Kander and Ebb's musical based on Christopher Isherwood's books, Goodbye to Berlin and Mr. Norris Changes Trains, was revived at the Donmar Warehouse in London, opening in December 1993.
Sam Mendes directed me as The Emcee, and Jane Horrocks as Sally Bowles. The production set the action in the actual cabaret club - the audience in the downstairs of the theatre were seated at tables and could have drinks during the action. Also, the true seediness and decadence of the time was evoked by the cast of actors and musicians.
We did a lot of research on getting the feel of life in those clubs in Berlin in the late 20s/early 30s. I only wanted to do the part if it was going to be an authentic look at what it was really like to be alive then, to be a part of a decadent world that ultimately disappeared. I wanted to be dirty and to be shocking, and to look like a drug addict, and to scare people and enchant them at the same time. It was a very scary thing for me, as I had never done any other big musicals before, and here I was doing one in the West End with the audience right up against me. It was also kind of foolhardy because I was so exhausted by Hamlet, and I rehearsed Cabaret during the day while performing Hamlet at night. But I am so glad I did it for so many reasons. It felt great to do something so different and very liberating to be so exposed - literally!
I was nominated for Best Actor in a Musical at the 1994 Olivier Awards, and the show was taped and broadcast on ITV.
I played the title role in Shakespeare's tragedy for the English Touring Theatre.
The production toured England and ended up in London at the Donmar Warehouse. I won the Martini Rossi TMA award for Best Actor, and was also nominated for the Richard Burton Award at the Shakespeare Globe Awards.
This was a huge thing for me. I'd never really wanted to do Hamlet, and it only came about when Tilda Swinton pulled out of the planned production of Miss Julie that I was going to do with Steve Unwin (the director). It really changed my life. I don't think anyone can play Hamlet without him affecting you in a really primal way. The part deals with such universal and yet personal things: your relationship with your parents, dealing with the death of a parent (and as I felt it, dealing with the death of a parent you didn't like very much), wanting to get away from home and back to your friends, university and your own life, trying to cope with your girlfriend suddenly dumping you when you are feeling really low for no apparent reason - as well as some issues that thinking about or exploring even on a very superficial level can be incredibly upsetting and haunting, e.g. wondering whether or not to kill yourself, and how to deal with your father's ghost coming to you and telling you to avenge his death! But even though it was the biggest challenge of my life to play (and sustain playing) this part, I am so grateful to have had the chance, because it really did change my life. It also eventually made me feel much more relaxed about my work. I feel that if I die tomorrow then I will have done something I am truly proud of.
This play was written by David Hirson, directed by Richard Jones and designed by Richard Hudson. It was produced at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith by Andrew Lloyd-Webber's Really Useful Company.
I played Valere, a hugely over-the-top, flamboyant and obsequious showman, who is favored by the Prince and offered a place in the acting troupe headed by Elomire. The play is a rhyming couplet pastiche of a Moliere play (the name Elomire is an anagram of the French playwright) and an extraordinary argument between art and commerce.
The play is also an incredible challenge for the actor playing Valere, as there is a nearly half an hour long monologue in the first act.
I was so exhausted by this play. It really did me in. I love the feeling when I think I'm not going to be able to do something, for real, and this really came close to that. But I still think it is one of the best parts I have ever played, and I wish the play would be recognized for the masterpiece it is.
I was nominated for an Olivier Award in the Comedy Performance of the Year category.
I played Romeo in this production at the Royal National Theatre Studio in London. Tim Supple, who had directed me in Accidental Death of an Anarchist, directed and Lucy Hall designed.
The RNT studio is an amazing place because you fully rehearse a play but only pout on a couple of performances for an invited audience, and so it was with Romeo and Juliet. The amazing Sophie Thompson, whom I had worked with in As You Like It at the RSC was my Juliet and the cast also included Lenny James and June Watson.
What struck me most about playing Romeo was how tortued he is at the beginning of the play, and in many ways he is falsely represented by the connotation that a Romeo is just someone who keeps falling in love. On the contrary, at the beginning of the play there are several mentions of how depressed he has seemed and there is some relief that he falls in love and gets out of his misery.
