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Interview With Holby City & Private Lives Actor Tom Chambers

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by Alison Brinkworth (subscribe)
Freelance journalist in Birmingham with a passion for the dynamic theatre, art, food and fashion scene in Britain's 'Second City'.
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Waterloo Road Actor Talks On New Roles In Casualty & Theatre
There's an old school modest charm about actor Tom Chambers, which is probably why he's had so much success with shows like Top Hat and Strictly Come Dancing.

Behind the air of quiet calm, there's an engaging and eloquent man who can quickly ramp it up to be the witty centre of attention. It's something he does with ease when we meet during his UK theatre tour of Noel Coward's play Private Lives.

Tom Chambers in the theatre tour of Private Lives, Holby City, Waterloo Road, Strictly, Top Hat
Casualty and Waterloo Road star Tom Chambers talks frankly about his life and new role in Private Lives

Crossing over successfully between TV and theatre roles, Chambers made his name as Sam Strachan in the BBC medical drama Holby City - a character he tells me he will be revisiting in BBC1's Casualty at various points this year - and then nasty Max Tyler in BBC series Waterloo Road.

But he's also earned praise for his leading role as Jerry Travers in the West End revival of Fred Astaire musical Top Hat, following his success of lifting the glitterball with dance partner Camilla Dallerup on the sixth season of Strictly Come Dancing.

This time around, he's putting away the dancing shoes for the wordy and hugely witty play Private Lives.

Chambers plays dapper but selfish Elyot, who is caught in a romantic entanglement between his ex-wife and new wife during his honeymoon. It's one of Coward's masterpieces with razor sharp one-liners in the fast-paced 1930s screwball comedy.

Chambers says: "Doing this play feels new every night as you work off the energy from the audience. I did Top Hat 500 times and it nearly killed me with seven dance routines and eight songs, going from song to dance to dialogue.

Tom Chambers with Charlotte Ritchie in the theatre tour of Private Lives, Holby City, Waterloo Road, Strictly, Top Hat
Tom Chambers won acclaim for his role in musical Top Hat

He adds: "I left Holby City to get out of my comfort zone and always wanted to play a villain, which I did with Max in Waterloo Road but I despised him by the end. I was spending 15 hours a day as him.

With Elyot, I love and hate him, but director Tom Attenborough has given everyone such truthful, three dimensional characters."

Noel Coward wrote the play in three days and managed to cast Laurence Olivier when it first opened. Chambers says the lines will particularly hit a chord with anyone whose been married.

I've been married for seven years and it feel like I've said a lot of the dialogue in this play to my wife - but not the bit about I'd like to cut your head off with a meat axe!," chuckles Chambers, who married a school friend who was the daughter of his geography teacher.

Tom Chambers in the theatre tour of Private Lives, Holby City, Waterloo Road, Strictly, Top Hat
Tom Chambers in Noel Coward's Private Lives, which is touring the UK

Behind closed doors, there's always moments where due to tiredness or whatever, a red mist comes over you and you say things you don't mean to say.

"But I met someone who had been married 60 years and asked them about it and she said 'well, we had a bad decade, but it's ok now'.... and I thought, my god, a decade!"

The tour means that Chambers only gets to spend one day a week at home with his wife Clare and son William, and when he's back, he's got a list of household chores to do.

It doesn't stop him from working on other projects like his new app called Like Me Up - an educational tool aimed at those in the acting industry to get live audience feedback. Chambers says it will help people formulate ideas for what works best.

Tom Chambers with Charlotte Ritchie in the theatre tour of Private Lives, Holby City, Waterloo Road, Strictly, Top Hat
Friendly and eloquent Tom Chambers taking a selfie with a fan at Birmingham's New Alexandra Theatre.

Whether it's new apps, dancing or straight acting, Chambers appears to be dedicated to the industry and has a real passion when talking about his career and "the romance of theatre".

"There's a romance with the audience (in theatre) and the endorphins you get on stage are the ones you get with the flight and fright mode," adds Chambers. "So when I've finished doing a play, I always feel a bit tingly and it takes about an hour and a half to calm down."

"There's a duty to give the audience what they have come for. In the old days, actors used to have some drinks and lunch and come on stage a bit sloshed, but it's not like that anymore. It's hard work."

Private Lives tours the UK and includes New Alexandra Theatre from February 8 to 13 ; Richmond Theatre near London from Feb 15 to 20: Theatre Royal in Glasgow from February 22 to 27: Princess Theatre in Torquay from February 29 to March 5; Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury from March 7 to 12 and Theatre Royal in Bath from March 14 to 19. Visit the ATG Theatre website for tickets.

Tom Chambers can also be seen as Sam Strachan in episodes of BBC1 show Casualty in February and later in the year.
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Why? Actor Tom Chambers trying something new
Where: Theatres across the UK and on TV show Casualty
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