Shaken and Stirred: Tom Edden Tumbles His Way to a Tony Nomination as Wizened Waiter of One Man, Two Guvnors
By Kenneth Jones
Somewhere in heaven, Blake Edwards, Peter Sellers, Charlie Chaplin and a long line of storytellers who loved to create physical comedy are smiling down on Tom Edden, the 33-year-old British actor who was Tony Award-nominated for playing an inept, victimized octogenarian waiter in Broadway's One Man, Two Guvnors.
If you like pratfalls, plunges, slips, slaps and tumbles in your comedy, Edden is the New York City epicenter of such mayhem, getting knocked down stairs, whacked with a cricket bat and jolted with electricity eight times a week. In perhaps his most impressive move in the Nicholas Hytner-directed production of Richard Bean's farce, Edden bends his spine so far back that you expect him to kiss his own heels.
"I should be in Fosse," he told Playbill.com on May 2, the day after he learned that he was Tony-nominated as Best Featured Actor in a Play. "I'm in the wrong game!"
Clearly, this is an actor with years of clowning, movement and dance experience. But, no.
"I wish I could say I was trained with [master clown] Philippe Gaulier for three years in Paris," he said, shaking his head. Edden said he's done musicals, Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, but not movement-based theatre. "I've done pantomime," he adds, as an afterthought. "There's a lot of physical comedy in that tradition, back in England."
Donning a white fright wig and makeup that makes him appear sallow, craggy and aged, Edden created the role of doddering Alfie in the original National Theatre production of One Man, Two Guvnors. The play — inspired by the physical-comedy traditions of commedia dell'arte — became a West End sensation, and ten of the original cast members now appear in the Broadway debut, at the Music Box Theatre.
"When I perform, I respond physically," he explained of his first brush with Alfie. "With something this extreme, I thought, 'I can really play around with this.' I made some choices that some days my shoulders regret that I did. But, so far, fingers crossed, I'm still landing on something that's essentially soft."
How does he make it through the week without a stretcher?
"It's been very important to have some physical therapy — just to look after the spine, mainly, and the shoulders," he said.
"Oh, no, I can't do needles," said the actor who seems otherwise fearless, throwing himself headlong into his work.
His knockabout turn recalls the cartoonish violence often associated with Blake Edwards' "Pink Panther" films, which starred a bumbling Peter Sellers. Was Edden a fan?
"Yes — I was a huge fan," he said. "People have asked me where this came from. I absorbed all of that stuff when I was younger. I was addicted to Laurel and Hardy, in particular, and the Marx Brothers, and Marty Feldman always made me laugh — and Peter Sellers. Just by osmosis, I absorbed all of that."
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