Veteran actor and writer John D Slater, brings his one man show, King Lear’s Fool’s Tale, to The Old Electric in March. Linda Hampton asked him about his long career on the stage and his show that he’s bringing to Blackpool.

Tell us a little bit about how you first got into acting.
I expect my first love affair with the stage started when I was a child – giving impromptu concerts for the family with the help of my grandfather, who was happy to be my stooge. Amateur dramatics beckoned when I was 17 – and continued until my early 20s. Then in partnership with the late Colin Bean (PT “Sponge” Dad’s Army) I went into pub theatre and eventually formed the Bijou Theatre Company.

Can you tell us more about the Bijou Theatre Company?
The Bijou Theatre Company or Bijou Productions, as it became, was formed in 1973 with a policy of taking theatre to people and that was pubs at first but then we went on to take theatre to hospitals, schools, village halls, churches, parks, gardens and in the street.

You have been treading the boards all your life. What is your secret to sustaining a career in the performing arts for so long?
My first thought was ‘have a screw loose’ but rather than ‘sustaining’ it, my main problem is getting out of it. For 50 plus years I have never put a registered dish-washer out of work. Bringing entertainment to audiences is part of the fibre of what one is.

What advice would you give to emerging actors just starting out?
Genuinely, I would say to them – if you can get your desire to entertain down the amateur stage route – then do that and get a real job. But if the longing in you is to be professional – be prepared to take anything that comes your way – including being the back half of a pantomime horse.

Do you have a writing routine? And if so, how often do you sit down to write?

It would be wonderful to have a routine but it would be a falsehood to claim I had one. Ideas appear at any time of day or next, slips of paper abound everywhere, and when enough of them come together I have a project. In some form or other, I write every day – and in many cases re-write and re-write again. With me, it’s always the next project which is so inviting.

How did you come to write King Lear’s Fool’s Tale?
It was whilst I was working on the Lawrence Olivier/Granada TV production of Shakespeare’s King Lear, that I began to take particular interest in the character of the Fool and the role of the Fool, not only in the play, but in the history of fools. I subsequently went on to play the fool/jester character in hundreds of productions and presentations, at a variety of locations, including stately homes, theatres and festivals, plus several TV slots, exploring folly at all levels.

However, it was during the recent lockdown period after viewing, via various internet film content sites, no fewer than five different productions of King Lear, that I had the idea to create a piece of theatre based on the Fool and his relationship with the king. I felt that might be a fascinating challenge, not to say a great deal of fun, to give the Fool a chance to have his own say.

Does the audience need to know the play King Lear in order to fully appreciate your play?
I wouldn’t say so but it helps. Although in all truth King Lear’s Fool’s Tale is an entity in itself – the Fool is telling the story of what happened to his master and how he came to be in the state he is in. The thrust of the play is the king, who has become a fugitive in his own land, and is being taken by the Fool to Dover where Lear is to be rescued by the king of France. They have halted their journey at an unnamed inn where the Fool engages in conversation with some customers (the audience) while the king waits outside.

What would you say is the message of this piece?
If there is a message, it would more than likely reflect the message of Shakespeare’s King Lear – avoid vanity at all costs, it can lead to troubled waters.

What would you say was the highlight of your acting career?
Getting my Equity Card, which I have now held for 49 years.

You can see King Lear’s Fool’s Tale, written and performed by John D Slater, for one night only at The Old Electric, Springfield Road, Blackpool, on Friday 24th March at 7pm. Tickets are priced at £7 and can be purchased here.

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