Defining Roles – David Tennant

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As it’s the last day of the year, I thought I should write something for this blog, which has truly been one of the most enjoyable parts of 2014, especially when cooped up inside for weeks recently. So, to end the year I’ve chosen to post my next Defining Roles article about the actor who, in 2008, reignited my love of theatre and helped me see that Shakespeare could be accessible and wonderful when the production is right. His film career may not, as yet, have brought him a great role, however through his extensive television and stage work David Tennant proves time and again what a fantastic actor he is and I’ll certainly continue to follow his career with great interest.

So, here are my top ten defining roles of his career to date.

1. Hamlet (Hamlet – RSC, 2008/2009)

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Nothing else could be number one besides his stunning performance as the Prince of Denmark, in what most people class as Shakespeare’s most challenging role. This production had an incredible impact on me. I’d almost certainly not have met some of my closest friends and perhaps would not have become such a passionate theatregoer had I not travelled to Stratford-Upon-Avon in August 2008 to see this for the first time. As Hamlet, he is vulnerable, playful, funny, dark and commanded the stage in a production with an already strong ensemble. I was mesmerised every time. I hope the upcoming Cumberbatch Hamlet has a similar effect on a new generation.

2. The Tenth Doctor (Doctor Who – BBC, 2005-2010, 2013)

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The Tenth Doctor remains one of the roles David is most known for and with such a brilliant portrayal of a British television icon, that’s not a surprise. I’d loved Chris Eccleston and was very sad to hear he was leaving, but The Christmas Invasion made it clear from the outset that the TARDIS was in the best hands. Some perhaps find his Doctor too human due to his more emotional personality traits, but I loved Russell T Davies’ more emotional era and its sense of fun. Doctor number ten is intelligent, boyish, witty, fun, but is still capable of moments of darkness (The Family of Blood and Waters of Mars for example). More importantly, David’s performance drew a new set of fans to the series and although some may have left with him, many have remained and that’s something he should be congratulated for.

3. Alan Hamilton (Recovery – ITV, 2007)

RECOVERY

It still frustrates me seven years on that David Tennant’s performance in ITV’s drama Recovery did not win him a BAFTA. It remains for me, one of the finest performances of any actor on television and deserved far more attention and praise than it received at the time. Bringing the subject of brain injury and the difficulties faced not just by the person in recovery, but also their family, faced with living with a new person, was truly moving and both David and Sarah Parish are incredible. Sadly for reasons that have never been publicly explained it has also never been released on DVD. Hopefully some day this will change, but if you are able to watch it somehow, I strongly urge you to do so.

4. DI Peter Carlisle (Blackpool – BBC, 2004)

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Blackpool was such a brave concept for a BBC drama and could so easily not have worked. Set in Blackpool, it revolves around the murder investigation of a young man found dead in an amusement arcade owned by Ripley Holden (played by the wonderful David Morrissey), headed by DI Peter Carlisle (Tennant), who begins to suspect Ripley’s involvement in the crime, while also falling for his wife Natalie (Sarah Parish). What sets it apart though, is the addition of singing, as at key moments the characters start singing along to pop songs, such as “These Boots Are Made For Walking.” It sounds bonkers I know, but it actually works, not to mention there are some excellent performances from Morrissey, Parish and Tennant (in what is still, for me, his sexiest role!). Give it a watch if you missed it ten years ago.

5. Jimmy Porter (Look Back In Anger – Theatre Royal Bath/Royal Lyceum Theatre, 2005)

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I missed this stage production live, but thanks to the V&A theatre archive I’ve been able to catch up by viewing their high quality, multi-camera recording. His performance of Jimmy Porter deservedly won him the Critics’ Award for Theatre in Scotland for best male performance and it’s great to see him in a darker, more angry role. However he is also able to maintain the balance between Porter’s angry, violent side and his flawed, vulnerable side, resulting in a powerful ending. I’m confident I’ll revisit this production some time in the future.

