Interview with Thomas Blackburne
“ … what we lack in relationships with each other, we tend to often get in our relationship with our pets”.
It is true that Australian-British actor Thomas Blackburne is romantic male lead material especially romcom. He’s always being cast in that kind of role. He seems genuinely surprised by this. Blackburne has been acting since he was 10, and for the last 20 years he’s been working non-stop as an actor. Now based in London for the last two years, he’s bringing romcom Australian dramas THE DOG and THE CAT to The Hope Theatre. These three-handers, each featuring a couple and their pet, are played by , Gemma Harvey, Frederick Di Rosa and Blackburne himself.
Blackburne has already had a successful career in television and film, including 19 episodes of Neighbours (playing the boy, Daniel) and he was in Ned Kelly starring Orlando Bloom. Now he’s turning to theatre. “I love being in the theatre and wanted more experience there. This is the place. London is theatre. Really.” With his mother having been born in England Blackburne has a duel passport and a British heritage and it seems now is the time for him to explore that by premiering THE DOG/THE CAT which was a sell-out success in Australia last year.
What he really loves about the two scripts is that “they are certainly a romcom, but all the characters are off the architype. There is that romcom premise but just moved slightly to the side of it.” The benefit is that it’s almost more “recognisable as me, or more like that person over there”.
Both playwrights, Brendan Cowell and Lally Katz, are in London for the premiere. Lally Katz lives in US having duel American and Australia heritage, but grew up in Canberra. Brendan Cowell has relocated to the UK just like Blackburne. “These two writers I knew very well from Australia, they’re well produced and well known,” says Blackburne, “the two of them are friends and they've pulled the stories together in a subtle way”.
Blackburne is so easy to get along with, and it’s so hard not to flirt with him. It’s not that he stands out in a crowd, it’s more that the curly auburn hair, the ready smile, and the quiet confidence are the perfect foil for romcom. He exudes intelligence which is the icing on the cake. Part of the reason for this might be that he’s been around adults for so long.
Blackburne didn’t complete any drama training until he came to England. He was “lucky enough to be working in film and television all the way through school”. He loved sport; football and acting were his passions but he "got to do acting more”. He’s modest about it saying that “it’s’ nice, but school was the main focus, but I was fortunate that I got to have this other career”.
The routine of acting can be very rigorous. “There are often periods of waiting around and doing nothing but at any moment you’re suddenly called upon to do something immediately” says Blackburne. “It’s a humbling thing, a good way to learn the craft, because it’s not about you, it’s nothing about you. It’s got to be the other person you’re acting with, the story, who the audience is going to be. In Neighbours that idea was ever present, about doing the best job for the rest of the crew. They’ve been there for hours before you do your job, you do it well so that the machine keeps working”.
Blackburne is also known for Australian romcom film, ‘Spin Out’ (2016), SF TV series, ‘Silversun’ (2004) and 320 episodes of drama ‘Something in the Air’ (2000). This last one is his most memorable experience. Over six months, four nights a week, he had a “best friend role”. It was an Australian show on ABC (the Australian equivalent of BBC). “I got to work with some amazing actors” says Blackburne. “You learn a discipline of working, you have to be immediately present. At one moment you’re in wardrobe, you go out and you’re immediately on set, you meet the director and you’re expected to work straight away, know your lines. As a child actor I was expected to be on their level. I learnt good lessons about being ready to go and focusing on what you’re doing when you’re doing it.”
Now Blackburne is turning to stage work. What he really loves is the process. "There’s often more time to prepare in theatre, there’s lots to explore in rehearsals and when you put on show you learn something” says Blackburne. “You can incorporate more things as the audience comes in. It’s that exploration I’m really attracted to.”
This is Blackburne’s first time producing, but this is where his media background helps. Following a degree in communication in media and public relations, he had a career in media. It gave him a deeper understanding of the way things work, and the roles that other people do. Bringing the show to THE HOPE came about by just knowing that the theatre is doing amazing work. For his first time producing, he was “keen to do it on small scale, in a warm and inviting environment”. He visited the theatre and sent the scripts to Matthew Parker (Artistic Director at The Hope Theatre) who was keen on taking the show.
Blackburne says that what he really loves about theatre is that “you
can literally go and escape, for that amount of the show, it’s either engrossing, deeply moving or inspiring”. He’s also aware that the pub theatre scene is thriving, with so many spaces, and companies putting on fantastic work. “It’s a place where you can create your own work, put in the effort, put on a really wonderful production. It deserves to be seen and you can see anything in pub theatres. It’s broader than the West End. All these amazing theatres at reasonable prices. At these pubs you can see performances right on the floor happening in front of you, it’s really personal”.
Added to the intimacy of the venue, THE DOG/THE CAT is a romcom with a bit of heart. Blackburne is partnership with Battersea Dogs and Cats. “We’re raising a little money, having collections tins, and the message throughout our advertising is that if anyone is thinking of having a dog or a cat, pet adoption is the best thing anyone could do to help those organisations.”
Blackburne describes the show as a “fun night out” and after such an enjoyable interview with him, it’s easy to see how the cast will draw their audience in. Blackburne is bringing a show with a quirk. “It’s a fun observational take on our lives today and how triangular relationships can get complicated, and how dogs and cats often make things better. I certainly, hope that people take away from this is that maybe nowadays what we lack in relationships with each other, we tend to often get in our relationship with our pets”.
THE DOG / THE CAT by Brendan Cowell and Lally Katz
The Hope Theatre, Islington, 4 – 22 Sept 2018 7.45pm
Box Office: 0333 666 3366
@September 2018 All Rights Reserved
London Pub Theatres Magazine