You have an amazingly varied career — straight plays, musicals, cabaret and revue. Is that a help, professionally, or do you sometimes fall between several stools when it comes to being cast? "On the one hand it's obviously a help to be versatile, but at one stage I did decide to give up the cabaret for a while as people were thinking of me solely in those terms rather than as an actor."
As an actor, you were last in the West End in a Noël Coward play? "I was in Coward's Semi Monde at the Lyric, Shaftesbury Avenue. It was typically brave, and generous, of Thelma Holt to stage the show — which has about 30 actors in it, and it was a fascinating play to be in. It was also great fun to act with Nicola McAuliffe, who's an old friend of mine."
You've done a lot of work with Coward material . . . "Yes, and the show I've just finished with Judy Campbell, Where Are the Songs We Sung? was largely about her wartime experiences, touring with Coward in three of his shows. So I got to play the Coward roles!"
What's your favorite Coward part? "Probably Elyot in Private Lives . I enjoyed Alan Rickmans' performance in it at the Albery, but I'd love to play it myself in the West End. I did play it at Oxford once, for a charity performance. We did the balcony scene in Private Lives: I was Elyot, and Gyles Brandreth played Amanda!"
Like Coward you're well known as a cabaret performer as well as an actor. Is there a future for cabaret in London or does it essentially belong to the past? "Cabaret and revue — they're different but in some ways similar — are seen as being of the past, though The Jermyn Street Revue, directed by Sheridan Morley, was a success, as was my one-man show — also at Jermyn Street, about Flanders and Swan. "The trouble is that in London, unlike New York, there are very few venues for cabaret, so it's harder to bring on fresh talent and keep it fresh as an art form. As an art form, it's great fun and I enjoy doing it, but apart from Jermyn Street and the Pizza on the Park, there's very little opportunity to be seen. A lot of cabaret that I've done has been abroad — Monaco, Antibes, New York, San Francisco . . . "
Speaking of glamorous venues, your latest show is in Croydon? "It is! The Croydon Warehouse is staging the fourth Dick Barton show that I've co-written, and it's selling very well. We've a good local following in the area, but people obviously come from all over London.
"The Dick Barton episodes were set between the late 1940's and early 1950's, so it's a very different world: the appeal of nostalgia, I suppose. One reason this series works so well is we re-create that world rather than parody it — it's an affectionate re-creation, and the audience likes that. We use classical music for the tunes and add our own lyrics, and it's become an alternative seasonal entertainment at the Warehouse. Anyone who wants a fun trip back in time and a good night out at the theatre should give us a try!"
Dick Barton is playing at the Croydon Warehouse through Feb. 2, 2003.