[dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap]n island, so to speak, thwarted Peter Thewlis’ most recent stage ambitions. “At a charity event, I bid for, and won, a walk-on role in Singapore Repertory Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park production of The Tempest,” recalls the managing director (Aseania) of Ermenegildo Zegna.

He says jokingly: “This would have been my return to Prospero’s enchanted island. However, since there aren’t a lot of ‘walk-on’ parts on a remote island, we settled for a future walk-on role in another production instead.”

The Singapore-based Briton once played the comedy’s lead character, Prospero, in a school production – and developed such an affection for the fictional sorcerer that he named his eldest daughter, Miranda, after Prospero’s child.

Thewlis’ interest in theatre began when he was a child attending Manchester Grammar School in the 1970s. “The home of Shakespeare was only two hours away, and the annual trips to Stratford-upon-Avon were always cherished,” he says.


In his final year at school, he played Prospero because “it was a great way to off set the pressure of academic reality by going on stage, putting on a magic cloak and casting spells”. Perhaps he was stressed nevertheless, because Thewlis flubbed his lines in the first act, delivering lines from the third act instead.

Fortunately, Ariel – played by a junior student called Phelim McDermott, who is now a professional actor and stage director – saved the day by responding with the correct speech. The rest of the play proceeded smoothly.

These days, Thewlis is more likely to be found reading or watching plays, rather than acting in them. His favourite dramatic work is Gian Carlo Menotti’s classic one-act Christmas opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, which he describes as “an opera for children with a beautiful role for a boy soprano”. He has fond memories of catching a staging of the opera here 12 years ago.

“As I travel a lot, it’s easier to read plays on the plane than to watch them,” he says. “I enjoy the way that, unlike movies, we can use our imagination to create the images of characters; and unlike books, we can ‘hear’ everything the characters say.”