Meet Huddersfield actor Danny Kirrane who has had roles in Game of Thrones and Trollied and is now in National Theatre production of Shakespeare's Henry V in cinemas

Huddersfield actor Danny Kirrane appears in cinemas from today in the National Theatre production of Shakespeare’s Henry V. Phil Penfold reports.

The loss to the world of physics and astrophysics is undoubtedly acting’s gain. Huddersfield’s Danny Kirrane read both science subjects as a student at Leeds University, and had “an absolutely amazing time. My years there were such an enjoyable experience”, but when he’d achieved his BSc his ambition wasn’t to lead the team at Jodrell Bank, or to take over the presentation of The Sky at Night.

Not at all. Danny decided to be a full-time actor. It wasn’t, however, something that popped up “out of the blue”. He laughs and explains: “Acting had always been a hobby, and I’d done a few local am-dram productions and bits and pieces at school.

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“It all started when my two sisters went to dance classes, and I went with them, and sat outside, thinking how great performing live to an audience might be. I don’t know how she managed it, but my Grandma wrote off to the National Youth Theatre, and asked if they could give me an audition.

Danny Kirrane performing in the National Theatre production of Shakespeare's Henry V.

Photo: Helen MurrayDanny Kirrane performing in the National Theatre production of Shakespeare's Henry V.

Photo: Helen Murray
Danny Kirrane performing in the National Theatre production of Shakespeare's Henry V. Photo: Helen Murray
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“Looking back, to say that I was surprised when they asked me down to London is a complete understatement. Off I went, and they’d asked me to perform two different speeches – my first choice was ‘If music be the food of love’, from Twelfth Night, and the second was from a play that I’d discovered which had been presented by the amazing Red Ladder company. It was about a very drunk guy staggering home from a pub, and being deeply unflattering about Queen Victoria.

“The Shakespeare, to be honest, probably made the people on the audition panel roll their eyes in despair – they’d have heard it all, and done far, far better, many times before. So, it was the rant from Red Ladder which got me in. Matt Smith was another member of the NYT in my year back then.

“And I had a whale of a time with them. What an opportunity that was. I genuinely feel for any young actor or performer these days, because if they want to study drama or whatever, they come out burdened with a massive and eye-boggling debt, which has to be re-paid, and our profession isn’t exactly known for giving constant and regular work to those who labour in it, is it?”

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Performers on stage in Henry V, out in cinemas from today. Photo: Helen MurrayPerformers on stage in Henry V, out in cinemas from today. Photo: Helen Murray
Performers on stage in Henry V, out in cinemas from today. Photo: Helen Murray

Danny, however, has already carved an impressive niche, and he urges any would-be actor to “get out there, and follow your dream. If you really want to do it – and I emphasise the word ‘really’, get going and give it your best. There will be knock-backs, but pick yourself up, and get over them.

“Of course, I’ve failed to get roles in auditions, everyone has. And at the time, that’s a bit of a humiliation – until you learn to treat it as an experience, and to realise that you have just had another opportunity to add to your acting skills. Basically, it’s more practice. Grit and perseverance are the key. If you also have the hide of a rhinoceros, that is a bonus. You also learn - pretty quickly – that a lot of directors and casting people already know pretty well who they want to have in their company.

“So, if you have brown eyes, you are five feet four, and built like a Yorkshire barn, you aren’t going to tick their box when they are looking for someone who is over six feet, with blonde hair over your shoulders and with blue eyes. It’s all part of that ‘learning experience’ cliche, but painfully true.”

He reflects: “There is a crisis in our industry, made even more problematic with the pandemic, and budgets are being slashed everywhere. I can think of very few companies outside London who are able to stage the truly big drama events these days. Let’s face it, there are about forty and more named parts in Henry V – and we were pared down to under twenty players.”

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Danny, 35, has just finished a run with the National Theatre in their critically acclaimed production of Shakespeare’s Henry V, which was staged at the Donmar Warehouse, a venue that is noted for its innovative and sell-out shows. If the live performance has now ended, the great news is that, from today, audiences can now catch it on screen at their local cinema.

His main role was the Duke of Westmorland and he also plays soldier Pistol. “The Donmar holds about 250 people”, says Danny, “so it is amazing that it can now be enjoyed by many, many thousands of people.”

The production, by Max Webster (whose recent production of Life of Pi originated at the Crucible in Sheffield before taking both the West End and Broadway by storm) has been made chillingly relevant, Danny believes, “because of the war in Ukraine. That started on the night of our third preview, and because we are all in contemporary dress, it brought the action vividly into the lives of everyone involved, audience and cast alike.

“You could tell, night after night that people ‘got it’, that they felt the immediacy of it, and the connection with this story of nationalism, invasion, of prisoners and the brutality of war.”

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In his career, Danny has been in the right place at the right time – on several occasions. He played Dave in fourteen episodes of Trollied, and was cast as Henk in Game of Thrones. Then came the chance to work with director Mike Leigh in his film Peterloo, and – on stage – he was the first to originate the role of Davey in Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem, opposite Mark Rylance.

It began at The Royal Court, transferred into the West End, and then had a season on Broadway and, says Danny, “every night, for over six hundred performances, it was like getting an acting class from Mark, and being paid for it was the glowing cherry on the cake. There was no way that every night was the same, he always offered some new riff – subtle, but there, nevertheless., and it kept us all on our toes and at the top of our game.

“In New York, the atmosphere in the theatre every night was like being in a rock band. Electric magic! Being with Mark has the same effect as being with Mike Leigh, who is meticulous in detail, and who knows precisely what he wants from his actors.

“He’s very direct, and very honest, and – since I believe those are also characteristics that are associated with Yorkshire folk – I found him a dream to work for. He doesn’t take any prisoners, and can be very blunt. But you are left in no doubt about what he requires, and that is much valued by an actor.”

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Yes, he says with great pride, he still has a season ticket to watch his beloved Huddersfield Town, and he gets to as many of their matches as he possibly can. He’ll be seen next in the Netflix adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, and after that, he’s going to be in the costume drama The Serpent Queen, which stars Samantha Morton as the ruthless Catherine de Medici, who later became Queen of France.

Danny plays Louis de Bourbon “in full doublet and hose and velvet, and yes indeed, I do stand there, in some amazing locations, thinking to myself ‘what the heck am I doing, how did I get here, what is this all about?’ And then I think to myself ‘You lucky sod’, and after that I whisper ‘Thank you, Grandma!’ Because I love what I do, and, without her……”

For more information on Henry V, cast, screenings and booking, go to: ntlive.com and nationaltheatre.org.uk