“My first performance that I recall was as the star over the manager in the school nativity play. I don’t think I had much to say but my father got me a sparkly headband and I did all I could to attract attention and shine.”
I did many shows at school and in my gap year worked in the electrics department at the Palace Theatre in London on Jesus Christ Superstar, changing light bulbs, working the follow spot and crucifying Jesus eight times a week. During holidays from university I also worked in the LX departments on the West End musicals Annie, Elvis and Irene. (I specialised in shows with one name).
I began my professional stage career in 1980 at the Nottingham Playhouse. I had been performing in the Footlights Revue at Cambridge University when the director Richard Digby-Day came to a performance. He had just taken over the playhouse as Artistic Director and offered me a part in his inaugural production of The Boyfriend alongside another relative newcomer, Imelda Staunton. I stayed on at the theatre for a year performing in kids’ shows and musicals before spending a season over acting like mad at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park.
For many years I performed twice a week at the Comedy Store in London with the Comedy Store Players, an improvisation troupe. I performed on the very first night of the Comedy Store back in 1980 when I did a double act with Simon McBurney, the genius behind the Complicite Theatre Company.
Most of my performing these days is in my one woman show My Valentine which has played in theatres all over the country.
I have written several shows for the stage including the Shakespeare deconstruction Pocket Dream (co-written with Elly Brewer) which began life at Nottingham Playhouse before transferring to the West End. I also wrote the musical Big Night Out at the Little Sands Picture Palace which I performed in first with Anita Dobbs and Una Stubbs and subsequently with Bonnie Langford and Dillie Keane (music and lyrics by Dillie Keane).
In 2011 Patrick Sandford, artistic director of the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton, commissioned me to write a play on any subject I liked. It might have been obvious for me to write a comedy but I had been reading a lot about war and decided I wanted to see if I could highlight the issue of mental health in returned veterans. My partner, a psychotherapist, had had several encounters with returned veterans and had become enraged about some of their treatment.
I began to read about the effect of war on the individual. Some of the facts were astonishing. In Vietnam, it took an average of 50,000 rounds of ammunition to kill one enemy soldier. The ordinary enlisted man’s reluctance to kill was both heartening and distressing. I read about every war ’s legacy amongst combatants of all nations – divorce, marital problems, tranquiliser use, alcoholism, joblessness, heart disease, high blood pressure, ulcers and of course, tragically, suicide. Meanwhile, architects of war such as Tony Blair ended up fantastically rich and, irony of ironies, a peace envoy.
I wrote a two hander about an officer, Major Oscar Hadley, investigating the death of a young local possibly at the hands of a young British soldier called Eddie Clarke. The brilliant Anthony Andrews played Hadley while a newcomer, Joshua Miles, took on Eddie. The play opened at Southampton and in September 2012 was the inaugural production at the St James Theatre in London.
I am currently working with Dusty Springfield’s former Manager, Vicki Wickham and record Producer, Tristram Penna on a stage musical about the life of the iconic singer.
Portsmouth New Theatre Royal
The theatre was built in 1854 with a wonderful renovation in 1900 by the legendary Frank Matcham. I had the curious honour in 2013 of closing the theatre as the last act to perform before the builders came in to do much needed building work and restoration. It is a place where the greats have trod the boards – Sir Henry Irving, Sarah Bernhardt, Marie Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy, Morecombe and Wise etc. I hope to pen a piece which will be performed once the theatre reopens in 2014.