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Interviews

The history boy: an interview with Ashley Bowden

Twenty-seven year-old actor Ashley Bowden made his professional debut as Macduff in Macbeth in 2006, before landing a role in Heartbeat a year later. Having starred in everything from Journey’s End to Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, his current role as Drab, a travelling storyteller, brings the popular children’s book series Horrible Histories to life at the Hackney Empire.

 

TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT HORRIBLE HISTORIES AND YOUR ROLE IN IT

The concept is a travelling show where three characters, including Drab, act out the awful, horrible bits of history while the fourth character, Mistry, wants them to focus on the good parts, so there’s this long-running battle throughout.

DO YOU THINK IT’S IMPORTANT TO REVEAL THIS HORRIBLE SIDE OF HISTORY TO CHILDREN?

I think it’s best to let children decide for themselves. It’s an honest portrayal of what the Tudors and Victorians were like, but there is balance too.

WHAT’S IT LIKE PLAYING SO MANY PEOPLE?

It’s great fun. Henry VII is my favourite character to play. He’s so excited about being King that he just wants to get rid of anyone who’s a threat – get rid of Richard, stick his head on a pole somewhere and bury his bones under a car park. When you focus on the nasty bits it’s great.

THE BOOKS HAVE SOLD OVER 25M COPIES. HOW WOULD YOU EXPLAIN THEIR POPULARITY?

It’s the level of honesty I think – kids like being told something they perhaps haven’t been told before. At a base level, I think it’s also because it’s quite gruesome and violent -it’s historically accurate but it’s not a boring classroom lecture. It’s like wow. Elizabeth I killing Mary Queen of Scots in such a horrible way is actually part of our history.

YOU’VE BEEN TOURING SINCE JANUARY. DO YOU ENJOY IT?

It’s so lovely seeing all the different parts of England: last week we were in Blackpool, this week we’re in South End, and next week we’re in Hackney. Hackney’s perfect for theatre – being just outside the West End they can push the boundaries a bit. I’ve seen some fantastic stuff there.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE ROLE?

Probably the one I’m playing right now – Drab. He loves everything, so every time I go on stage I get to have a big smile on my face, jump around and be funny.

Of course through Drab, I also get to play historical characters – as well as Henry Tudor, I’m a woman on trial, next I’m Francis Drake. It’s hugely fun.

WAS THERE A PLAN B?

That’s a hard question. It would definitely be something involving drama – either working with kids or spending more time running my theatre company, BHM, which provides young kids with the professional experience they need for an acting career.

 

This interview was originally published in HP Saucethe supplement for the Hackney Post.

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Rae Boocock, 24. An aspiring journalist. Loves: interviewing, writing, reporting, reading, current affairs, culture, travel, food and feminism.

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