Published: 18/06/2014 11:25 - Updated: 19/06/2014 16:23

Woolf tracks Mousetrap murderer

Jonathan Woolf as Sergeant Trotter (centre) with Henry Luxemburg as Giles Ralston (left) with Joanna Croll as Molly Johnson.
Jonathan Woolf as Sergeant Trotter (centre) with Henry Luxemburg as Giles Ralston (left) with Joanna Croll as Molly Johnson.


by Margaret Chrystall

YOU can see why a young actor might want the chance to get snapped up for The Mousetrap, joining the first touring cast of the longest-running show in the history of British theatre.

At over 25,000 performances, Agatha Christie’s murder mystery plays to a changed world from the one it opened to in 1952.

And Jonathan Woolf as murder investigator Sergeant Trotter – who makes a grand entrance on skis – is helping take himself back into that world with a small addition to his facial furniture.

"Ah, the moustache!" he says.

"People say ‘Poor you, putting up with that for 10 months!’.

"But it was actually my decision. When we started way back last August, the notes said that the character looks young for his age – but I do look VERY young for my age and I thought maybe a moustache would be quite fitting, a 1950s one.

"I thought it would help me to feel the part."

And feeling the part is very much part of Woolf’s acting philosophy.

One of his greatest joys about his training at London’s Drama Centre was getting the chance to be taught briefly by Reuven Adiv, a right-hand man of famous American Method acting guru Lee Strasberg.

"Reuven’s presence was one of the reasons I wanted to go there.

"I grew up watching Robert De Niro, Marlon Brando and Al Pacino – those are my heroes. Someone told me about this teacher at Drama Centre called Reuven who had been Lee Strasberg’s number two at the Actor’s Studio in America. He taught people like Pacino and Marilyn Monroe. And he was teaching there!

"I was very excited to go and remember having him for the first term and just sitting there in awe.

"At the end of that term I was called in to see the head of acting and she said Reuven was going to be directing Chekhov’s play Ivanov.

"And she said ‘You are going to be Ivanov!’

"I was quite delighted, but then over the Christmas holidays Reuven sadly passed away."

But Woolf has held on to the Method approach to acting.

He explained: "The Method is just a way of working, to try and be as truthful to the character as you can.

"People say it’s fully immersing yourself in being that person, but it can be a difficult thing to do onstage."

Yet the Inverness audience watching closely will be able to pick up a few hints in Jonathan’s performance.

"I will always try to be as authentic as possible in things like my appearance – that’s why I have the moustache.

"And if I have a notebook, as I do in The Mousetrap, I am really writing down what’s being said.

"It’s just trying to do things as realistically as possible.

"There is a scene where I am trying to find my skis and just before I go onstage they are right in front of me.

"I asked if it was possible to move them so that I couldn’t see them straight away!

"That sort of things helps."

But for an actor his age, Woolf has already had more experience than most.

"I went to the Betty Fox Stage School when I was seven.

"She was also an agent, so I auditioned for Wizard of Oz at the Royal Shakespeare Company and got the part of the City Father, one of the Munchkins, so that was my first role – when I was eight.

"From eight to 15 I was on a roll. I played Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol at Birmingham Rep, Peter Crachit in Scrooge and a boy soldier in Henry V at the RSC.

"It’s so much easier when you are younger," laughed the young actor. "You don’t think about it, you just do it!"

This period also explains Woolf’s love of classical theatre and he would love to get the chance to return to perform at the RSC where his father is head of music.

Woolf played other early roles in director Adrian Noble’s production of Thebans at the RSC and Michael Bogdanov’s Shakespeare productions of Coriolanus and The Winter’s Tale.

And his first professional role after college was as Bassanio in The Merchant Of Venice in the trailblazing Arcola Theatre in London with more recent plays including Travelling Light at the National Theatre with Anthony Sher.

But look at the CV and there is an intriguing gap.

He side-stepped going to drama college at 18 for what almost turned out to be an alternative career as a professional chef.

"I thought 18 was too young, so I got a job in a French restaurant, originally to be a bartender, but they didn’t have a space there and asked how I’d feel about working in the kitchen and that was fine – I come from a very foodie home.

"I started making sandwiches on the baguette menu, showed a lot of enthusiasm and passion for the baguettes," laughed the actor. "Then made desserts, then starters."

Time spent at a series of restaurants - learning everything from sauces to chocolate and sugar work along the way - included time at Jools Holland’s Jam House.

"It’s similar to acting in a way – it gives you that same buzz on a Saturday night, the same kind of adrenalin," Woolf explained.

"So I ended up doing that for four or five years – a bit longer than I ancticipated.

"It was very hard work, but at my last place I ended up with a very nice team, but once they got separated, I became less happy. I had turned 21 or 22 by then and felt I had to chase what I really wanted to do – acting."

Though he is pleased to be appearing in the legendary Mousetrap – Woolf hasn't caught any of the more than 24,000 performances.

He laughed: "When I was going to audition for the part, I asked about going to watch it in the West End and they told me not to. They wanted a fresh take on it from me.

"I was intrigued to see it, but at the same time, when you watch something sometimes and see it done in a certain way, there is always part of you remembering it.

"I will probably watch it once I’m finished and think ‘Oh, that’s how you’re supposed to do it!’.

"But it’s nice to do it your own way."

Jonathan Woolf stars as Sergeant Trotter in The Mousetrap at Eden Court from Monday to next Saturday (June 28).

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