Our West End theatre run

Last year, Lucas Hare's 11-year-old son, Henry, got a role in his first major theatre production: Much Ado About Nothing at the Old Vic. With Lucas in a play at the Duchess Theatre across the river, what could possibly go wrong?

Lucas: I've been an actor for 20 years and now Henry is acting, too. There are actors on both sides of the family so I think destiny probably played a part. Henry's always been incredibly confident and from a very early age my wife, Hannah, and I would look at each other and say, "He's going on the stage, isn't he?"

Starting out

Lucas: When my daughter, Alice, was younger, I was away a lot but when Henry was little I was around more and would take him along to auditions with me. Apart from the odd toddler mishap, it wasn't usually a problem and on one occasion, when he was eight, the casting director for an advert asked to see Henry, too. Lucas HareThey loved him and he ended up doing the advert while I was just in the background and chaperoning him!

Henry: I've always enjoyed acting. I have the confidence to do it and it feels really good. I started at NLPAC [the New London Performing Arts Centre] when I was about five, as my dad was teaching drama there and I went along with him. I did a few of their big musical productions, which was fun.

Lucas: When Henry was eight, he joined the same casting agency as me. They have lots of children on their books so I thought if he did want to go into acting, it would be the best way to do it.

Henry: Later that year, I got a job at the National Theatre, shooting a scene for a play called Travelling Light, which was set in a small Jewish community. I got to learn about other parts of the world and different periods of history. I wasn't actually on stage but the sequence I filmed was shown in the play.

Lucas: The production went on for about six months with a tour but of course Henry didn't have to turn up for the performances. It was a good way to start for all of us.

Much ado about Shakespeare

Henry: In July 2013 I had an audition for Much Ado About Nothing at the Old Vic in London. I'd seen the play with David Tennant and Catherine Tate but that was very different: it was set in the modern day and the one at the Old Vic was set in World War II.

Lucas: Henry's audition with the director, Mark Rylance, lasted over an hour, which was such a change from the auditions where you go in, do a scene and then never hear from them. That's bad enough for an adult but very tough for a child. It's about rejection.

Henry: Mark judged us on our acting skills and didn't go on looks like lots of TV and film jobs do. He's an amazing actor and he understands the best way to audition people.

Henry with Much Ado posterWe were in two groups of six boys and they chose three boys from each group, including me. My character was called Hugh Oatcake, who is a member of the Watch. I started rehearsals in August and we opened at the beginning of September.

What a performance!

Lucas: Once Henry had the part, we had to figure out the logistics. I'd just got a job in a production of Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, which was in Chichester for five weeks. That meant I was away for Henry's tech week, where all the technical elements are checked out, and the opening. To complicate things further, it was his first week at secondary school.

Henry: The main tech day was my second proper day of secondary school! I was at the Old Vic all day on Wednesday, in school on Thursday and I had to leave school early on Friday. Because Dad was away, my mum drove me to the theatre.

Lucas: Hannah's a barrister who works very long hours so this was really bad timing. Luckily my production was due to move to the Duchess Theatre in London, which is only a mile away from the Old Vic. But being in two different plays that finish at two different times in two different theatres was still a nightmare.

Henry had two or three shows a week. I’d take him down to the Old Vic, get him something to eat and leave him at the stage door, hoping that the chaperone was there early. Then I’d rush to the Duchess Theatre for my show.

The children had to be out of the building as soon as the play finished. And I was in a three-hour play whereas he was done in two and a bit so I'd have to get someone to wait with him while I finished and raced back across the river. Thankfully the parents of the boy Henry was paired with usually waited with him. We couldn't have managed without them. Even when family members wanted to see the play, I'd say, "Please go this Saturday and stay with Henry until I get there."

Henry: I’d be waiting at the stage door and Dad would come running in as the last of the cast was leaving.

A nightmare journey

Lucas: There was one particularly stressful Saturday. We both had two shows and the Piccadilly Line wasn't working. Nor was the Northern Line. Henry outside theatreSo we were running across the Holloway Road, trying to find the best route, and I was ringing the chaperone, who was saying, "Well you have to get here on time." And then I had to get to my own theatre half an hour later.

