‘THE first episode had a lot of boobs — but fewer boobs than Game Of Thrones,’ says actor Alexander Vlahos, 29, explaining why historical drama Versailles, in which he plays Philippe, Duke of Orleans, caused a stir when it hit screens in 2015.
‘And there was a gay character with his head in another man’s crotch — but we weren’t breaking new ground. A Tory MP called it ‘porn in cravats’, which is hilarious. When a Tory MP says a show isn’t worth watching, I’d take that as a great stamp of approval.’
Alexander is proud of Versailles, which is currently back on BBC2 in its third and final series, and wants to dispel any rumours that it was cancelled. ‘That’s absolute nonsense,’ he says. ‘It was always supposed to be three series. The show pinpoints things in history that actually happened — anything after the end of this series would be fictional.’
Versailles is on TV while Alexander takes the lead in Romeo And Juliet at Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York, from June to September. The Rose is a pop-up replica of a 13-sided 16th-century Shakespearean theatre — and will be presenting productions of Macbeth, Richard III and A Midsummer Night’s Dream as well as Romeo And Juliet. Alexander also has a role as Catesby in Richard III.
‘I’ve done television for four years, so this is perfect for me right now. I’ve always loved being on stage — it’s so vibrant and immediate. It beats film and television’
How has he been finding rehearsals? ‘Tough. Challenging. Rewarding. Every scene has its challenges — but it is very exciting. I am relishing it.’
Alexandra Dowling, who co-stars as Juliet, also worked on TV show Merlin where Alexander played villain Mordred. ‘We died miserable deaths in that as well,’ he laughs. ‘It’s great to work with her again. You don’t have to be as diplomatic as you would be if you were getting to know another actor for the first time.’
Alexander is no stranger to Shakespeare — his first job out of drama school was in Hamlet at Sheffield’s Crucible. He then spent two years playing Malcolm in Kenneth Brannagh’s production of Macbeth on Broadway.
‘Ken was an invaluable teacher,’ he says. ‘He lives and breathes Shakespeare and really took me under his wing.’
The Rose Theatre has a ‘Shakespeare Village’ with Yorkshire street food, jesters and medieval music. Its traditional construction means the audience is exposed to the elements and there’s no stage lighting or microphones.
‘It’s the summer so it won’t get dark until late,’ he says. ‘The balcony scene is supposed to be done in complete darkness as it’s at night time but we won’t have that. We can’t use lighting to suggest what time it is — we have to use the text. That’s how it would have been done in Shakespeare’s time.’
Will people be put off because Shakespeare is perceived to be elitist? ‘No, and anyone who comes thinking that would be wrong. Shakespeare can be ostracising but it shouldn’t be — it should grab people. There’s something for everyone in these plays — tragedy, romance, blood, war, witches and fairies. Shakespeare’s plays are amazing stories — there’s a reason we do them so much in this country. And they’re accessible to everyone.’
Alexander first discovered his passion for theatre while doing A-levels at school in Wales. His drama teacher would take students to all sorts of productions, from Welsh-language plays to musicals in London’s West End. ‘We saw everything we could and that gave me the love of theatre. I originally wanted to be a film editor. I loved making Jackass-style home videos. But my teacher told me I should apply for drama school. She said I had a talent and I shouldn’t let it go to waste.
‘Thank goodness she did. I’ve had a successful career and I haven’t been out of work since I graduated. I owe her a great deal.’
For now though, there’s ten weeks of Romeo And Juliet to get through. And he couldn’t sound more excited.
‘If I wasn’t excited, I’d be in the wrong job. Playing Romeo is a massive opportunity. And I’m excited about the venue. It’s one-of-a-kind and the wagons outside will create a festival atmosphere, which is how it would have been in Shakespeare’s day,’ he says.
‘I can’t wait to spend the summer doing it.’
■ Romeo And Juliet, Richard III, Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream are playing at Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, York, until September 2, shakespearesrosetheatre.com. The third series of Versailles is currently on BBC2