Acting’s no drag for Roger

Anne Cox
Leighton Buzzard Observer & Citizen – 13th March 2009


 

Versatile actor Roger Allam talks about his role in God of Carnage.

MUSICAL fans will remember actor Roger Allam as Javert in the original production of Les Misérables back in 1985 but they’ll see a very different side to the hard working actor when he comes to Milton Keynes Theatre in God of Carnage.

Allam plays Michel Vallon, a purveyor of household wares whose marriage is in freefall following an incident involving his young son.

He stars alongside Richard E Grant, Lia Williams and Serena Evans, in the Yasmina Reza comedy that has had people chuckling in the aisles during its national tour.

The award-winning 55-year-old, who has a brace of young boys of his own, rapidly comes unbuttoned during the 80-minute production, at one point accused of murdering a hamster and at another tussling with his volatile wife over a bottle of rum. It gets pretty physical.

Roger hasn’t been on the road since he appeared with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1983 but he has become almost a permanent fixture in London’s West End.

He’s recently appeared in the comedy Boeing Boeing, which comes with a touring cast to Milton Keynes next month, as Hitler in David Edgar’s Speer at the National, in panto with Sir Ian McKellan at the Old Vic and as Willy Brandt in Michael Frayn’s play Democracy.

In May the actor takes over from Graham Norton as a drag queen in the smash hit musical La Cage Aux Folles back in the West End. He’s nothing if not versatile.

“The thing that attracted me to acting,” he told me as we sat in the stalls after a Carnage matinee, ” was doing things with a strong contrast. I wouldn’t like it if I thought I was being nailed down into a particular furrow.

“When I first got interested in acting at my school there was a book called ‘Great Actors’ which had interviews with Olivier, Gielguid and all that generation and there was always a double page for each of them with lots of little photos of the different characters they’d played with beards, make-up and in wildly different things.

“I thought: ‘Oh yes, that’s what I want to do’ so that was part of the initial attraction. I absolutely saw myself as Olivier! Why wouldn’t one want to be Laurence Olivier ?

“My character in God of Carnage, Michel Vallon, is a man who has done rather well for himself, expanding his father’s business, although I imagine that wasn’t his dream in life.

“Somewhere he becomes rather disappointed about it and his marriage is just on the point of finally breaking up as the play begins. Their marriage is like a tree that looks all right but all the roots are dead.

“It’s great fun but hard to play because it’s difficult material to get the balance right so that it is funny without letting the audience completely off the hook.

“When we were rehearsing we made a few changes from the version that was in the West End but the Broadway version has undergone a rather radical transformation because they’re setting it in New York and Americanising it.

“The difficulty of Anglicising it is that it would too easily become a different kind of comedy and that would muddy the waters a bit.

“I loved the material. I did Art (Reza’s world-wide hit from 14 years ago with a similar theme satirising middle-class snobbery) before with (director) Matthew Warchus and this job came up quite by chance and I was free.

“I’d seen the play in the West End and really liked it. I like this kind of material. It’s very unusual to be in a play with four very equally weighted parts so that when it’s flowing it’s like being in a perfect stringed quartet.”

The producers are hoping to shoehorn God of Carnage back into a West End theatre some time in the autumn and Allam has said that he’s be happy to go back in – if he’s free.

In the mean time he has to practice in high heels and corsets for his role as Albin in the award-winning La Cage.

“It will be fun. I haven’t put on the high heels yet but I will. A few years ago I did a production of Privates on Parade (winning an Olivier for best actor) at the Donmar in which I had to go some way down that (drag) path.

“I haven’t done a big musical for a long time. Privates is a play with music, a sort of hybrid, and it was at the Donmar which is quite small scale.

“I did panto at the Old Vic (playing Abanazar in Aladdin), that was like a musical, but the last big scale musical I did in the West End was City of Angels in 1993”.