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Jamie Parker: 'I've grown up with Guys and Dolls'

Actor Jamie Parker, known for being one of the original History Boys, is currently starring as Sky Masterson in the Chichester Festival Theatre production of ''Guys and Dolls'' which runs until 21 September

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Jamie Parker with Clare Foster in rehearsals
© Helen Maybanks

What is it about Guys and Dolls that's still so enduring?
It's still funny, it's still really romantic, but it couldn't be less saccharine. Yes it's writ large and - dare I say it - almost cartoonish in the colour and size of its characters, but there's real bite underneath it. It's intoxicating to be around that kind of unrepentance, and I never get bored of it.

What initially drew you to the show?
I've known Guys and Dolls my whole life - it's music and material I've grown up with. I can't remember the first time I saw it; it's just always been there, so there was no question really.

The show is quite typically American - has it helped having American director Gordon Greenberg?
Of course, definitely. He's from the melting pot, he's Broadway born and bred. His ear is finely tuned to the material and he's got a fantastic feel of the rhythm and optimistic vibrancy of it. It's not something in the great old English tradition and it's wonderful to have that proper Yank spirit - it's such rich stuff. Gordon is a great spirit to be at the helm of that.

Do you have any favourite songs from the show?
All of them. I know it sounds really naff but there's not a single song in the show that isn't a classic, that hasn't been in my bones since before I can remember. There are certain writers who just don't mesh with your voice at all but Frank Loesser has always felt like familiar territory and I just feel like he's a bit like an old friend. I'm always singing along with the songs I'm not involved in.

What's it like working with choreographer Carlos Acosta?
I doubt I'll get to be in a rehearsal room with someone like Carlos Acosta again, he's an extraordinary specimen. It's just enlightening; it's a new experience, the sort of thing I've never seen before. The big dance sequence is the Havana sequence, where the dancers are working incredibly hard. I thank my stars that I don't really have to be a dancer, especially surrounded by the talent that I am. I'm sort of a two and a half threat rather than a triple threat.

Jamie Parker and company
© Johan Persson

How is the revamped Chichester Festival Theatre?
Great. It's a curious one because obviously it's not a new theatre, it's a future proofing. If you're sitting out front, your first impression might be to wonder exactly how it's different because, although there are new seats and a new auditorium, ostensibly it's still the CFT. It's when you start to see what the theatre is going to do with the space over its first few productions when you're going to notice it's now capable of doing things that wouldn't have been done before. A lot of the work and money has gone backstage; now you can get the full company to wait to come on upstage without standing in a stairwell!

You're more known for plays. Was this a conscious change?
The first time I was in Chichester in 2003 was an operetta, and that was the last time I'd been in a full professional musical production. But I grew up doing musicals, I came up through National Youth Music Theatre and before I went to college I'd done many more musicals than I'd done plays. I've come close to doing a couple of others in the last ten years, but for one reason or another they haven't worked out or I've done other things instead.

Which particular roles would you love to perform in?
I'm a huge Sondheim fan. I did a gig for the Sondheim Society a couple of years ago, and we're going to be doing a new thing in September at the Pheasantry. If it's great music and gets the juices flowing, that's all there is to it. It has been a very interesting five years because I've been very lucky in being able to play a lot of roles that I've always wanted to play. What happens next, I don't have a plan for - if someone pays me to do the work, I'll probably go there.

Your co-star Sophie Thompson recently won Celebrity Masterchef. Has she cooked you anything?
She brought us in Gamblers' Shortbread, which was to die for. She kept that one under her hat! I'm sure she felt compelled to so she didn't ruin the outcome, but I'm sure it was just as much modesty. She's just gorgeous - she's delicious as well as the food! I keep badgering her for her duck roulade now.

Guys and Dolls is at Chichester Festival Theatre until 21 September 2014