Henry Goodman is a multi award-winning stage actor who seems to effortlessly turn his hand to musicals (Guys and Dolls, Assassins, Chicago) as well as classic drama (The Merchant of Venice, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) and comedy (Art, Absurd Person Singular).

Though less well known as such, Goodman is also an accomplished stage director. In South Africa, where he lived for nine years up to 1982, he was the artistic director for Cape Town's Space Theatre.

Goodman has recently opened at the West End's Garrick Theatre, starring in Alistair Beaton's new political satire, Feelgood , in which he plays a crazed press secretary determined to protect a New Labour-style PM.

Date & place of birth
Born in 1950 in Whitechapel, east London. The date was 23 April, coincidentally the same day as William Shakespeare's birthday.

Lives now in
South London

Next of kin
A wife and two children - a son, aged 19, and a girl, 15.

Trained at...

  • Toynbee Hall in the East End
  • Interaction Street Theatre
  • Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA)
  • The Leeder (Laban) School of Dance in Switzerland

    First big break

  • In 1960, Conspiracy of Hearts filmed at Pinewood Studios
  • In 1966, Love from Judy, a musical which I directed

    Career highlights

  • Directing the Troop and Space Theatres in Cape Town in 1981.
  • Assassins (1993) directed by Sam Mendes at the Donmar Warehouse (Olivier Award - Best Actor in a Musical)
  • The Merchant of Venice (1999) directed by Trevor Nunn at the National (Olivier, Critics' Circle & Variety Club Awards - Best Actor for "Shylock")
  • Chicago (1999) directed by Walter Bobbie at the West End's Adelphi Theatre, where it's still playing.

    Favourite production that you've ever worked
    The musical Love from Judy, which I directed. My sister and twin brother were performing. It opened up the world of theatre to me, of entertaining and moving people, of transforming their experience.

    Favourite co-star
    Imelda Staunton, who I've worked with on Guys and Dolls (National) and They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (RSC). She has wonderfully infectious enjoyment and warmth and she's a great performer.

    Favourite director
    I want to avoid naming individuals. I appreciate different qualities in different people. Although I've never worked with her, I am very interested a new young director, Erica Whyman (currently directing English Touring Theatre's production of Fool for Love).

    Favourite playwright
    I could go on and on but, for starters, I admire:

  • Ben Jonson - for his muscular wit and satire
  • Shakespeare - for his humanity and range
  • Ramon del Valle-Inclan - for his imagination and social criticism
  • Terry Johnson - for his ability to combine farce and tragedy

    What role would you most like to play (if you haven't already)?
    There are two: Faustus and the Zero Mostel part in the musical, The Producers (currently being revived to great acclaim on Broadway).

    What plays would you like to direct next?
    Sweet Bird of Youth by Tennessee Williams, and two plays which I've already directed in South Africa - David Hare's Fanshen and Steven Berkoff's Agamemnon, which I won a Best Director award for.

    How has directing influenced your work as an actor?
    From directing, I realise that detail matters and that thinking is tangible to an audience. It makes me work to give depth and humanity to acting and to the play.

    What's the best thing currently on stage?
    Joe Penhall's Blue/Orange (currently at the West End's Duchess Theatre). It addresses an important issue and features some very fine acting. Also, most of the work at the Battersea Arts Centre. They present a range of new plays there which are really fascinating.

    What advice would you give the government to secure the future of British theatre?
    Back more new young talent. Remember, Trevor Nunn was only 28 when he took over the RSC. Create an independent directors' school in order to share knowledge and improve skills.

    If you could swap places with one person, living or dead, who would it be?
    Adam in the Garden of Eden, because innocence has yet to become experience.

    Favourite book
    Seamus Heaney's The Redress of Poetry

    Favourite after-show haunt
    My dressing room with friends and family

    Favourite holiday destination I need to do more research on this one. I've given up far too many holidays and I've got to put that right with my family.

    Why did you want to do Feelgood?
    Because it requires personal and political courage, and it's very funny.

    What's your favourite line from Feelgood?
    Liz (a tough journalist played by Sian Thomas: "I thought you believed in freedom of information."
    Eddie (the spin doctor played by Goodman): "Yes, our freedom, your information."

    What's the funniest thing that has happened during the Feelgood run to date?
    The government creates new lines for us daily. We update the script whenever something legitimate and topical can be included while fitting the reality of the play.

    - Henry Goodman was speaking to Terri Paddock