Victor and Barry's swan song was entitled In The Scud, which is a Scottish phrase meaning naked. And so Victor and Barry were bearing their souls and selves one last time for their fans. Forbes and I worked really hard on the script for this show with our friend Ashtar Alkhirsan, and in one of the previews at the Tron theatre in Glasgow Ashtar actually appeared as Victor, wearing Jimmy Somerville's motorbike helmet which we had borrowed from him! Don't ask! Suffice to say that the reason she was impersonating Victor was that Forbes was getting ready to re-enter as one of Victor and Barry's female friends. The scene was cut when we did the show the next night in Cumbernauld, and Jimmy's helmet was returned.
We went on to perform In The Scud at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh during the Fringe festival and then took it to the Kings Theatre in Glasgow before taking it to the Perrier Pick of the Fringe season later in the year where we performed a short run of a version of the show at the Purcell Rooms on the South Bank in London.
Victor and Barry returned to the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh for a few shows during the 1990 Edinburgh International Fringe Festival. Forbes and I hadn't been working together very much for a while so it was a bit of a reunion. We called the show Clean Ripe Gentlemen.
This Royal National Theatre production toured Britain before opening at the National Theatre's Cottesloe Theatre in 1990. I played The Madman and I also co-adapted the Dario Fo play with the play's director Tim Supple (published by Metheun Books). The role called for many disguises and changes, and the adaptation caused some controversy because of its criticism of the British government for the wrongful imprisonment of The Guildford Four and The Birmingham Six, innocent men accused of IRA crimes, who were all later released. The play was nominated for Best Revival at the 1990 Olivier Awards, and I won an Olivier for Comedy Performance of the Year. Here are some production stills and me in rehearsal with Dario Fo himself.
Tim and I worked really hard on this. We wanted to retain the wit and the farce of the original but also to be truthful to the political issues that were at stake at the time when Dario Fo had written it. So we went back to the original Italian translation, and then decided that the wrongful imprisonments of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four (two groups of innocent people who had been accused of IRA bombings) were comparable political issues of our time, and so we wove them into the dialogue and the plot. It was really successful because although it is very funny, it also was very shocking and that was what Fo intended. So even though we were quite radical in our approach we felt we were being more faithful than other adaptations had been. What was exciting was that during the run of the play we had to make changes all the time, because the Birmingham Six were released, and shortly afterwards so were the Guildford Four.
I performed this play in repertory with As You Like It, both productions of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
It was a new play by Peter Flannery based on the life of Peter Rachman, a famous property mogul played by Antony Sher and went from Auschwitz to the present day, and in every decade, if there was a young man as part of the story, it was me.
In this production by the Royal Shakespeare Company, I played Silvius, the young shepherd in (unrequited) love with Phoebe.
The production opened at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in the autumn of 1989, then toured to Newcastle before playing the London season at the Barbican in 1990.
All I will say about this production is that I hated my costume! When the story got to the forest of Arden, everyone suddenly wore underclothes. All the other boys who were the Duke's followers got to wear cut-off longjohns and singlets, but I had to wear white Y-fronts and have flowers in my hair. It was mortifying. The best thing about working at the RSC was making some great friends that I've kept in touch with ever since.
Sophie Thompson, who played Rosalind worked with Alan again in the films Emma and Nicholas Nickleby and as Juliet to his Romeo at the RNT studio.
Stephen Unwin, who had directed me in The Conquest of the South Pole, asked me to be in another weird German play called Knickers by Carl Sternheim, at the Bristol Old Vic theatre
The play is about a woman whose knickers fall down when she is watching a procession go by one day. This causes two men to become infatuated with her and move into the apartment she shares with her husband! My character was obsessed with Nietzsche.The other character who was in love was played by an actor who actually left the production after the first preview, so we were flung into turmoil (which was of course rather exciting).
This was the first play I had done in a rep in England, and I remember feeling like a proper actor going on the bus every day from my digs to the theatre.