Neil Stuke On … Staying FarcicalDate: 20 April 2009
Neil Stuke is perhaps best known for his portrayal of über-lad Matthew in 90s sitcom Game On. His other TV credits include Drop the Dead Donkey, Office Gossip, Monday Monday and the forthcoming BBC revival of the Reginald Perrin series. On stage, he appeared in the West End run of popular farce Boeing Boeing, and this month returns to the genre to star in the Menier Chocolate Factory revival of Ben Travers' 1926 farce Rookery Nook, directed by Terry Johnson.
I was born to do farce, but I don’t really know how or why! I got involved in Rookery Nook after Terry (Johnson) saw me in Boeing Boeing, and I couldn't quite believe it when I got the call. I didn't think I'd ever be cast in a farce like this, because it's very different from my character in Boeing Boeing, who was basically a bumbling Welshman from the provinces. Rookery Nook is a very straight, very posh farce, so I suppose it's not what people would usually associate me with.
I think of myself as being a versatile actor, but I'll never forget David Suchet saying to me “don’t ever be versatile, it’s the death of your career!” I still don’t quite know what he meant by that, but so far it hasn't been the death of mine. Many people still associate me with Game On, but that was back in the mid-90s. I still get asked what I've done since then, which can be frustrating, because I’ve never stopped working.
Rookery Nook is a classic Aldwych farce, and is a beautifully-written piece. I play the lead, Gerald Popkiss, who's a bit of a Basil Fawlty-type, constantly getting himself deeper and deeper into trouble. He's a really lovely guy, but he's also bit of a twerp, which is always fun to play. The basic premise is that he has to try and hide a beautiful young girl from a variety of people connected to his new wife, which involves lots of doors opening and closing and all that kind of thing. Doing a Ben Travers farce makes you realise this guy really did set the blueprint for the genre.
This is my second collaboration with Terry Johnson since we did Entertaining Mr Sloane back in 2001. He's a great director, very detailed and very serious about comedy. He's very, very precise, infuriatingly so at times, but he's extremely clever and has a sharp eye coupled with a lot of taste! And farce requires musical precision – one wrong word and you've dropped a note – so I can't think of a better director to handle it.
Rookery Nook's produced by the same guys that did Boeing Boeing, which obviously had great success in the West End. I don't know whether this will transfer, but there does seem to be an appetite for farce at the moment, with shows like The 39 Steps continuing to do well. Perhaps people need cheering up, I don't know, but either way it seems to be the place the be at the moment so I'm happy to jump on the bandwagon!
I don’t really know where my career's going next. I’m playing C.J. In the new Reginald Perrin series which comes out this month, which was great fun, but generally I'd say television's the worst it’s ever been at the moment - it's in a shocking state, primarily because it’s run by morons. So I'll probably stay focussed on theatre for the time being.
- Neil Stuke was speaking to Theo Bosanquet
Rookery Nook is currently in previews at the Menier Chocolate Factory in Southwark, where it opens on 29 April and continues until 20 June.