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David Dimitriou, actor/dog-walker

September 11, 2010
by the gentle author

It is my pleasure to publish this guest interview by my friend Clive Murphy, novelist, poet, oral historian and long-time resident of Spitalfields. “The twenty-seven year old David Dimitriou of Leyden St, E1, spoke to me in my Brick Lane flat on the evening of Friday August 6th. I had thought he was dog-walker. Sometimes when ‘resting,’ he is a dog-walker, but he is principally a character actor of many voices.” Clive Murphy

“Actually, I am in a play tomorrow! ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ – Lysander. I’m a little worried about the approach the director’s taking. He’s asking for Lysander to be wide boy, a South East Londoner. “Yeah, yer go,” I talk like that. I’ve managed to keep the chav accent centralised, and the movement and costume should do much of the talking. I’ve to wear a long white tracksuit and a sleeveless t-shirt. If you’re given an interpretation you run with it. I don’t mind upsetting a few purists. We’ve all, not only the Mechanicals, got a comic element. For example, Oberon’s a Deep South American army man.

We’re performing at the Bromley Park Amphitheatre. It’s my first open-air show. What happens if it rains? I haven’t a clue. It starts at six and lasts two hours so we should be OK for light. There’s no electrics, no “Am I in the spot?” As long as I am heard I’ll be happy. I’ve to be up at eight o’clock and take the train to Bromley for the ‘tech.’ Then it’s on stage at six, finish at eight and back for a matinee only, at two on Sunday.

I think of myself as a character actor. I’ve even been a rock drummer, a conceited comic arsehole, in a spoof documentary that won second place at the South Carolina Film Festival. My agent put me up to ITV recently for what I thought was the part of a Middle Eastern owner of a laundromat. I spent an entire three days preparing a Middle Eastern Accent, based on my own Greek Cypriot background, and, when I got to the audition, the director told me the character was brought up in England! Once you’ve prepared your lines with a special accent, it’s pretty hard to change the inflections at a moment’s notice, so I failed. I was so self-conscious I don’t think I did any acting at all!

No, I don’t take Unemployment Benefit when ‘resting’. I did to begin with, but they’re far too negative at the Job Centre, always trying to catch you out. Every time I wrote something slightly wrong on the form, they stopped my £70 a week. My rent is £1,500 a month which my girlfriend, Naomi, and I split between us. I can only manage with the help of non-acting jobs. For instance, I sometimes work for a company called Look Media. They give me a scooter on the back of which is a trailer with some, say, anti-foxhunting slogan attached. You drive around anywhere they send you for £15 an hour. I’ve been an usher at Wyndham’s and I’ve helped in Customer Care for Eurostar. Moneywise it’s tight but I’m a good saver. Luckily I’ve met a businesswoman in the foyer of the block where I live. She was with a gorgeous little puppy, a Bichon Frise called Frankie. I said, “If you’d like me to walk him for you every now and then, let me know.” She rang suggesting three times a day. It’s £15 according to the internet, so I charged her £10 as she lives upstairs. She later cut me down to three walks for the price of two. I get told off almost every day for allowing Frankie amongst the greenery of Spital Square. I used to take him to the gardens beside Christ Church but he kept finding chicken bones.

Don’t forget I’ve only been acting professionally since 2007 when I was twenty-four. I was born in Birmingham but was taken almost immediately with my only sibling, my older sister who’s now a diving instructor, to Nicosia where my father was in the family business, Alexander Dimitriou – founded by my great-grandfather, which imports Massey Ferguson tractors and Honda cars. My mother had been an actress. She’d toured St Joan around America. In Nicosia there was only Greek theatre so she founded an amateur company there called The Anglo-Cypriot Theatre. I appeared in her pantomimes from the age of seven as a dormouse in ‘Cinderella,’ one of the townsfolk in ‘Mother Goose.’ I played Lomax in ‘Major Barbara’ at the age of fourteen. I’d no idea what I was doing, but I enjoyed myself so much I guess it was then I decided to go on the stage. I remember that, around that time, Simon Gilligan impressed me as a terrific Falstaff. Eventually I came back to England permanently not just for holidays. I did my A levels at a sixth form college, Cambridge Arts & Sciences CATS. I adored the place. We could smoke. We could wear tattoos. We didn’t even have to be back with our Houseparents until eleven o’ clock at night.

After the time of my A levels, RADA came along to CATS and set up a Foundation Course for those who wanted to go into acting, and I was asked to be part of the pilot scheme as I’d appeared with some success in several college shows. Helen Strange was the main voice coach. And Ellis Jones, head of RADA at the time, so inspired me that I started auditioning for Drama Schools. Failing to get into one at one, I thought, “Sod it! I’ll go to Uni!” and over three years at Exeter, I did a BA in Drama after which I was accepted by Mountview Theatre School, Wood Green, for a post-graduate year. I was auditioned by Andrew Jarvis. Andrew had such an amazing way of engaging your attention that I developed a sort of man crush on him. He once said something to me that’s always stuck in my head: “I’m not questioning how hard you’re trying. Don’t try harder, try differently!” When he left to take the part of Lord Elron in “The Lord of the Rings” at Drury Lane, I was devastated, I was in tears, I was almost ready to quit.

Fortunately, Sheila Allen – yes, the Sheila Allen – came to Mountview to teach a Shakespeare Module and she decided to take me under her wing. She said, “Stop trying to find idols to teach you to act! Just do it!” And she gave me the role of Iachimo in ‘Cymbeline’ to build me up, help me to believe in myself. We became friends and remain friends. Whenever I need advice, she gives it to me over the phone or at her home in Hampstead. In return, I give her computer lessons. Sheila is a no-nonsense teacher. No ‘method.’ No morphing. No St Joan having to spend days locked up in a room like a real prisoner.

Sheila is very much about the line endings in Shakespeare. Many think that if there’s no punctuation at the end of the line you just run it on. Not Sheila. She, like John Barton, believes Shakespeare wrote in iambic pentameters for a reason and that the line before frames the line after. “If it were done when ’tis done., then ’twere well/It were done quickly…” A slight pause after the tenth syllable gives more emphasis to the next line and achieves a more profound feeling. I phoned her about my performance tomorrow. She said, “Get your Complete Works and read it to me!” I did, and  she noticed I wasn’t doing my line endings properly.

I’m sorry, Clive. It’s now 9:40. I’ve got to leave you. I must have a good night’s rest before tomorrow’s show. All right. One or two questions. Superstitions, apart from not naming ‘the Scottish play’? Well, before every performance I must wear odd socks and I must not walk over three drain grids in a row or under any pavement road signs. Also, I’ve a lucky mascot that goes on my make-up table if there is one, otherwise it stays in my backpack. It’s a Swedish house gnome my sister gave me, and it looks like Santa Claus crossed with an elf.

No, there won’t be a prompter tomorrow and no, I won’t forget my lines. That’s how you’ve got to think. I’m looking forward to playing Lysander very, very much. In fact, what I most want to do with my life is appear in plays which I consider great, and with actors – Dare I say? Like me! – who are without pretensions, just interpreting the roles given them as honestly as they can.”

You may like to read about The Shakespearian Actors in Shoreditch

Lysander & Helena as envisaged by John Simmons (1823-76)

David Dimitriou’s head shot. Hair: black, eyes: hazel, equity status: full, skills include stage combat with rapier and cloak, accents: Greek, London, Estuary (native), Middle Eastern, RP, Russian and Italian.

Clive Murphy’s books of oral history are now available from Labour & Wait

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