Photograph above: Fred Perry with Scarlett Brookes in rehearsal for Tryst
Fred Perry, proprietor of the Chiswick Playhouse theatre and one half of the cast of their current production Tryst, trained at LAMDA, acted in theatre and television, then left the acting profession and worked in the City for twelve years. Having made his money as a banker, he came back to his first love: the theatre. He now produces plays and acts in his very own theatre.
My first dilemma on interviewing Fred is – is he Fred or is he Mark? He alternates, which is quite disconcerting. Mark is the name he grew up with, but when he left LAMDA to start his career as an actor, the name Mark Perry was already taken in the theatre handbook Spotlight, so he went with his nickname Fred as his stage name.
“I’ve been called Fred since the age of about three, after the famous tennis player” so Fred and Mark have become completely interchangeable. Maybe psychologically that made its mark, as he’s been an actor for almost as long. Slipping in and out of different characters seems to come naturally.
“I’ve acted professionally since I was 11 or 12” he tells me. Growing up in Surrey, the local theatre was the Thorndike (after Sybil). His parents weren’t particularly interested in theatre, but he remembers playing Fanny Squeers in Nicholas Nickleby at his prep school, aged 11 and it was through school that he started getting involved in acting professionally.
“I was the youngest of four” he says. “We were all quite loud. I had to be louder to get any attention – or food. If you were a shrinking violet you didn’t eat”.
As is often the case it was a teacher who really made the difference. Brian Joplin was the teacher at his school, St John’s in Leatherhead, who really encouraged him. Mark (for he was still Mark then) was a boarder.
“Brian was inspirational. He was an English teacher but also a director and he had a real passion for drama”. In typical shobiz style, he got his chance to shine when the lead actor in The Relapse, a rugby player, broke his ankle. Mark was really too young to play the part, but with a week to go before they opened, suddenly the part of Lord Foppington was his. “I loved it” he says.
“That’s why I’m keen to have acting courses and youth drama here” he tells me. Chiswick Playhouse has plans to start a youth drama group soon. His aim is to open a Saturday morning group for children aged 5 – 16 from Easter.
“What I’m most proud of is our School of Comedy” he tells me. “Kids come in twice a week to learn stand up comedy with two brilliant women. Will Poulter started here. Now he’s a major movie star”. (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader 2010, The Maze Runner 2014, The Revenant 2015, Detroit 2017, the interactive science fiction film Black Mirror: Bandersnatch 2018 and folk horror film Midsommar 2019).
Chiswick Playhouse current production Tryst, by Karoline Leach, with Fred Perry and Scarlett Brookes
Mark read Politics at Durham, went straight on to LAMDA and worked successfully as a jobbing actor, touring in The Real Inspector Hound and Black Comedy with the Donmar Warehouse and appearing in shows such as Eastenders and Spooks in small parts. He stopped acting in the early 2000s. “I went into finance for a while. I wanted another string to my bow.”
He makes the transition from being a jobbing actor to working in corporate finance sound easy. How did he do that?
“I had five separate interviews with directors of the bank”. (Barings – “after the crash” he hastens to add). “I was way out of my depth but when I gave my answers I just imitated them, emulated the way they spoke, using the same words – words I didn’t even understand”.
His spectacular bluff paid off. “I asked them later, why did you employ me when there were others far better qualified? ‘We liked you because you were just like us’ they said”.
There’s a lesson there for us all!
He soon did get to know what he was doing, advising media and entertainment companies on mergers and acquisitions. The entertainment industry became his speciality because it was the world with which he was familiar. He spent 12 years working in the City and then found he was increasingly involved in the theatre again, combining his commercial expertise with his knowledge of the theatre to become more involved in producing.
Rebranding the Tabard the Chiswick Playhouse
He now owns the lease on the Chiswick Playhouse – a rolling lease with Greene King, the owners of both the Tabard pub and the studio theatre above it. “It’s protected by the Bedford Park Society as both a pub and a theatre, which is great” he says.
In September 2019 the theatre was relaunched. After a successful ten years run by Simon Reilly as the Tabard theare, when he left Fred decided he wanted the theatre to be more firmly identified with Chiswick.
“It’s important that Chiswick has a theatre of its own it can be proud of and I want it known further afield. Chiswick is a big selling point. I’d like it to be known in the wider community that there is high quality work being produced here at low cost”.
Fred has been a Chiswick resident for 15 years. He and his wife Hazel have just welcomed their first child, Eliza, currently 12 weeks old. Actors Phyllis Logan and Kevin McNally, who live locally, have taken on the role of patrons, along with Torin Douglas MBE, Director of the Chiswick Book Festival. The theatre has a small but permanent management team: Sophie Kohl is the technical manager; Vicky Brown and Wayne Glover-Stuart the producers.
They are planning to take plays, such as their current production Tryst, on tour. Fred plays a Victorian conman in Tryst. It’s pretty dark, but a great play to go an watch, full of twists and turns.
“I think it’s a feminist play” he says. “Adelaide is the person with integrity. She comes out of it best”. In some ways maybe, but I won’t spoil it by telling you what happens.
Artistically his aim is to produce three plays in-house and to have another seven or eight shows produced by visiting companies.
“What we’re going to be doing is encouraging the next up and coming creatives – designers, director, writers. In a theatre everyone needs to be on their game”.
Currently Fred’s goal for the theatre is more mundane. The small space (it seats 100) is stifling in summer, so it needs air conditioning and he’s hoping to raise the funds to get it done in time for this summer.
Tryst is on until 29 February. It’s very good, and nearly sold out, so book tickets now if you’d like to go.