We made it to the Old Vic slightly late for Henry's half [the half-hour call before a show starts]. I had to be on stage for the pre-show, before my play began. I was calling the company manager and saying, "I'm so sorry. Can you do the pre-show without me?" In the event, I got there, ran upstairs, got changed, ran downstairs and went on stage with about a minute to spare. It was terrifying!

Henry: When we were running late that day I twisted my ankle. It really hurt so I had to limp across the road and when I got to the theatre I had to be really careful on stage. It was hard but I did it. You've got to do that because it's your duty.

On the Watch...

Henry: Being in Much Ado was amazing. I loved it. You can almost see it as a way to get out of life for a while! As part of the Watch we had to arrest and question people. We also had to run around doing background stuff. It was really interesting. There were some great actors in the cast: Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones played Beatrice and Benedick, and I worked closely with Trevor Laird, Peter Wight, Kingsley Ben-Adir and Catherine Carlton.

Everyone in the cast and backstage was so kind and really took care of me. They didn't see me as just a child: they saw all of us boys as proper cast members. Much Ado will be in my subconscious forever. It's very special because it was my first actual performance on the big stage.

Lucas: Actors mix with all sorts of people of different ages and backgrounds, because the average play has a wide spectrum of characters. I'm sure they all believe that you're in it together: part of the team.

Henry: I played the role on the very first night – I did both preview nights so I was very tired. When we opened I got a postcard from James Earl Jones with Darth Vader on it, saying: "To Henry. May the Force be with you tonight."

Lucas: Kim Cattrall was in Sweet Bird of Youth at the Old Vic while they were rehearsing Much Ado, and Mark Rylance got her to come in and spend some time with the boys during rehearsals.

Henry: She gave us tips on learning our lines and concentrating when you go on stage and not getting distracted by the audience. She said to always stay in character and just imagine that there's nothing there. There's no audience. But there still is, if you see what I mean!

Lucas: I never saw an evening performance because I was on stage myself but I managed to see three matinees. The first time I saw Henry I watched the entire thing with an enormous grin on my face. I was so proud.

I sat near the back and I could hear every word he was saying. That's a real achievement: to project to the back of the Old Vic. The first time, Henry asked me afterwards whether I'd seen various things the other actors did and I said, "No, I was too busy watching you." And he said, "Well next time can you watch the play, not just me?" I tried, but it's hard not to watch your own son!

Acting and school

Henry: My schoolwork didn't suffer even though I was very tired. I used to not get much sleep. I did struggle but I thought, the play's going to be over soon so just hold on. It's like when you're on a run and you're so out of breath but you can see the finish line and you keep going.

My school uniform had make-up stains. It still does. I'd never have time to wash it off. I wanted to get home so I rushed at the theatre, then I'd be rushing again in the morning. I'd get to school and everyone would say, "You've got make-up on your face!"

I think my teachers were pleased I was in a Shakespeare play. When we did The Tempest, I understood it, and I got chosen to be in a lot of people's drama groups!

Lucas: The school was very supportive. Henry's teachers, that he'd just met, would ask what play he was in and he'd say, "I'm doing Much Ado About Nothing at the Old Vic with Vanessa Redgrave."

It was hard, though. He was going to bed around midnight and getting up for school the next day. That's tough for someone my age so I was amazed that he never said he was too tired. He just got on with it and that tells me he's got what it takes.

I'm also happy that Henry has a really good understanding of Shakespeare. I think a lot of children can be scared of it, but if you see it and enjoy it, you're off on the right foot. I'm a firm believer that Shakespeare needs to be watched.

The end of the run

Henry: When the play ended, it felt quite sudden. I was sad as it's like the character has a life and you're living that life as that character. So when the play ends, the character dies and you're back to normal life. Henry with Much Ado posterIt's like your character has had its time and then it's over.

In TV or film, you can just watch it again and your character lives on. But when you're in theatre, you just have to remember it because you don't have anything else.

