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Steve Burbridge In Conversation With . . . Jack Ellis

Published by: Steve Burbridge on 14th Oct 2012 | View all blogs by Steve Burbridge

Jack Ellis (Jaggers) in GREAT EXPECTATIONS credit Alastair Muir.jpg

Renowned for his roles in many of television’s top-rated drama serials, Jack Ellis has a reputation for playing the type of character we all love to hate. However, he has great expectations that his latest stage role will enable him to demonstrate his true range and versatility as an actor.

“On television, casting directors tend to go with what the safe option is,” says Jack Ellis.

He makes this comment in response to my observation that, on television at least, he seems to be rather typecast as an actor who is employed to portray characters ‘with a bit of an edge.’ It’s a suggestion which is met with an irascible rebuff.

“Listen, I’ve done Shakespeare, you know – I’ve played Kings, I’ve played Dukes. On stage I’m not typecast at all, I can play all sorts of different people.”

A glance through his impressive list of theatre credits does, indeed, verify his claim. Most recently Jack played Hastings in the Old Vic's production of Richard III, starring Kevin Spacey, which also toured internationally, culminating in a successful run on Broadway. He is also a founder member of ATC London, for whom he performed all over the world in productions including Don Quixote, The Provoked Wife, The Tempest and Measure For Measure.

 He has worked at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Hamlet, Cymbeline and Twelfth Night and at the Queen’s Theatre in Much Ado About Nothing with Mark Rylance. He has also performed with The Agatha Christie Company in The Unexpected Guest and played Colonel Jessep in A Few Good Men at The Haymarket Theatre and Leon Czolgosz in Assassins at the Donmar Warehouse.

 Nevertheless, on the small screen he will always be remembered for his roles as wide-boy bookie Harry Mason in Coronation Street and, more notably, corrupt prison officer Jim Fenner in Bad Girls.

 “Playing Fenner provided me with six years of employment and put me very much in the public eye,” Jack admits. “I enjoyed it, to a degree, and I even supplied some of the storylines, but by the end it became impossible for me to continue playing such a selfish, murdering rapist.”

 Surprisingly, despite playing such an evil and ruthless character, Jack didn’t receive that much hostility from members of the viewing public. He was spared the wrath of little old ladies hitting him with their walking sticks in the supermarket, which often seems to afflict many other television villains.

 “After the nine o’clock watershed, people have a very different view of television characters,” he explains. “They tend to associate more closely with soap characters than they do with characters in a drama – somehow, there seems to be more of a distance.”

 The lack of public attention is something which Jack enjoys.

 “I’m not a celebrity, I never have been,” he maintains. “I became an actor to work in the trade, to learn the skill of being able to turn into different people.”

 It is partly this ethos that attracted him to the role of Jaggers, the manipulative lawyer, in a new stage production of Great Expectations which is being staged to mark the bicentenary celebrations of the birth of Charles Dickens.

 “It’s a huge privilege to be involved in this particular production at this particular time,” says Jack. “It’s the only Dickens production around at the moment that looks as though it is going to go anywhere.”

 Indeed, this production is lavish, spectacular and unashamedly theatrical, and it brings to life some of the most grotesque and memorable characters ever created. The stellar cast also includes Paula Wilcox as Miss Havisham and Chris Ellison as Magwitch. It tours to Darlington prior to its West End transfer.

 “We are, in a way, characters within Pip’s imagination, so we are exaggerated. However, in this production, the characterisations are exaggerated even more than Dickens wrote them, so it is a bit reminiscent of a Tim Burton film.”

 This dark, gothic and intense production has been adapted by Jo Clifford and conceived and directed by Graham McLaren.

 “Dickens’ work has a very broad appeal,” explains Jack. “And the thing about this production is it is only two hours long. I’d encourage people to come and see it – it’s got a huge and beautiful set and a brilliant sound-scape of music and sounds that underscores the whole piece.”

 During recent years, the public appetite for period drama – both on stage and television – has become insatiable, and Jack has a theory for why this is the case.

 “I think in periods of recession there’s a great desire to hark back, it’s a bit of an escape. I also think that we are intensely proud of our Victorian past and, in a way, we like to hold the mirror up to our nature, which hasn’t really changed that much at all. We seem to love looking at ourselves through the spyglass, really.”

 Jack’s current theatre roles are something of a return to his first love, too.

 “I haven’t worked on television for about four years, I’ve just done stage work because that’s what I really love doing,” he admits.

 But, he has not completely ruled out returning to the small screen – if the role was right.

 “I would be very pleased to accept a television role which was more sympathetic,” he says. “But I think that’s going to take some time.”

Great Expectations is at the Civic Theatre, Darlington from Tuesday, October 16, 2012 until Saturday 20 October 2012. Tickets are priced from £17.50 to £26.50, with concessions available. To book call 01325 486 555 or log on to





1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 5 years ago
    Thanks, Steve. Good to hear a first hand account from this experienced player.
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