Ben Lamb is so English it’s almost painful. He’s also good looking enough to warrant becoming the new poster boy for his generation, with a CV to match. In short, he’s the next big thing, and as such Katherine MacAlister is delighted to give this Oxford lad an audience Oxford, Eton and then the Conservatives?
That’s seems to be the current well-trodden path.
Except that Ben Lamb is breaking the mould on numerous fronts, not least his decision to opt for RADA rather than parliament.
Following firmly on the heels of War Horse’s Tom Hiddleston, and The Iron Lady’s Harry Lloyd, Oxford’s actors are en vogue right now, not that Ben is remotely interested in trends. He just wants to get on and make a name for himself, regardless of his background.
And yet, being a British gent, ask him about his success or his looks, and the 23-year-old starts stuttering about acting categories and how hard work always pays off.
Mention his legion of female fans and he suddenly laughs and says maybe he’ll “do a topless curtain call then” before blushing and changing the subject.
Not that you’ll ever see him stuttering on stage because Ben is utterly spell-binding to watch and always has been, judging by his previous record.
While at RADA, Ben was headhunted for a part in Hamlet at the Sheffield Crucible with John Simms.
He then went on to star in The Globe’s version of As You Like It, which sold out at The Bodleian last summer, and is now playing Percy Shelley in the Playhouse’s production of Mary Shelley.
And all off his own back.
“There were 3,500 entrants for RADA for 32 places,” Ben mentions, “so I was ecstatic to get in and learned so much, and I haven’t stopped learning since. But I’m very lucky because I know several people from my year at RADA who are already giving up acting,” he shrugs.
Perhaps it’s because he puts his heart and soul into each performance that makes him so watchable, good looks aside. So how does he feel about Shelley, another old Etonian, who was expelled from Oxford University?
“Well Shelley was dreadfully bullied at school so I needed to get into his inner core and be able to show his fire and feel it.
“So I’m not playing him as a romantic, dreamy poet, because Shelley is more emotionally grounded and visceral than that. But because he went to Eton I can identify with him, and will play him as a human being to whom certain situations occurred. It would be pretty boring otherwise, because he was a very modern thinker.
“And the more I read about him, the more modern he seems. For example, by the time he was 20 he’d had two assassination attempts on his life and had proclaimed himself an atheist, which is why he was thrown out of Oxford.
“And then he went to Wales and Ireland rabble rousing with the working classes, so he was seen as a very dangerous influence.”
Easy to dominate the young Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin then? Ben laughs and shakes his head.
“Oh no! Mary was a very strong-willed woman herself and I don’t see Shelley as being the entire motivating force behind the elopement.
“And besides, Mary embodied everything he thought of as ideal. Her mother was Mary Wollstonecraft and her father William Godwin, whom Shelley hero-worshipped, so there was a lot about him I didn’t know until now.”
So does Ben now feel like he’s made it? “Actors aren’t confident people because the industry is based on rejection,” he says cautiously. “And it’s not a case of expecting great things, but expecting great things of yourself.
“You have to because if you get a last minute call and need to learn your lines in two hours, no one else is going to.”
But as far as fame is concerned, Ben has a similarly British approach to the whole thing. “The more famous you are, the more likely you are to work, so it’s more of a practical thing,” he muses.
“Put it this way, no actors I know act because they want to be rich and famous, that’s what you go on Big Brother for. But fame does come as a by-product of being a good actor.
“I just want to do it well and be happy so when I left RADA I wanted to improve and be challenged; that’s everybody’s dream because no one wants to go backwards. And this is a very exciting part because I’m the first person to play Shelley, which is very nice and extremely challenging.”
As for the looks, he blushes again: “I’d rather be seen as transformative than a pin-up,” he manages.
All I can say is I’m looking forward to the curtain call.
* Oxford Playhouse’s resident company Shared Experience brings its critically acclaimed world premiere production of Mary Shelley to Oxford Playhouse from Tuesday, May 29, to Saturday, June 2. Call the box office on 01865 305305 or book online at oxfordplayhouse.com