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Brief Encounter With … Chris New

Chris New is playwright Joe Orton in the new stage play of Prick Up Your Ears, starring opposite Little Britain’s Matt Lucas as his lover-murderer Kenneth Halliwell and Gwen Taylor as the couple’s neighbour Mrs Corden. Simon Bent’s new play is based on Orton's diaries and the John Lahr biography of the same name (also the inspiration for Stephen Frears' 1987 film, scripted by Alan Bennett). It examines the relationship between the two writers which ended tragically in 1967 when Halliwell bludgeoned Orton to death before committing suicide.

Soon after graduating from RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), New was nominated for Best Newcomer prizes in both the Whatsonstage.com and Evening Standard Awards for his 2006 West End debut in Bent, co-starring Alan Cumming and directed by Daniel Kramer, who also helms Prick Up Your Ears.

New’s other stage credits have included The Reporter at the National, Twelfth Night and The Comedy of Errors for the RSC, Amazonia for the Young Vic and Hay Fever for the Royal Exchange. His TV credits include Doctors, Silent Witness, Frankie Howerd: Rather You Than Me and Casualty.

What attracted you to Prick Up Your Ears?
My flatmate James came up with the idea for the show after I heard that Matt Lucas was interested in doing a play. I'd known about Joe Orton since I was at college and had read John Lahr's biography. I found many comparisons between Joe and myself while I was reading - a working-class background, running off to London to go to RADA etc - and my physical resemblance was also a factor. And then Matt as Kenneth Halliwell seemed like such perfect casting. We were very lucky that Sonia Friedman, the producer, and Daniel Kramer, the director, were as excited about the project as Matt and I were and the ball started rolling from there.

What’s been the most interesting aspect of the play for you?
The driving force for all of us, as we started building ideas for the production, was understanding Kenneth Halliwell. We all felt that there was lots of new ground to cover when it came to portraying him. We wanted to make him a human character rather than a villain. We wanted to make him likable - there must have been a reason why Joe didn't just pack his bags and leave. As the years pass, I think that Ken's affect on the work Joe produced is becoming clearer. I think there’s no doubt that Joe wrote the plays, but without Kenneth ... well, who knows?

Stephen Frears’ film of Prick Up Your Earsis very well known. How do you that out of your mind?
I really haven't thought about the film much. We have created the play from original source material and John Lahr's biography. I've seen it maybe twice in the two years that we’ve been working on putting this show together - I'm not sure if anyone else in the production has watched it at all. The film and our play have both taken the title from the biography (which was going to be the title for Joe's next play), but the pieces are very different. I'm hoping Gary Oldman (who played Orton on screen) will come and see the show. I think he is a wonderful actor.

What’s your favourite line in the play?
There’s one line that Mrs Corden, Orton and Halliwell’s neighbour (played by Gwen Taylor, says in reference to a discussion about the roots of rock ‘n’ roll - which I won't repeat because I don't want to spoil it for audiences. I think that line is worth the ticket price alone. Simon Bent has done an amazing job, in my opinion. The more I work on the script, the more I’m impressed by it. One of my other favourite lines is a direct quote from Joe's published diaries - but I'll not spoil it.

How has it been working with Matt Lucas?
He is, as you might imagine, very good fun to work with. I have a feeling he sees himself as “just a comedian”, but I sense that his fans see him first as a damn good actor. It's been really, really exciting to watch Matt bring to the show his usual astounding comedy talents but also to see him stretch his dramatic wings. I think audiences are going to be very pleasantly surprised with the different sides to his skill that Matt is putting on show.

Why should people come & see Prick Up Your Ears?
Oh, I feel very silly if I try and sell the play. All I can say is that our team on-stage and off have all put a huge amount of love and energy into the show. And it's helmed by my favourite director Daniel Kramer whose work I think everyone should see - whether I'm in it or not/

- Chris New was speaking to Glenn Meads

Following a regional tour, Prick Up Your Ears opened on 30 September 2009 (previews from 17 September) at the West End’s Comedy Theatre, where it’s currently booking until 6 December. A version of this interview previously appeared on www.whatsonstage.com/northwest.

** DON’T MISS our Whatsonstage.com Outing to PRICK UP YOUR EARS on 12 November 2009 – inc a FREE poster & access to our EXCLUSIVE post-show Q&A - all for £34.50!! - click here for details! **


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