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Marc Sinden - A Business Called Show

Producer Marc Sinden talks to Peter Lathan about producing, casting, stars, angels, the West End, ticket prices, This Is Our Youth, Tell Me on a Sunday, VAT - and his father.

Marc Sinden - producer, actor, brother of Jeremy and son of Sir Donald - loves theatre. "It's mad, daft, heartbreaking, really bloody irritating, but fun. And when it works, it's bloody marvellous!"

It's all the more surprising, therefore, that he didn't set out to work in theatre. He did go to Drama school - the Bristol Old Vic, where he was the youngest ever to be offered a place - but got kicked out two years into a three-year course and went to be a jeweller, working for five years for H. Knowles-Brown in Hampstead.

"In 1978 I decided I wanted to go back into theatre, so I told Dad and, to my surprise, he said 'OK'." So he got himself a job with Charles Vance as an actor/ASM.

"Actors who started off as actor/ASMs," he says, "never slag off stage management. They know only too well what it's like - and its importance."

He deliberately chose to go into commercial rather than subsidised theatre. "I was a tart!" he says. "But when you've got a mortgage and school fees, you need the money. My father always used to say that he needed a year in the West End and a TV show to be able to afford to do a season at Stratford."

Theatre, he says, from any side, is a business - a "business called show" is how he describes it.

He had a successful career as an actor, with over forty plays in rep, national and international tours and an eight-year run in various plays in the West End, as well as a lot of film and TV work, and voice-overs - he was the voice of Bertie Bassett!

So how did he get into production?

"In 1996 I was doing a movie and I was sent the play That Good Night by N.J. Crisp and I wanted to do it. Crisp wanted dad and I to play the father and son but I felt it was a bit too close to home - not that the relationship in the play was anything like the one between us! - so I decided instead to produce it."

He must, he thinks, have innocently broken every rule in the book. "I had no knowledge of how it's done. I just did it, but I made money on it. I always think of what Paul McCartney said when he was interviewed about the falsetto singing on the Beatles' records and why it didn't hurt his voice - 'Nobody told me not to"!

He discovered he had a business sense and he got the producing bug. "It's the nearest thing to being a chef! You get all the ingredients right; they gel and you get a wonderful soufflé. Get anything wrong, and you've ballsed up!"

It helps, he feels, that he has been an actor and knows the problems they face. And actors appreciate that, too.

He discussed his newfound love of producing with Bill Kenwright who asked, "Would you like to come to work for me?" and he jumped at the chance.

"There were three of us working for Bill at that time," he remembers. "Mark Rubenstein, Julius Green and myself. Not a bad group! It was hard - we did sixteen plays in a year - but very satisfying. Working for Bill is the best university in the world!"

He has four heroes: Binky Beaumont whose eye for quality he admires enormously, Peter Bridge, Michael Reddington and, of course, Bill Kenwright. "Whenever I find myself in two minds about something, I always ask myself, 'What would Bill do?' and I've found the answer.

"There's something that most people don't realise about Bill," he adds. "He is the biggest employer of actors outside the BBC. And he has a phenomenal memory: he has all the figures, even down to dailies, of all his productions in his head!

"Working with Bill is like wanting to please your father: you just want him to say, 'Well done'. It didn't happen often, but when it did…!"

Producing has rejuvenated his love of theatre and the process of acting, he says. "As an actor you do get jaded. Now I get to go to parties and talk to entirely different people!"

As an actor he had reached a level of public recognition that satisfied him. "Both Jeremy and I recognised that we would never achieve the level of public recognition that Dad has and now my celebrity ambitions are achieved so I don't look for that as a producer. That's why I keep my and the company's name in small type on posters. Theatre managers, agents and other producers are the only people that are interested in who produced a show, not the general public.

"Been there, done that, got the tee-shirt in one field and now I've gone on to another!"

He remembers clearly being asked as a small child by Sybil Thorndike what he wanted to be when he grew up. "Be famous for something else," was his reply - quite a perceptive one for a youngster.

"Everyone remembers Jim Dale who appeared in so many films in the sixties, but he also got an Oscar nomination for writing the lyrics to the hit song 'Georgy Girl'."

Marc still acts in film, but cannot afford to take the time off from producing to do a theatre production. A year or so back he was offered a major TV part and was very tempted, but it was a sixteen-week contract and he was very unsure of what to do. "So I talked to Bill," he said, "and he told me, 'You can either be a producer who acts occasionally or an actor who produces occasionally.' Looked at like that, the choice was easy. I turned it down."

NEXT >> Casting, Angels and VAT

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©Peter Lathan 2001