NEILSON’S COLUMN (September 11, 2014): A moment of “fame” after cricket with Sam Mendes

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Lots of actors play cricket. I’m not sure why, but it may be something to do with belonging to a group or team.

Actors have to bond quickly when they meet for the first time to rehearse a production or it simply won’t work as well as it should.

In the world of sport, the bond in a cricket team is also very tight.

As some of you will know, I play for Nuthurst Cricket Team; ‘The Nutters’ is our obvious and welcome nickname. When I joined the team last year I was surprised to find out that this little team in deepest West Sussex regularly plays against theatrical teams; The Bushmen, a team made up from workers at the BBC, The National Theatre, Harry Baldwin’s XI and London Theatres.

Playing these teams means that we occasionally get to play against some well known faces such as Jim Carter who plays Carson, the Butler in Downton Abbey, Michael Simkins, the Brighton-born actor who wrote the cricketing book Fatty Batter and Sam Mendes who directed Skyfall and American Beauty. Sam is a very good cricketer and played for Cambridge University.

I remember playing against him a few years ago when I was playing for Peter O’Toole’s team, The Lazarusians. At the time I was just about to join the cast of Oliver! at the London Palladium, which Sam had directed. Of course, Sam remembered me from my audition, so there was a little banter between us about me joining the cast.

Sam was bowling when I went out to bat and he joked that he was going to try to get me out first ball. He didn’t, it was the third!

On the first day of rehearsals for Oliver! the entire cast were asked to sit in the auditorium and wait for the director to come on stage to address us. As he entered, Sam saw me. He came down into the auditorium, shook me by the hand and chatted with me for several minutes.

Later, I discovered that some of the cast were thinking, who is this person Sam is talking to? How does Sam know him? Is he important? My “fame” only lasted until after the meeting when I told them that I knew Sam from playing cricket and I wasn’t important at all, but it was fun while it lasted and it was all thanks to cricket.