From a world of midwives, nuns and childbirth to one dealing with rabbis, lapsed Jews and death, there’s no doubting actor Ben Caplan is experiencing the full gamut of roles that come his way, writes Francine Wolfisz.
He is currently gracing our screens in the BBC1 drama, Call The Midwife, in which he plays dapper policeman Peter Noakes (the love interest of Chummy, played by Miranda Hart).
But the talented 38-year-old is also now appearing on stage in Daniel Kanaber’s new play, Shiver, which opened earlier this week at the Watford Palace Theatre.
Set in the hours following the passing of family matriarch Sadie, the play revolves around lapsed Jew Mordecai (played by Miss Marple actor David Horovitch), his atheist son, Ben (played by Caplan) and a trainee rabbi (Ilan Goodman), who gather at the family home for the tradition of sitting shiva.
The married father-of-one, who lives in north London, explains: “I’d already played a character in a play previously where the character had found orthodoxy [as Josh in Mike Leigh’s Two Thousand Years], so I was interested in looking at the other side, a character who had turned his back on religion and pretty much on his family, which is quite a difficult thing to do. Obviously there are reasons for why that happened and for me as an actor that was quite a draw.”
Shiver explores the themes of fathers and sons, religion and identity, but importantly, the writing also has a strong dose of Jewish humour added into the mix.
“Even in the darkest moments there is a light side to it,” adds Caplan. “I think that accurately reflects how many of us, in quite difficult circumstances, cope by using a little bit of that special Jewish humour.”
While Caplan admits he was “drawn to the subject matter”, his latest role also offers a warming sense of nostalgia – for Watford Palace Theatre was just one of the many venues he himself was taken to as a child.
“I was definitely exposed to a lot of theatre from a young age,” he enthuses.
His father, Simon, an accountant by profession, was also a part-time producer of West End shows and as such the family often enjoyed a night out at the theatre. “I was just blown away by the power of live performance and remembered thinking I really wanted to have a go at doing that.”
Caplan pursued his dream and studied at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, where his contemporaries included Martin Freeman and Catherine Tate.
The roles soon started coming, including a part in the Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg-produced series, Band of Brothers, for which he played Mississippi machine-gunner, Walter “Smokey” Gordon.
Despite their initial reservations, Caplan says he is “extremely grateful” to his father and mother, Yoee for supporting his dream.
He reveals: “It’s quite scary when one of your children wants to take up acting as a profession, because it is very precarious. The percentages are not great in relation to how much work there is out there. Obviously my parents were a little scared. They wanted me to pursue my dream, but they were worried what would happen if it didn’t work out. But I’ve been extremely lucky and I’m please my parents can be proud and tell people about what I’m doing. As Jewish parents that’s a real joy for them.”
Caplan, who is married to Emma, a theatre director, quips that his two-year-old son might already have begun following in his footsteps.
“He shows definite signs of enjoying performing,” he laughs. “He once visited me on set for Call The Midwife and ended up making a cameo appearance, because we happened to need an extra baby! He’s just getting to the age where he understands that daddy plays a policeman on the telly, which is great – and I can’t wait till he’s old enough to come and see me on stage. That will be a real thrill for him.”
Aside from his current stage work and recurring role in Call The Midwife, the success of which Caplan describes as “extraordinary” (January’s audience figures hit a staggering 9.6 million), the hard-working actor is also set to appear in a new ITV drama later this year.
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies is a two-part dramatization about the real-life Bristol landlord who wrongly found himself at the centre of a murder inquiry.
Jefferies was arrested and held for two days after 25-year-old Joanna Yeates was found dead in 2010. Despite his innocence, Jefferies was subjected to “vilification” by the British press, which taunted his eccentric appearance and scrutinised his lifestyle.
Caplan will play Charles Chapman, a character based on friend of Jefferies who helped him to restore his ruined reputation.
Whether on screen or stage, it seems the seasoned actor is happy to take on a variety of roles.
“Yes, I like to keep my net spread wide,” he muses. “The challenge comes from playing lots of different parts. I’m having a great time and enjoying all the work I’ve been blessed to be part of.”
Shiver by Daniel Kanaber runs at Watford Palace Theatre until 22 February. Details: 01923 225 671 or www.watfordpalacetheatre.co.uk; Call The Midwife continues on BBC1, on Sunday, 8pm; The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies is scheduled for broadcast in spring 2014 on ITV.