But Charlie Condou
is currently on tour playing the 17th century preacher, Reverend John Hale, in Arthur Miller's
gripping American classic The Crucible,
which playsTheatre Royal Brighton,
Charlie explains why, sixty years on from when it was written, the play still has enormous power; what piece of advice he has found most useful throughout his career and how he shudders to remember the worst job he"s ever had to do…
The Brighton Magazine (TBM): The Crucible is set in Salem, Massachusetts. Are you doing an American or New England accent?
Charlie Condou: I"m not actually. Some people in the show are but Doug, the director, wanted me to do it in my own voice. So that"s made it easier for me! The idea was that as an educated man, the Reverend Hale would have been well-travelled and there was a good chance he"d still have his English accent.
TBM: In The Crucible, Arthur Miller was not only writing about the events that took place in Salem in 1692 but he was also reflecting what was happening in his own time. Is the play still relevant today?
Charlie Condou: I think it is, absolutely. And you can make the obvious parallels with what"s happening in America at the moment with its "post truth" and "alternative facts" and that"s what so brilliant about the play; it can apply to so many different times and that"s why it"s so prescient every time a good production of The Crucible is staged. Of course it"s about the story but you can always find parallels going on in the zeitgeist. It invites those kind of conversations in the audience.
TBM: What interests you about Reverend Hale, the part you play?
Charlie Condou: He's certainly the character that goes through the biggest change. He comes to Salem with a good idea of what"s happening. He"s not convinced there is a witch there but if there is, he knows that he is the person who"ll be able to find it, or them. He"s the one that kicks everything off; he"s the one who starts the court cases and the trials but then throughout the course of the play he comes to realise that the girls are completely making it up and from that point, he ends up unbelievably wracked with guilt. He feels like he"s created this monster, if you like, and he"s responsible for the deaths.
TBM: Is there a difference between the way you portray him at the start of the play to how he appears towards the end of it?
Charlie Condou:: Certainly by Act IV he says been in the wilderness for three months trying to find himself and seeking a Christian way and when he comes back in he"s a lot more broken. There"s definitely a change in his demeanour and I"ve tried to show that physically I would hope.
TBM: Arthur Miller took on lots of different jobs to support himself before he had success as a playwright. What has been the worst or least enjoyable job you"ve had to do?
Charlie Condou: I've had some horrendous jobs! I can guarantee that I"ve had worse jobs than most people. I was living in Soho as a kid and my first ever Saturday job when I was about 15 or 16 was being a cleaner in one of the porn cinemas. Possibly the worst job I"ve ever had to do – the things you would find on the floor…!
TBM: Do you have any backstage rituals that you like to do before you go onstage?
Charlie Condou: Well obviously I like to warm up and do all those things that are very important but I do like to say hello to everyone in the cast and crew. It can be a very strange thing to step onstage and start to interact with someone that you haven"t actually said hello to. I find it a bit unnerving so I always do that. And I always keep my script open on my desk in the dressing room and I like to just look through before I go on which is probably superstition because, of course, I know my lines but it makes me feel a bit better.
TBM: How do you relax when you"re on tour, away from home, but off duty?
Charlie Condou: Well, when I"m at home I don"t get to relax because I"ve got two small kids who don"t really allow it so there"s a big part of me that"s quite looking forward to it and the opportunity to sleep in. But I like to go to the gym, go swimming and just take it easy. The nice thing about being on tour is that when you spend a week in a place you get to take in the local attractions like the museums – whatever it is in that particular town. I enjoy doing that, just taking it easy really because you try and save your energy for the evening. We"re starting to get geared up for our day as most people are unwinding.
TBM: You"ve been a champion of LGBTQ issues and same sex parenting, do you feel that you"d like to take a back seat now and enjoy your own family life?
Charlie Condou: It was really important to me when I was starting because there were so few people talking about it. It was a big thing for me because I didn't feel like I had any role models as such when I was growing up – not that I consider myself a role model necessarily. I prefer the term "possibility model". If people like what I do and they want to do the same then that"s great – but I make just as many mistakes as anyone else. I wouldn't be so arrogant to think that I'm a role model but it was really important to talk about all that stuff when I was doing it. But I feel like the world has changed a lot even since I've become a parent in the last seven years and things are much more commonplace now and much more acceptable. Also you get to point when you think, I"ve said it all now. I had a column in The Guardian for a year, and any part of being a parent or a same sex parent I've covered. I don"t talk about it quite as much – I feel like I"m boring people.
TBM: Are you doing any writing now? Have you got any plays tucked up your sleeve?
Charlie Condou: I'm not interested in writing drama, I"ve never been much good at that. I"m still doing writing when it comes up and when I have the time. I tend to do some travel writing which can be a lot of fun and it means I get to go away quite a lot.
TBM: You were a child actor; how would you feel if your kids wanted to try for a career in the business?
Charlie Condou: Well, I can already see it in them – my daughter is quite a performer. I don"t know – I"d rather they didn't but I don"t think you can stop people doing what they want to do. Certainly I didn't do very much as a kid because my parents wanted me to make my education a priority and I'm glad that they did that so I think I would say the same to my kids. But I guess we"ll have to cross that bridge if and when we come to it.
TBM: You were recently seen in the amazing series Unforgotten but do you find more people recognise you from Coronation Street or something else you"ve done?
Charlie Condou: That depends. Corrie, obviously, I get a lot of recognition from because I was in it for such a long time and so many people watch it but it"s interesting, I did a comedy series called Nathan Barley which was a big hit and had a big cult following and a lot of people in their late twenties to late thirties still recognise me from that. And then years and years ago I did an episode of Gimme, Gimme and people still recognise me from that. I would like to think I haven"t changed… but I don"t think it"s true!
TBM: What is the best advice that"s been given to you by someone in the industry?
Charlie Condou: Probably not the kind of advice that you"d think but I did a movie years ago when I was about 15 and I played alongside an American actor called Ed Harris who"s done hundreds of movies and he"s a wonderful actor. I wanted to learn as much as possible from him and I thought he was going to teach me something about the craft of acting and I always remember him saying to me: "if you"re talented then you"ll be able to act and there"s nothing I can tell you. But always make sure you turn up on time, learn your lines and hang your costume up at the end of the day". I"ve always stuck with that, remembered it and thought that"s good advice. I think actors tend to have egos and we can always assume that we"re the most important people on set and that"s absolutely not true. Everybody"s there to make the production – whether it"s TV, stage or film and everybody has their part to play but because actors get cars to pick them up in the morning and they have their own trailer and people get their breakfast for them a lot of actors can assume that that"s because they"re very important. But actually, the reason they have all that stuff is because actors have to be on set, on time; you can"t be keeping people waiting. So that"s why we have a car to pick us up and someone to bring us a cup of tea. They need us to be in costume, on set and ready.
TBM: Looking ahead to the summer, post-Crucible, do you have anything – work or play – lined up?
Charlie Condou: We"re going to go on holiday with the family because I haven't had much of a break before this. I was doing The Rocky Horror Show last year and between breaks in that I was doing Unforgotten so I feel I'm due a break and that"s my first priority. Work-wise, there"s nothing confirmed yet so I think I'll wait to see where I am.
The Crucible plays Theatre Royal Brighton from 24th to 29th April 2017. CLICK HERE for more info.