6. Brendan Block (Secret Smile – ITV, 2005)

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Secret Smile also allowed Tennant the chance to display his ability to play a darker role in this ITV adaptation of Nicci French’s book. I may find some of the choices made for television a little annoying as someone who’s read the book, but that doesn’t take away from Tennant’s performance as the deeply disturbed and menacing Brendan Block. He appears to be the ideal man, until you start to see his darker nature. It was also amusing that this aired only months before he became the lead in the most popular family programme on British television, demonstrating his ability to play a variety of characters and genres.

7. DI Alec Hardy (Broadchurch – BBC, since 2013)

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Broadchurch was the television hit of 2013, proving that with quality and a great marketing strategy, event television can still happen in the age of the box set. Finding out who killed Danny Latimer gripped the nation and as well as it’s superb script, this was due to such a strong ensemble cast, led by Olivia Colman and David Tennant. Their partnership and chemistry are a huge part of the show’s success. Hardy is not an easy role, as he tends to be quite still and a man of few words, but David still conveys all the emotions running through his head even when saying nothing at all and I’m looking forward to delving more in to his character in series two, which starts on Monday. If you have yet to watch series one, now is the time!

8. Berowne (Love’s Labour’s Lost – RSC, 2008)

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Hamlet may have been the production that grabbed the headlines and media attention in 2008. However it was not the only RSC role David took on that season. Love’s Labour’s Lost was a Shakespeare play I was not familiar with at all and I think Greg Doran’s fun and charming production was a wonderful one to start with. Berowne does not really believe in love and spends the majority of the play mocking the  other men as they each fall in love, from his vantage point in the tree above which they each pour out their hearts. David is superb at comedy and his expressions to the audience as he watched them below was hilarious and it was easy to imagine him one day playing Benedick in Much Ado (or Love’s Labour’s Won as it is sometimes called). If only we’d been treated to this on DVD as well as Hamlet.

9. Dave Tiler (Single Father – BBC, 2010)

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After leaving Doctor Who you wondered what roles David would be taking and one of my favourites remains 2010’s Dave from Single Father. There are flaws to this BBC drama (none more so than the end for me, which annoys me every time), but David conveys the struggle of a man facing a life bringing up his children alone beautifully. His chemistry with Suranne Jones works well, but for me the most moving and impressive scenes are those between him and Natasha Watson, who plays his wife’s teenage daughter Lucy. Both actors are fantastic and their relationship feels genuinely believable.

10. Benedick (Much Ado About Nothing – Wyndams Theatre, 2011)

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The last of my top ten is another Shakespeare stage performance as, in 2011, David paired up with Catherine Tate to play two of the most fun characters in Shakespeare. Some theatregoers may have sneered at the production, but I loved it for its fun, colourful, vibrant and happy sparkle. Yet again David enabled a fresh audience to come to Shakespeare and enjoy it. He made the play accessible and clear and it’s one of his great strengths. With a fantastic ensemble, the production also contains my favourite stage interpretation of Don Pedro by Adam James, whose friendship with Tennant adds an extra layer of believability to their relationship. Thanks to Digital Theatre, this production can continue to be enjoyed by people worldwide, so if you are looking for something to cheer you up, this might do the trick.

****

Other notable mentions have to be given to Campbell (Takin’ Over The Asylum – BBC, 1994), Richard II (RII, RSC 2013-2014), Casanova (Casanova – BBC 2005), as well as some fantastic work for audio books in Quite Ugly One Morning (Time Warner, 2004) and two utterly brilliant and hilarious stints at Celebrity Autobiography (Leicester Square Theatre, 2010).

****

That’s my list. What would have made your top ten?

Thanks for reading over the last 12 months. See you in 2015.

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One response to “Defining Roles – David Tennant”

  1. Samuel Hooper says :

    Another great “Defining Roles” review. Tennant’s Hamlet will be very hard to beat, but it will be very interesting to see what Cumberbatch does with the role at the Barbican this year.

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