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Meaty part is a true classic
Eton, Oxford and then the Conservatives? That seems to be the current well-trodden path. Except that Ben Lamb is breaking the mould on numerous fronts, not least his decision to opt for RADA rather than Parliament.
Following firmly on the heels of War Horse’s Tom Hiddleston, and The Iron Lady’s Harry Lloyd, Oxford’s actors are en vogue right now — not that Ben is remotely interested in trends. He just wants to get on and make a name for himself, regardless of background.
And yet, being a British gent, ask him about his success or his looks, and the 23-year-old starts stuttering about acting categories and how hard work always pays off. Mention his legion of female fans and he suddenly laughs and says maybe he’ll “do a topless curtain-call then” before blushing and changing the subject.
But he doesn’t stutter on stage — Ben is spell-binding to watch and always has been, judging by his previous record. While at RADA, he was head-hunted for a part in Hamlet at Sheffield Crucible with John Simm. He then went on to star in The Globe’s As You Like It, which sold out at The Bodleian last summer, and now he’s playing Percy Shelley in the Playhouse’s production of Mary Shelley.
And all off his own back, without a silver spoon in sight. “There were 3,500 entrants for 32 RADA places,” Ben mentions, “so I was ecstatic to get in and haven’t stopped learning since. But I’m lucky — I know several people from my year at RADA who are already giving up acting,” he shrugs.
Perhaps it’s because he puts his heart and soul into each performance that makes him so watchable, good looks aside. So how does he feel about Shelley, another old Etonion, who was expelled from Oxford University?
“Well Shelley was dreadfully bullied at school so I needed to get into his inner core and be able to show his fire and feel it. I’m not playing him as a romantic, dreamy poet, because Shelley is more emotionally grounded and visceral. But because he went to Eton I can identify with him, and will play him as a human being to whom certain situations occurred. It would be boring otherwise, because he was a very modern thinker.
“And the more I read about him, the more modern he seems. By the age of 20 he’d faced two assassination attempts and had proclaimed himself an atheist, which is why he was thrown out of Oxford. And then he went to Wales and Ireland, rabble-rousing with the working classes, so he was seen as dangerous.”
Easy to dominate the young Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin then? Ben laughs and shakes his head. “Oh no! Mary was a strong-willed woman and I don’t see Shelley as the entire motivating force behind the elopement. And besides, Mary embodied everything he thought of as ideal.
“Her mother was Mary Wollstonecraft and her father William Godwin, whom Shelley hero-worshipped, so there was a lot about him I didn’t know until now.”
So does Ben now feel he’s made it? “Actors aren’t confident people because the industry is based on rejection,” he says cautiously, “and it’s not a case of expecting great things, but expecting great things of yourself. You have to because if you get a last-minute call and need to learn your lines in two hours, no one else is going to.”
But as far as fame is concerned, Ben has a similarly British approach. “The more famous you are, the more likely you are to work, so it’s more of a practical thing,” he muses. “I’d rather be seen as transformative than a pin-up,” he manages. All I can say is I’m looking forward to the curtain call.
Oxford Playhouse’s resident company Shared Experience brings its acclaimed world premiere of Mary Shelley to Oxford Playhouse from Tuesday, May 29 to Saturday, June 2. Call 01865 305305 or visit oxfordplayhouse.com.