Lucas: In plays, you have a tremendously intense period of time with a group of people. You're on stage together every night and you do bond. You know it's going to end one day, because you've got a date in your diary for the last show but when it stops, it feels very, very sudden. I really felt for Henry. He couldn't arrange to socialise with people, or friend them on Facebook or whatever. It was very tough for him when it ended.

One director likened making a film or being in a play to building a huge sandcastle on the beach with friends. Everyone gets together and it's a real team effort. Then you finish building and go and sit on the rocks and watch the tide come in and destroy the sandcastle. It doesn't last but you've had that experience together and that's the most important thing.

Father and son

Henry: My dad helps me before every audition. He gives me a lot of tips, which is really useful. Without Dad I probably wouldn't have been inspired as much. My first theatre was an Agatha Christie play he was in. I've spent a lot of time backstage with him, too. During Death and the Maiden I met Thandie Newton and she was very down to earth. She even helped me with my homework.

Lucas: I was an understudy so we sat in my dressing room for a two-show day. There were only three actors in the play and they all came by to say hi and Henry needed a bit of help...

I would love to be in a play with Henry. Not just because it would be fantastic, but also because of the logistics. I won't miss that dash to the Old Vic.

We often audition for adverts as father and son. Once, Henry asked me, "Dad, what have we got to do?" and I said, "Well, we've just got to be father and son." He said, "That'll be easy – we are father and son!" But for me it actually makes it more difficult because when we audition together I spend my entire time trying to make sure Henry's okay rather than just relaxing and acting.

Henry: I used to like watching an advert where my dad jumped into a fountain. And he was in a James Bond film, Die Another Day. I've not seen the whole film: just my dad's scene.

When I was young I used to get freaked out seeing him on the screen. I found it quite weird. If he became very well known I wouldn't know him as that. I'd know him as my dad. It's like if your father was a politician and then became the president. You wouldn't see him as the president; you'd see him as your dad.

Lucas: Acting does affect my parenting of Henry. We spend a lot of time acting or watching films or going to the theatre. The four of us go to the theatre as a family, but Henry and I go on our own quite a lot as well.

Acting affects family life, too. Henry's sister, Alice, is 19 and at Cambridge. She's not involved in acting at all. Neither is his mum. We’ve missed out on a lot of family time together, mainly through my job: we haven’t had a summer holiday for four years. You do miss out on lots of things.

Looking ahead

Henry: Henry Markham HareI have thought about making films, because I've always had ideas. I'd like to make a film that is completely realistic. You get films that are about real life but there are things that wouldn't happen and there is so much added in and edited. The thing about theatre is that you know it's real: it's all in front of you and you know that it's all happening. I prefer it.

Lucas: Mark Rylance said he wouldn't be surprised if Henry ends up being a director as he's very wise. He told me Henry has innate ability. I was very interested to hear that coming from somebody who is a phenomenally good actor and director.

As a parent I worry about rejection, late nights, not having enough money, working really hard and not getting much in return. But Henry's seen enough of that to make him realise what it's like, and he’s tough enough for acting.

Henry: I think when I'm older I'm going to understand the bigness of being in Much Ado. The amazingness of it. I definitely see myself continuing to act. I'm going to keep going to auditions because if you want to do something, you don't give up. If you try your hardest and you do everything you can, you'll succeed.

I don't know what the future holds but you know what? Bring it on. I can't wait! Everyone's life is so different and you have to find your own way of doing things. It is tough. But it's life.

Photo credits
Headshot of Henry/Henry in front of the Old Vic: Sam Hare
Headshot of Lucas: Nicholas Dawkes
Other photos taken by Lucas

NLPAC

The New London Performing Arts Centre is based in North London and provides dance, drama, singing and music classes for children and young people between the ages of three and 19. It is the largest children's performing arts centre in the country.

Find out how NLPAC got started.

Read about a showbiz family.

Debbie is an accidental stage mum.

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Sugarbird
Great story! What an amazing

Great story! What an amazing experience for Henry, who must be very talented. I wish him every success for the future.

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