Acting on impulse - Jack Holden
14th August 2019
Local actor Jack Holden has appeared in the National Theatre’s War Horse and the 2018 film Journey’s End. This month he brings his popular Shakespeare collective the Handlebards to the EM Forster theatre to perform their version of The Tempest. He tells us all about his passion for performing
I was born in Pembury and then attended Stocks Green Primary in Hildenborough before going to The Judd School in Tonbridge. When I was 18 I was awarded a place at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School so I relocated to Bristol between 2008-11. After that I landed the dream first job in the National Theatre’s production of War Horse.
Since then, I’ve been living in London, acting, writing and producing but as I love West Kent I try to come back whenever I can. I feel very lucky to come from such a beautiful part of the world and I count Judd as the starting block of a very happy and fruitful career.
I remember wanting to be a stuntman when I was a boy but that soon developed into wanting to act. I acted as much as I could while I was at Judd, and I got involved with productions at Trinity and at the E M Forster theatre.
I learned that drama schools existed in my final year of school, and so decided to apply to a handful. I was very lucky to be one of only 14 people accepted into Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, where I got to act, sing and dance every day for three years. It was such fun and – more importantly – a brilliant vocational training.
Everyone knows how precarious it can be to work in the arts and I’ve certainly found that to be true at times, but I’ve also been lucky enough to build a career and a life in the industry I love. The reality of an actor’s life is that it swings from great excitement to deep monotony.
The thrill of live performance, the opportunity to travel all over the world, working alongside some living legends; all this is counterbalanced by the uncertainty of where the next job will come from, and the repetition of a long run of a show. The lows can be very low; but the highs are unspeakably exciting.
These highs have so far included: playing the lead in War Horse in the West End for a year, taking part in the National Theatre’s 50th birthday celebrations with Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith, Dame Helen Mirren and Ralph Fiennes, and being commissioned to write my first play. The lows have been the (mercifully brief) stretches of unemployment, and touring to some questionable locations...
Getting to play soldiers in Journey’s End was very fun. At the end of the film, there is a huge German attack on the trenches for which the special effects department acquired real dynamite. For days, they blew up swathes of a field, sending mud and debris over all the actors – and it was truly terrifying. No acting required. I also got to act alongside Toby Jones, one of my all-time acting heroes.
In War Horse, getting to work with the puppets was a complete joy too. Though it didn’t come without its mishaps. When I was rehearsing War Horse, I had to practise a running jump onto the back of the six-and-a-half-foot high horse puppet over and over again. On my first attempt at the running jump I made it onto the horse, but couldn’t slow myself down, and fell headfirst onto the other side of the stage. You do pick up some scrapes and scars in this profession!
I think my true passion has moved from theatre to film. I started with stage acting, and always thought I’d be happy on stages for the rest of my life but, as soon as I acted in my first feature film, I was hooked. The army of people and the immense amounts of work which go into creating beautiful and precise moments of film, absolutely blows my mind. It’s why I’ve started producing short films myself. But there is more television content being made than ever before, so I think that’s the world to move into now.
Holden on the Handlebards
I started as assistant producer for The HandleBards last summer, so I’m into my second season with them now. I look after the logistics of their two national tours: the all-male troupe’s Much Ado About Nothing and the all-female troupe’s The Tempest.
They’re both fantastic shows, and the actors cycle from venue to venue, clocking up about 1,500 miles across the summer. I joined The HandleBards because I wanted to turn my hand to producing, and I truly believe in their mission to bring sustainable, accessible and affordable Shakespeare to people all over the country. I’m thrilled
The HandleBards came to the EM Forster theatre on August 6. There’s something pleasingly full circle about bringing some theatre back to the place that gave me my passion.
The HandleBards interpret Shakespeare like no one else. Our shows are high energy, hilarious, original and, most importantly, understandable. If you’ve never seen Shakespeare before, it’s a great introduction; if you’re a Bard aficionado, you’ll love our irreverent and intelligent shows. Be warned, however: The HandleBards will probably help themselves to your picnics! They work up quite an appetite on their bikes.
Did you know?
Jack’s father runs Mr Books in Tonbridge. “I couldn’t let this interview pass without mentioning Mr Books, the Tonbridge bookshop run by my dad! It’s such a little gem in the High Street, Phil has done such great work to make it a welcoming, cosy place to be and I think it’s a real asset to Tonbridge.
High streets across the country are homogenising at an alarming rate but in spite of this Tonbridge manages to retain its identity. But it only lasts if people go out and visit their high streets. Every time I’m back I buy an armful of books – there are some really interesting finds in there, plus Phil will always order books in new when you ask. Much better than Amazon.”
Why I love Tonbridge
What do you enjoy about coming home to Tonbridge?
I love the old town: the Castle, the river, the cafés, walking out through the parks and into the countryside to find a nice pub.
Any particular favourite scenic places you like to visit?
I love getting out to the nearby National Trust properties in the area: my favourites are Chartwell House, Ightham Mote and Knole House.
Best place for a coffee or a cuppa?
I always swing by the Old Fire Station for a lovely coffee.
And a beer?
Nothing beats the Chaser Inn in Shipbourne on a warm summer’s evening.