Alfie Gledhill got his start on the Townsville stage.
Like many locals, he was bitten by the bug while taking part in productions by NQOMT and the Townsville Choral Society; before taking the leap and moving to Sydney in 2010 to pursue a career in acting.
In that time, Alfie has made a solid career in television, short films, commercials and on stage; with highlights including a stint as Presenter on ABC3’s Studio3, a role in television drama The Gods of Wheat Street and, most recently appearing in the Australian Tour of Billionaire Boy, a play based on the book by UK actor, writer and comedian David Walliams (Little Britain).
A decade after he left, Alfie is finally returning to perform for hometown audiences as the titular character in Othello. He will be joined by fellow Townsville exports, Brittany Santariga and James ‘JT’ Thomasson; as well as company actors from Theatre iNQ.
We sat down with Alfie, and Othello’s Director Terri Brabon, just three days into rehearsals to find out how it was going.
How does it feel to be back in Townsville?
ALFIE: Awesome. I feel really blessed to be back. I sat down and had a coffee with JT and Brittany not too long ago, because I’d heard what Terri and Brendan have been doing [with Theatre iNQ], but I didn’t really know anything about what was happening up this way. I feel really blessed that they’ve given me the opportunity to come back here and perform. Being one of seven in a family, my parents find it really hard to see all of my shows; it’s really hard to pay for six people’s flights, accommodation and tickets! So it’s nice to come and do a show back home and I can contact all my friends who’ve supported me ever since I moved away. I feel very fortunate.
What was the biggest drawcard for being part of Theatre iNQ’s Othello?
ALFIE: There’s so many drawcards in this! I’ve never played a main character in a show. I’ve always played supporting characters, so the fact that these guys have the confidence in me to play the main character – for one in Shakespeare and then in such a well-regarded Shakespeare play – is a blessing. Othello is typically portrayed by an older actor, because he’s an older character; so to be able to play Othello this early in my career is quite a beautiful opportunity.
Terri, what was it about Alfie that prompted you to go for a younger Othello?
TERRI: I was not a huge fan of Othello as a play, because I’ve just never been able to care about Othello and Desdemona’s relationship. I’ve just never understood it. So, in tackling a production that I have to helm, I was going through the script and just going ‘where do I feel like other productions haven’t reached me?’ and I felt like I really needed to be invested in the relationship between Othello and Desdemona and that meant that I needed a couple that I could get behind.
I wanted to get Brittany back and I’ve been following Alfie for a long time. We arrived in Townsville just as he was leaving, but even when I wasn’t living in Townsville, I was always very invested in Townsville and what was going on here, so I knew of Alfie but I hadn’t seen him perform. And even though I didn’t know him, I was motherly-proud that this Townsville boy had gone to Sydney and was getting gigs and making a wage. So when we started talking about doing Othello, I thought of Alfie immediately. My first pick was to try and see if this kid would come home and do it. I thought: ‘He doesn’t know who we are, he doesn’t know who I am, but that would be a kick for me. I would like to work with him.’ I knew he could sing and I knew he had music in his background – I have found that categorically musical people get the rhythms of Shakespeare really well, so I trusted that he would be able to bring that.
Alfie, you’re the only member of the Othello cast who hasn’t trained with Theatre iNQ; do you feel like an outsider?
ALFIE: Terri contacted me about Othello around the same time that I found out a lot of Townsville kids were out in the world, in the the industry at WAAPA, at QUT at NIDA: it blew my mind. I was like ‘Oh my god, look at us!’ And I don’t know about other actors in the industry, but I get a sense of real warm emotion when I hear there’s a Townsville kid doing well. I’m emotional right now! I get so overwhelmed when I hear another actor doing well from Townsville. And so when Terri asked me, I was like yes! Then I met JT and Brit shortly after and we’ve got so many mutual friends it’s ridiculous. It’s nice going into a play that is essentially about relationships with chemistry already built up.
TERRI: There’s something very Townsville about us and we’ve all come from the same experience, so it doesn’t feel like I’m working with somebody I haven’t ever worked with in my life. Alfie fits in already. It’s comfortable. Even though, one of the great things is that Alfie didn’t train with us, so that’s always nice to bring in something different. Also, because the main gear of Othello is that he isn’t like anyone else in his surroundings, so bringing someone else in to play him is quite good … we feel a different energy in the room because someone’s doing something unrecognisable to us.
The young actors we’re training in The Bridge Project are very lucky that they get these experiences as well … You learn so much just from being in the same room as someone who’s work ethic is so professional. And I can’t fault Alfie’s work ethic, he’s here to do a really great job – the kids learn a lot from that.
That’s a big responsibility for you, Alfie; not just stepping into a leading role but into a leadership role as well.
ALFIE: I agree. I think when you discover why you act, it gives you a superpower and I discovered a couple of years ago that I act because I want to be a good role model. That’s why I do a lot of children’s stuff and kids’ theatre: because I had a lot of amazing role models growing up and this is my way of giving back. I want to try and nurture the next generation and give optimism and faith. I’ve had so many kick-downs over the years being in the industry. Like, a lot! And it gets to the point where you see some younger actors, actors with talent and potential, go ‘I’m not going to do it’ because of one kick-down. When I see that I think ‘No. I want to be that faith or that energy in you that drives you forward because it’s just going to get better and you can’t see it yet because you’re young’. I love working with kids and I love inspiring them.
Catch Alfie in Theatre iNQ’s Othello at Queens Gardens on 17-29 September. For information, times and tickets, click here.