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Jemima Rooper On ... Being a West End Guvnor

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Jemima Rooper plays Rachel Crabbe in the National Theatre's hit production One Man, Two Guvnors, which is currently in previews at the West End's Adelphi Theatre (opens 21 November 2011) following a national tour.

Rooper was last in the West End in 2010 starring opposite David Suchet and Zoe Wanamaker in All My Sons, Her other other recent stage credits include Me and My Girl at the Sheffield Crucible, the Tricycle's Great Game season, and The Power of Yes and Her Naked Skin at the National.

Jemima Rooper: One Man, Two Guvnors is based on A Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni, which is a very old Italian farce about a man who agrees to two different men that he will be their servant, but has to keep them apart in order to get paid twice. But the two men are actually lovers – the one I play is a lady dressed up as a man – and they’re trying to get back together, but they’re being kept apart by their servant, so hilarity naturally ensues!

I essentially play the straight man, in that I have to provide the pressure that is put on Francis (played by James Corden), whereas Oliver Chris’ Guvnor is much more eccentric and silly. So of course the idea that I’m the scary one is made more ridiculous by the fact that I’m a small girl dressed up as a bloke.

For me, being able to waddle around and put on a man’s voice is the most fun – and I love wearing side-burns! I was desperate for a moustache but wasn’t allowed one. My look was modelled on Ringo Starr from the late 60s – I actually had my hair cut by the make-up lady while wearing a fake moustache, with a photo of Ringo next to the mirror.

Five star reviews

The fact the show has been so well received is a mixed blessing. When people are saying such amazing things and giving it five star reviews it means that the production comes with certain expectations, and you start off each night thinking ‘this could be the night when they don’t like it’. I get that feeling really badly, and it was weird because even after doing 100 shows, we would be out on tour and I’d get those first night nerves at each new venue.

The previews at the Adelphi have been going well so far. We’ve actually re-jigged the script slightly by cutting about 15 minutes, so some of it feels very familiar and some of it feels completely alien. So I’m feeling much more nervous and insecure all of a sudden, but that’s probably a good thing as it keeps us all on our toes. I don’t know if you should ever allow yourself to enjoy it too much because then you get complacent – it’s nice to have a bit of fear.

When we were at the National we had more theatre 'in jokes' which we’ve now cut, as there were references to other productions that were under the same roof. I think people were quite shocked that the National was putting on a show like this, which is one of the keys to its success. There’s also the fact that it’s a great medicine in these times to go and have a laugh at something that isn’t taking itself too seriously. I felt a bit guilty when I was doing All My Sons that we were making people cry every night!

Working with James Corden

I worked with James about four years ago on a play that wasn’t dissimilar in tone, but only had a three-week run. It was just before he got really big with Gavin and Stacey, and since then I’ve kept in touch with him and have been keen to work with him again.

I didn’t hesitate in any way about working with him again - I've always thought he's a fantastic actor first and foremost, the comedy is just an extension of that. From day one in rehearsals he was very humble and very much one of the team; he only admitted to me very briefly in one rehearsal that he was "bricking it", but he never showed it.

One of the main reasons we’ve all stuck with the show through the tour, into the West End and hopefully on to Broadway is because of him; I think he knows this is a special thing, though he’s by no means lording it over us! It’s a really good company, which he’s a really good head of.

Broadway bound?

I’m not entirely sure what’s happening next, but I think the plan after the Adelphi is to move the original cast to New York and keep the show in London with a different cast. They’re looking at lots of different options, and I doubt they’ll be replacing everyone like-for-like.

Richard Bean was commissioned to write it with James in mind, and I get the impression that if it was cast with someone else the script would be adapted slightly to fit them. Either way, it'll be exciting to see a new company put their own spin on it.

One Man, Two Guvnors is booking at the Adelphi until 25 February 2011.

Jemima Rooper will help us to announce the nominees in the 2012 Whatsonstage.com Awards at our Launch Party, held on Friday 2 December 2011 at the West End's Café de Paris.


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