What's Office Games about? "It's a play set in 1922, which is set in the Foreign Office, is about a group of colleagues, but is, in a wider way, about the 1920’s as a whole."
What part do you play? "My character is very religious, very conservative and gets bullied. Eventually all the things he most believes in are taken from him, and he loses his mind."
So, a drama rather than a comedy? "Well, there are moments of comedy in it, but they're of a dark comedy — very Harold Pinter, in that sense. It's fundamentally a very dramatic play, but interspersed with lighter moments, which is one of the things that attracted me to it."
Given that you have a wide choice of roles, including on film, what was it that drew you to a month's run of a play at a fringe theatre? "I've just done a film, and have a couple more lined up for later this year, so I'm keeping my options open! But I enjoy theatre as well, and it was the quality of Trevor Baxter's writing that attracted me to Office Games. I'm also fascinated by the 1920’s, how they were in a way so different from today but also so similar." In what ways? "Well, they are different in that in the 1920’s people - like the characters in the play - would go into a job and expect to be there for forty years or so. There was a job security, but also a lack of flexibility and openness to change, that's very different from today. There was also a huge class barrier: working, middle and upper class people had very different lives. There was none of the fluidity that you saw in the 1960’s when class barriers began to be broken down. It may have been rare for a working class boy to become, say, a fashion photographer in the early 1960’s but in the 1920’s it was unthinkable."
And the similarities? "Everyone talks about the sexual revolution of the 1960’s but it really happened forty years earlier, in the 1920’s. That was a very sexually liberated decade, and the government and elements of society in general clamped down hard when they thought that things were going too far in the aftermath of the First World War, when people who had survived it wanted to have fun, explore their sexuality, make the most of just being alive. So, before the clampdown and imposition of censorship in films, books and other areas, the 1920’s were quite a wild time, and much closer to the 2000’s than the 1930’s, 1940’s or 1950’s were."
So you've become a fan of the 1920’s? "In the sense that this play really opened my eyes about what the 1920’s were like, yes. We did a lot of background on the period before starting rehearsals, and I listened to recordings from radio programs from that period. In the 1920’s people spoke very naturally, as they do today. It was only this conservative reaction to them that I've already mentioned, that resulted in people on the BBC, from the 1930’s onwards, speaking in what today sounds a rather affected, strangulated 'posh' way."
Does your taking part in Office Games mean you're moving away from musicals? "It isn't really a career policy, but actually I'm not all that keen on musicals in any case. And Rent, which was my last West End role, wasn't so much a musical as a rock opera. And with any future work, whether it's a play or a musical, it'll depend entirely on the script and whether I'm interested in it."
Are there any actors that you particularly admire or would want to work with? And how has your acting changed over the years? "Judi Dench! She's my favorite actor ever. And I think Sean Connery has an amazing screen presence, probably more than anyone else around. Kevin Spacey is another actor I admire, and so is Ian McKellen. As for my acting, I was lucky in one way to have a huge break, literally at the beginning of my career, with ‘Coronation Street.’ The downside was that I wasn't experienced and had to learn my craft watched by millions of people several times a week. And there was all the publicity stuff that went with being a soap star."
Was that a problem? "Yes, in that I was so grateful for being where I was, and so determined not to be the spoilt star, that I agreed to do a lot of publicity stuff — like the topless modelling and promotional videos — that weren't really necessary. It's not that I'm prudish, and I would be prepared to perform topless, naked or whatever if it was right for the part, but only as part of a film or a play and not just for some striking publicity photos."
Where do you see your career heading? "It's hard to say. There's no comparison between me as an actor now, aged 24, and where I was aged 18. And I'm sure when I'm 29 there will be a marked difference between then and now. Hopefully I'll continue to be offered a wide variety of work, but the main thing is that it's good work — I won't do a film, for example, just because of the money — and I turned down far more lucrative work in favor of Office Games because I think it's a great play that deserves to be seen and which I want to be a part of."
Office Games is at the Pleasance Theatre April 23 to May 25.