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Neil Dudgeon: 'Stage acting is like riding a bike'

As the Midsomer Murders star takes to the stage for the first time in ten years, he talks about his new project and why he banks on director James Macdonald

Neil Dudgeon
© Johan Persson

Neil Dudgeon took over the mantle of Inspector Barnaby on TV series Midsomer Murders eight years ago, stepping into the shoes of John Nettles, who had played the role for 14 years. Outside of playing Barnaby, Dudgeon's thirty-year acting career has included appearing on screen in films such as Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and TV dramas such as Roman's Empire, A Touch of Frost and Inspector Morse. His stage work includes several appearances at the Royal Court, The Homecoming at the Almeida, Closer and Yerma at the National and The Daughter in Law at Bristol Old Vic. He's returning to the stage for the first time in ten years to star in Cordelia Lynn's new play One For Sorrow.

Stage acting is a bit like riding a bike. You're in a room, with some lovely actors, lovely script, trying to work out who my character is, where they are going, what's going on. Essentially it's always the same. There's always a point though when you get in front of an audience and that's a bit of a shock and a surprise.

You have to slightly fight for the space in theatre. The first time you do it with an audience is a first time for both of you. After the first few weeks, you've done it a few times and the space becomes the actor's space. At the beginning, nobody quite knows how it's going to be. It's all a bit of a wild card.

Whenever director James Macdonald says: 'Do you want to read this, or do a workshop on this', I'm pre-disposed to think yes. I first worked with him over 25 years ago. So many projects of his I've read and thought: 'I've no idea how you'd begin to stage this' and then saw it and thought: 'It's brilliantly done'. With his stamp of approval I knew it would be interesting to work on this play.

Neil Dudgeon in rehearsals
© Johan Persson

One For Sorrow is set in contemporary London on the night of a Paris-style terrorist attack. There's a family who live near and the two daughters and mother and father have a robust relationship in terms of the level of political debate in the house. Into their situation comes a stranger who seems to be escaping from the terrible events outside. It's very funny, but there's also a lot about family politics: parents who think they're liberal minded and the next generation who think the parents have broken everything.

Each episode of Midsomer Murders feels like a new show. It's nearly always a lot of fun. Each episode takes five weeks and at the beginning you always have a new director, new script writer and 12 to 15 new guests. So you get a burst of new energy. And we get some fantastic guests, like when Claire Bloom was in an episode and I got to grill her about Charlie Chaplin.