Centre Stage at The Globe for James Northcote OA
Former King’s Schools pupil James Walker OA (King Alfred 2008), better known by his stage name James Northcote, has been dusting up on his Shakespeare knowledge after landing a lead role in The Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
The eccentric comedy, which was due to run until the 18 April, follows the courtship of Petruchio and Katherina, the headstrong shrew.
James, who plays the role of Lucentio in the production, attended King’s Hall from an early age, where he was trained by former Speech and Drama teacher, Margaret Way MBE. Margaret was a much-loved member of the school community, with many of her pupils successfully undertaking LAMDA and Poetry Vanguard examinations. He also played a major role in the senior play, An Alien Stole My Skateboard, and was a keen musician – playing the violin, the piccolo and the lute, as well as being a member of the school orchestra and choir.
Following many happy and successful years at King’s Hall, he moved on to King’s College where he was also involved in the school’s thriving arts scene. He and his brother, Henry, also developed a love for fencing, with James representing Great Britain internationally as part of the U16 team, and competing nationally and internationally throughout his time at King’s.
We recently had the privilege of catching up with James, who was more than happy to reflect on these times and share some valuable insight with our aspiring actors and actresses.
KHS: “Hi James! Congrats on landing a role in Taming of the Shrew! Please could you tell us a little more about the production and how you prepared for the role?”
James: “Of course! I’m currently playing Lucentio, but am also working on the roles of Sly and Curtis; the way we worked on the play they are really all part of a single role. We prepared for the play as an ensemble, so we started rehearsals without knowing what roles we would be playing!
Before rehearsals I prepared by reading the play many, many times! It’s a very complex text and I’m still discovering things about it now as we perform it. We were also encouraged to read certain texts by Plato and Ovid that are helpful in understanding the play on a different level.”
KHS: “That’s so interesting! How did the opportunity come about and was the rehearsal period like?”
James: “It’s actually the first show I’ve worked on that I didn’t audition for. I met the director, Maria Gaitanidi, five years ago at a workshop that a friend invited me to. I found her approach to theatre really fascinating and since then I’ve tried to work and train with her whenever she has organised workshops or research labs.
When she was commissioned by The Globe to direct The Taming of the Shrew she asked if I would be interested in joining the ensemble and I jumped at the opportunity. I knew that the approach to the show wouldn’t be the same as other shows that I had done, and the rehearsals were a very free creative process. As well as being free to explore whichever roles we wanted, we were encouraged to bring in other texts, music and art that helped us explore the play further.”
KHS: “You say that this process was different to your previous jobs. What projects have you been involved in and do you have any exciting plans in the pipeline?”
James: “I actually started working in film first and it took me a while to break into theatre. My first job was in Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights (2011). I’ve always done more film and television, working with Joe Wright, Amma Asante and Lars Von Trier, as well as on The Imitation Game with Benedict Cumberbatch, and more recently, Catherine the Great with Helen Mirren.
My main project at the moment is The Last Kingdom on Netflix, which is now in its fourth series (and I’ve managed to survive so far!). Season 4 will be out later this year and I’m really looking forward to seeing it.
In terms of theatre, I’ve worked at The Crucible in Sheffield, The Chichester Festival Theatre, and most recently, closer to home at the Bath Theatre Royal in Lady in the Van. After working at The Globe, I’m finishing a feature film with the director Jon Sanders and have some other work coming up that I can’t talk about quite yet - but it’s a great start to a new decade!”
KHS: “Wow – that’s pretty impressive! Would you say that your time at King’s Hall impacted your career as an actor, and if so, how?”
James: “When I was at King’s there were lots of opportunities to be creative and we had great teachers. The facilities for theatre, music and performance were really good. I enjoyed all of my subjects, except maybe maths, and the library was my favourite place. I was never really a sports person and I appreciated that there was a place for everyone at King’s whatever their interests.
The person who had the biggest influence on me was definitely Margaret Way MBE, who sadly passed away in 2010. She was my Speech and Drama teacher throughout my time at both King’s Hall and King’s College (I don’t think there were many pupils who kept doing it for that long!). The verse speaking and poetry study I did with her wasn’t acting training, but it did lay the foundations for me working as an actor. She was always very realistic with me and told me time and time again that acting was a very difficult career. But she gave me a love and an appreciation of language that has defined much of my life, and I was very lucky to have been taught by her.
I also have to give credit to Matthew Bakewell who was my English teacher at GCSE and A level, and also our Head of Drama for a while. We did some pretty chaotic and brilliant shows with him, but more than that, he taught me to be independent and take responsibility for my studies and interests.”
KHS: “It just shows how important and impactful education can be! What advice would you give to our pupils who are thinking of pursuing a career in the arts?”
James: “Don’t expect a normal life! Working in the performing arts is one of the most brilliant and rewarding types of work you can do, but it doesn’t always go hand in hand with normal ‘career stuff’ – like making money, raising a family or leading a stable lifestyle. It’s uncertain and unpredictable; for some that is perfect, but it’s definitely not for everyone.
I’d advise anyone interested in the industry to try and gain some practical experience, either by working in a theatre or arts institution, or even joining a local youth theatre. This is the best way to see if it is really for you. Speaking with those who already work in the industry is also beneficial.
The performing arts is all about making connections and finding people you want to work with, and then building those relationships. Training, drama school, and agents are all a part of that, but they are a small part. The most important thing is that you love what you do and you believe in it. You’re an artist in the end, and if you love the art then that’s what you hold onto throughout your career.”
It's safe to say that James is a prime example of somebody who has grasped every opportunity, trying new things and pushing himself out of his comfort zone. These are messages that we instill in our pupils, and whilst our goal is to help them achieve great things, we also want them to understand that failure is all part of the process.
We are unsure whether our annual Arts Week will take place this year, as things in the wider world become more and more uncertain. This entire week is dedicated to the performing arts and usually includes theatre trips, circus skills workshops, live orchestras and an author visit (this year we are/were to welcome back popular children’s author, Emma Carroll).
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