Anton Lesser & Charlie Hamblett combine with Orchestra Of The Swan to tell Laurie Lee’s story in words and music at GOH

Anton Lesser and Orchestra Of The Swan in a performance of Red Sky At Sunrise. Picture: Lucy Barriball

AUTHOR Laurie Lee’s extraordinary story is to be told in a captivating weave of music and his own words in Red Sky At Sunrise at the Grand Opera House, York, on May 26.

Actors Anton Lesser (from Endeavour, Wolf Hall and Game Of Thrones) and Charlie Hamblett (Killing Eve, Ghosts and The Burning Girls) play the role of Laurie Lee, older and younger, along with a rich array of other characters.

Together, they celebrate Lee’s engaging humour, as well as portraying his darker side, in a performance that has startling resonance with modern events. 

Actor Charlie Hamblett in the role of Laurie Lee, younger. Picture: Lucy Barriball

Red Sky At Sunrise follows Stroud-born Laurie Lee through his much-loved trilogy, Cider With Rosie, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning and A Moment Of War, when Lee famously walked out of the Slad valley one midsummer morning and ended up fighting with the International Brigades against General Franco’s forces in the Spanish Civil War.

Devised as a show by Judy Reaves, the text by Lee has been adapted by Deirdre Shields, to be accompanied by David Le Page’s musical programme for Orchestra Of The Swan.

His programme weaves around Lee’s writing, from the lush Gloucestershire countryside that Lee made famous in Cider With Rosie, to the dry landscapes of Spain, via the music of Vaughan Williams, Walton, Holst, Elgar, Britten, Grainger, Albeniz, Turina and De Falla. Guitarist Mark Ashford will be performing Asturias, Sevilla and Spanish Romance too.

David Le Page: Put together the musical programme for Orchestra Of The Swan for Red Sky At Sunrise. Picture: Lucy Barriball

Anton Lesser reflects: “It has been a joy to discover more of Laurie Lee’s sublime writing. In many ways, his account of what was happening in Spain in the 1930s is prescient of what is playing out now in Europe. 

“There is a heartbreaking moment when Lee writes: ‘Did we know, as we stood there, our clenched fists raised high, and scarcely a gun between three of us, that we had ranged against us the rising military power of Europe, and the deadly cynicism of Russia? No, we didn’t. We had yet to learn that sheer idealism never stopped a tank’.”

Red Sky At Sunrise, Laurie Lee in Words and Music, starring Anton Lesser, Charlie Hamblett and Orchestra Of The Swan, Grand Opera House, York, Sunday, May 26. Box office:

Guitarist Mark Ashford playing at a Red Sky At Sunrise performance. Picture: Lucy Barriball

In the spotlight: Anton Lesser on Laurie Lee, Red Sky At Sunrise, playing villains, Endeavour and favourite roles

What do you enjoy about Laurie Lee?

“I enjoy a sweet resonance I feel with Laurie Lee’s writing, a kind of recognition of something apparently difficult to access, but which mysteriously becomes available through great storytelling.”

What can the audience expect from Red Sky At Sunrise?

“The audience can expect to be taken on a journey, (which reflects Laurie’s actual travels from rural Gloucestershire to Spain, but also his inner journey from boyhood to maturity), all in the company of great musicians playing sublime music.”

How does performing a combination of words and music work for an actor?

“To be asked to read great writing, and to read it aloud is a privilege. To read it aloud supported by magnificent music is something more – I would call it a blessing. The words and the music combine, hopefully deepening and enriching the experience for both audience and practitioners.”

Can you be carried away by the music?

“Yes, I’m often so carried away by the musicians that I’m a bit of a liability – sometimes needing a bit of a nod or nudge to come in on cue!”

“I enjoy a sweet resonance I feel with Laurie Lee’s writing,” says actor Anton Lesser

You played the villainous advisor Qyburn in the HBO fantasy drama Game Of Thrones. Do you enjoy playing villains?

“It’s not so much that I enjoy playing ‘villains’ – I like to think that I approach every role without limiting their identity to a single label like good or bad – but I think it’s more that those characters tend to be more complex and interesting.”

True or false? When you did your first day’s shoot on Endeavour, Shaun Evans could not stop laughing?

“Yes, Sean did have a problem with me – for some reason in the first episode he couldn’t look at me without laughing. I like to think this was a manifestation of love, respect and huge professional admiration; sadly I suspect it had more to do with the ridiculous hat I was made to wear.”

 On Endeavour, you and Roger Allam were renowned for being cheeky together?

“Roger and I got away with a modicum of bad behaviour simply because we were very old. Two theatre actors in gentle competition for the best ‘light’ or close-up must have been a sad and sorry spectacle, and an example for younger actors how not to behave on set – but it was great fun and all in the best possible taste!”

Favourite roles? 

“My favourite role is usually the one I’m currently working on, but I can point to one or two which I remember as being particularly enjoyable. Feste in Twelfth Night (working with the wonderful Richard Briers), Serge in Art and more recently Benedict in The Two Popes. Vernon Marley in the TV series Better was especially fulfilling – a great character.”