, Nov 18th 2002
by Paul Webb


Roger Allam is one of our most versatile leading actors. Anyone who can be as effective as the vengeful Inspector Javert in Les Misérables as he was as camp Captain Terry Dennis in Privates on Parade (for which he won an Olivier award) has an impressive range. Now he is co-starring with Gillian (X Files) Anderson in What The Night Is For at the Comedy. Theatrenow went to meet him.

You’re playing a very heterosexual lover in What the Night is For – quite a contrast to your last West End role.  “It certainly is. And it’s always a good idea to play different types of role, but there wasn’t anything planned about the contrast; it just turned out that way.”

How is the current play going?
“Very well – we’re getting good audiences, and there’s a crowd outside the stage door each night, though I think you’ll find there are more of Gillian’s fans than mine!

“One thing I’m enjoying is that I’m playing an ‘unknown’, in that its a fictional creation, a person who only exists through Michael’s [Weller] writing and my performance – no-one has any expectations of what the character is or should be. That’s quite a contract with having played Hitler at the National.”

You got rave reviews for that, and a lot of the press attention was on how you made him seem almost likeable – quite charming. That was certainly different from how he’s normally portrayed.  “You have to remember that Hitler was appearing in a played called Speer – the person we saw on stage was Hitler as the hero-worshipping Speer saw him, and the demon behind the facade only appeared to Speer in a dream sequence. Had it been a play called Hitler and I’d played him as quite a charming chap then that would have been a very different matter…”

What The Night is For, unlike a history play like Speer, is about a fictional couple and their relationship. Judging by the press release it’s quite sexual?   “It certainly deals with sexual attraction, but you won’t find us giving gymnastic impersonations of the sex act on stage! It’s about former lovers who, now in their 40s, had an affair some ten years earlier. The play is essentially about a spiritual search for a soul mate.

“Michael Weller cottoned on to the fact that people often have second thoughts or regrets about old flames, and now, via the internet, its a lot easier to track such people down and see if you can rekindle something or if you’ve both moved on too much.

“Being in this play is fascinating for me in a purely practical way, in that I haven’t been in a two-hander before, and it’s an interesting dynamic.”

You’re acting with a television star, and you’ve made comments about screen stars in past interviews. Do you still regret the fact that theatre itself is throwing up less stars, and seems to take them from film and television?  “I’m greatly enjoying working with Gillian, who’s a great actress, but I do still regret that these days people don’t become stars just through theatre, in the way that they might have done in the past.

“People come out of drama schools today and they’re keen on a television series or whatever. I spent ten very happy years with the RSC from the early 1980s. These days the idea of a long-term commitment to a theatre company is the last thing a drama school graduate wants, whereas it was something that had always been an ambition of mine.

“And when they are established, actors no longer seem prepared to commit to a West end run. Contracts used to include the phrase ‘for run of play’ but that’s almost unheard of now – three months is the most that many people want to spend in a West End show.”

Do you have any particular ambitions? Any new plays in the drawer that you’d love to star in?  “No! Nothing’s lined up at the moment, and when it comes to reading new plays I think I’m a very bad judge of writing. I really need to see a play on the stage to fully appreciate it: otherwise it’s just a question of luck. I think we’re in a winner with What the Night is For, and although backstage is like a building site at the moment the stage and auditorium of the Comedy is lovely – its a great theatre to perform in, and I think that if actors enjoy a theatre that’s always reflected, for the better, in their performances. But you’ll have to decide for yourself on press night!”