Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

The theatre producer and the actor met in 1992 at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in north London

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The Independent Online

Ben Caplan, 40

An actor and musician, Caplan plays PC Peter Noakes in 'Call The Midwife', and is currently appearing in the Kinks musical 'Sunny Afternoon' in London's West End. He lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and two children

I first met Olivia back in 1992. I was studying drama at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in north London, and she was studying theatre, I think, at Queen Mary [in east London]. We must have met halfway through, in some or other conjunction of our classes. She was taking a play up to Edinburgh and was looking for actors to get involved. I went along, got the part. She asked me to be involved in something else after that and, though I couldn't do it, we kept in touch.

After I graduated, she wanted me to appear in The Happy Prince and Other Stories by Oscar Wilde. I was keen to collaborate with her again, as she had such energy. She's pretty inspirational to spend time with, because she has so much drive and ambition. She wanted to start a children's theatre company, Tall Stories, and her idea about it – plays for all the family – was exciting. She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.

A while later, I ended up moving into her flat in Kilburn. We were never romantically involved; I simply needed somewhere to stay. I became her tenant, and we lived in each other's pockets for a while. Of an evening, we'd share a bowl of pasta and chat about love, life, the universe. It was difficult not to bring work home, especially after a challenging day, and we'd often rehearse, too. I remember running through Rumpelstiltskin in the garden once; the place was always full of props.

I met her boyfriend, John, who became her husband, and we got on really well. He was in a band that I ended up joining, on drums. We gigged quite frequently, and only stopped when Olivia became pregnant.

We kind of drifted apart after that. I went to America for a while – I got a part in the HBO series Band of Brothers and she was busy having a baby. Life sort of takes over, doesn't it? But then I got married, and we drifted back together again, picking up where we left off.

She invited me to come and see one of her productions last year, and to bring my little boy, Bertie. That's the loveliest thing, really: to be able to take my son to see one of her shows. I love that I was involved with Tall Stories from the very beginning. To see it become a success all over the world with productions such as The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom is wonderful. I'm so proud of her.

Olivia was very much part of the start of my career. I'm so grateful for the opportunity she gave me. I've been very lucky since, but while you can have amazing experiences on big-budget productions, there is nothing quite like sitting in a room with a director and a couple of other actors, starting from scratch, and working collaboratively. Olivia offered me that. It was priceless.

Olivia Jacobs, 40

A theatre producer and director, Jacobs co-founded the family-themed theatre company Tall Stories in 1997; it has since staged productions all over the world. She lives with her family in north London

Oh, it was ages ago, early 1990s, probably. Ben was studying acting, I was doing theatre, and I recall asking him and Martin Freeman on the steps of Central whether they'd be in a show I was directing, a Howard Brenton piece called Christie in Love. Neither was free. Ben later told me he thought the play was called Christian Love, which is something else altogether! The one I was directing was about a serial killer and necrophiliac…

I liked Ben as an actor immediately. He has a real gentleness to his performances, and is a very thoughtful performer. That's why it was such a pleasure to work with him on Tall Stories productions. When we started, in 1997, there wasn't really anything like us. This was 14, 15 years before things like Matilda, which prompted so much other cross-generational work. I hope we were part of that movement towards productions for all the family.

A while later, Ben became my flatmate. He was very easy to live with, no arguments, no hassle. Mostly I remember a lot of giggling, and lots of pasta. Neither of us was particularly good at cooking, so we ate a lot of rubbish.

It can be hard for an actor to make a living; there is so much competition. It's the same for directors. To be able to do it takes a lot of hard work, determination and luck. Back then, we were both still in the hopeful stages of our careers. When I see what Ben is doing now – on the telly in Call the Midwife, starring in a West End production – I'm so proud.

We drifted apart for a few years, simply as we were both leading such hectic lives. It turns out that during our time apart, he met and married someone I knew in childhood, which was such a coincidence. I'd known Emma a little when I was 16 or 17; we went to youth club together. Since they got married, we've rekindled our friendship, and we see much more of each other. Their son, Bertie, is so sweet, and now they have a baby girl, Jessica. When we get together for lunch, we're watching a new generation grow. It's lovely.

What I've learnt most from my friendship with Ben is that certain friendships can be thicker than anything. It doesn't matter if we don't speak for five weeks, six weeks, 10 months, a year; when we meet again, it's like we saw each other yesterday. I love that I have that with Ben, and I'm grateful for it.

'The Snow Dragon', produced by Olivia Jacobs, is at St James Theatre, London SW1 (tallstories.org.uk/shows/the-snow-dragon), to 4 January. Ben Caplan is currently starring in 'Sunny Afternoon' at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London SW1; it is now booking to May 2015 (sunnyafternoonthemusical.com)

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