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Heart that now beats to the drum of war
The classic war play Journey's End comes to Bradford following a run in the West End. Arts reporter Nick Ahad spoke to its star, Philip Franks.
It's a long way from Heartbeat to a First World War trench, but it is a journey that Philip Franks has undertaken admirably.
Made a household name when he appeared as the love interest of a yet-to-marry-Hollywood-royalty Catherine Zeta Jones in Darling Buds of May, Franks went on to play the part of Sgt Raymond Craddock in the Yorkshire Television series Heartbeat.
What people might not realise is that Franks is a man who takes his theatre very seriously, an actor who has played at the National, with the RSC and has directed a number of plays.
A Heartbeat officer he may have been, but Franks has stayed out of pigeon-hole territory with canny career choices, and has now won enormous praise for his portrayal of Osborne in Journey's End.
"The bulk of my life has been spent in the theatre, but if people come to see me because they remember me from television that I have done, that's fine," says Franks.
"I think that people only really relate you to just one role if you stay in it for a very long time – and besides which, it's my job as an actor to make people believe in the character I am playing at the time!"
Despite having avoided the danger of being pigeon-holed, Franks admits that it has been a difficult decision at times to leave the comfort of a well-loved TV role and return to his true love of theatre.
"When I was in Heartbeat I lived in Leeds for four years, which I loved. The Yorkshire Moors are beautiful," said Franks.
"But four years is a long time to play one part and, although it was very seductive to keep doing a job like that, you have to be brave.
"Unless, of course, you are of a certain age and decide you want to have that kind of stability – but no actor, or indeed anyone, wants to feel that their work is purely mechanical."
Set in Belgium in 1918 before the end of the First World War, Journey's End is based on writer RC Sherriff's own experiences in the trenches.
It follows the turmoil of young Captain Stanhope, who's preparing his men for a daring raid across No Man's Land and an enemy attack.
Franks plays middle-aged school teacher Osborne, who signed up late and finds himself listening to the worries of the men in turn, as they try to be brave in the face of the inevitable.
The rave reviews from the West End seem testament enough that Franks's performance in Sherriff's great work has avoided any charge of being mechanical.
Franks is modest and says it is the production that is triumphant.
"I think people have been surprised by it, because they were expecting a creaky old war horse of a play, but they get something that is very powerful and emotional," he says.
"We do not go out of our way to draw a comparison with the war we find ourselves surrounded by now, but you would have to be pretty dim not to see the parallels with what is happening. I think it has given the play extra resonance."
nick.ahad@ypn.co.uk

Journey's End is at the Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, from Monday, November 29 until December 4. Box office 01274 432000.
26 November 2004
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