express, the London Evening Standard and the Sunday Express. Beaverbrook was a self-advertising man, he was a small man and he was confessed to be an ugly man. Nevertheless, he slept with lots of women. He was married but he had lots of long-lasting affairs. Despite all this, he was absolutely charming - this kind of wonderful, vicious charm.

CC: What’s been your acting/rehearsal regime for The Shadow Factory?

HM: That’s a difficult question to answer because everything’s always changing. It’s like giving birth because you’re creating something and you think it’s going to be one thing, like a boy, but then you realise it’s not and is going to be something else.

CC: Have you always been interested in acting?

HM: I was, yeah. I had a lisp, and when I was 4 or 5 my mum got me an elocution teacher who taught me poetry. She also wrote little plays and we would do them in Scottish community drama festivals.

CC: You’ve been in a variety of plays, musicals and films - what’s been your best experience?

HM: I think, probably… Recently, I did The Kreutzer Sonata at The Gate in London and La MaMa in New York.

CC: Have you got any other plays or projects lined up?

HM: I do, I’ve just been filming A Private War with Rosamund Pike and Tom Hollander and I’m going to do an HBO series about Chernobyl just after this.

CC: Do you think The Shadow Factory will play elsewhere in the UK apart from Southampton?

HM: I don’t think so, I can’t see it being West End fodder because it’s such a local story. But you never know, we’ll see.

CC: Finally, would you mind sharing some of your favourite spots in Southampton with us?

HM: The Oxford Brasserie, I love The Oxford Brasserie! What I don’t like about Southampton is why are there five privatised bus firms? And local buses… It’s obscene!

The Shadow Factory will be playing at Nuffield Southampton Theatre (City) 7 February - 8 March. For more information and tickets click here.