For his latest role, Rafe Spall plays Johnny, a lonely young man struggling to escape from the dark shadow cast by his father. Fortunately for the actor son of Timothy Spall, it's not a case of art imitating life. The 25-year-old has been busy building a name for himself as the dim-witted DC Cartwright in Hot Fuzz and, on television, in A Room with a View (playing George to his father's Mr Emerson), followed by critically acclaimed turns in He Kills Coppers and as Frankie Howerd's lover in Rather You Than Me, opposite David Walliams.
Hello and Goodbye, an emotionally bruising two-hander about sibling rivalry, marks his bracing return to the stage. "It's a gift of a part but the downside is how tough it is," says Spall. "That's the reason I took it – I wasn't sure I was quite up to the challenge. It's very far outside my comfort zone."
One of Athol Fugard's earliest works, Hello and Goodbye has a semi-autobiographical, lyrical tone which sets it apart from the South African playwright's more famous clarion calls about apartheid, Sizwe Banzi is Dead and The Island.
Set in the slums of Port Elizabeth in 1965, it dramatises an intense night when Johnny, who has devoted his life to tending his invalid father, receives an unexpected – and unpleasant – visit from his long-lost sister, Hester (Saskia Reeves). "They're white trash, really," says Spall. "Johnny's got no friends, no life, no job. But there's something quite endearing about him."
Spall most recently appeared on stage in John Gabriel Borkman at the Donmar and Alaska at the Royal Court. "After that I swore I'd never do a play again. The nerves shredded my stomach. But I love doing plays, it's the biggest challenge of my profession."
Are his nerves worse when his father's in the audience? "It's like when you were in the school play, you'd get more nervous when your mum and dad were watching. But I've stopped asking my parents to opening night now – it's terrifying enough without them."
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