A class act: Will Adamsdale satirises the angst-ridden middle classes in his surreal new show

Adamsdale was an actor who became a comedian by mistake. Alice Jones meets him.

"I think that's the guy who sold me my flat," says Will Adamsdale, peering through the window of Foxtons in Angel, north London. It's a fitting place to start, as it turns out. The comedian/actor/theatremaker – he still doesn't know which he is, "but that can be quite a liberating thing not to know" – has written a new play about buying a house.

In The Victorian in the Wall, he plays a writer and chronic procrastinator who finally moves in with his girlfriend and is faced with the tricky question of what comes next: marriage, baby, or – bingo! – home improvement. "They're in a bit of a rut and to feel like they're moving on in their relationship, they decide to get a knock-through. In lieu of thinking about anything scarier."

What begins as a satire on middle-class problems – too many box sets, festival fatigue, latte overload – takes a swerve into the surreal when the hero knocks through the wall and finds a Victorian man living inside it. "Period features: that's the thing that everyone wants when they go to the estate agent, isn't it?" reasons Adamsdale. "But they're old houses, not built for modern living. So then you have to rejig them."

Adamsdale – polite, diffident, lightly harried – worries about these things. His shows niggle, hilariously, at modern life. His heroes, 21st-century descendants of those of Ionesco, Kafka and Gogol, embody the futility of Modern Man. Take his absurd Perrier Award-winning creation Chris John Jackson, "one of the only guys in the self-help industry who doesn't claim to be able to help anyone", for example. Or the office drone in The Receipt, who risks everything on an impossible mission to find the owner of a piece of litter and ends up living in a storage container. Or the technophobe in The Human Computer who tries to build a PC out of cardboard and wax.

Is The Victorian his most autobiographical piece yet? "It's like a magpie, taking stuff from all over. It's not really possible to answer which bits are autobiographical and which aren't." Let's just say, there are some parallels. Adamsdale, 39, a "lazy writer" (his words), bought his first house a couple of years ago, and moved in to it with his then girlfriend, now wife, Maisie. They decided to "knock through" and found an ancient newspaper stuffed in the wall. Some months later, a play was born.

The show arrives at the Royal Court this week after a five-week tour. Adamsdale has appeared at the theatre once before, on his Jackson's Way revival tour in 2011. This time, he pitches up at Sloane Square for a month with a cast of five, including his long-time collaborator, the composer Chris Branch, a set of songs and Posh director Lyndsey Turner who has brought, he says, a "much-needed rigour" to rehearsals. "It's like we know we're in the same family but we're distant cousins. We all met doing shows at Battersea Arts Centre, over the river. But one thing they now want at the Royal Court is stuff that is a bit irreverent with the form."

He describes his approach as being "like a kid, playing" and is most interested in the "mesh" where comedy and theatre meet. It has led him down a peculiar path over the years. "You know when you go to a hotel and it says 'Profession' on the form? I've never been able to put writer. I think of myself as an actor more. But I just like getting in amongst it, doing what seems exciting."

He was born in Barnes and while still at Eton, he formed a theatre company, Double Edge, to take shows up to the Edinburgh Fringe, with friends Charlie Wood (now co-director of Underbelly), Oliver Dimsdale (co-artistic director of Filter) and Stephen Brown (playwright). After studying English and American literature at Manchester University – his favourite writer is Richard Brautigan – he enrolled at the Oxford School of Drama. "On my first day, I was late, wandering around Oxford trying to buy a leotard. I thought, 'Come on, how serious can this be?' But drama school taught me that you need to be on time. And that it's a very serious thing to be in plays." From there he spent five years in the theatre, playing "non-poshos" as often as he could. He still acts for others on and off, most recently in Detroit at the National last year and the films Four Lions and The Boat That Rocked.

A decade ago, he became a comedian "by mistake", thanks to Jackson, his American motivational speaker whose philosophy revolves around the power of pointless actions – trying to put your hand in two places at once, say, or to rhyme orange with leg. He took the show up to the Fringe "on spec" in 2004, was lionised by Stewart Lee and came away with the top prize. Typically, he then turned down all panel shows and offers to make Jackson into a radio serial or a sitcom that followed, and went travelling instead. "I got a lot of interest but I was a weird fit. People would say, 'What are you, exactly?' And I couldn't really answer that question."

Jackson lives on in any case. His parade of junkyard props is still lovingly stored beneath BAC ready for a return, possibly in documentary form. And might Adamsdale's next theatre show see him tackling fatherhood? He met Maisie, an actress-turned-teacher and daughter of Nick Dimbleby (brother of David and Jonathan) on the Tube. They married last year. "So she isn't a Dimbleby anymore," he says. "I think that's quite a relief for her, actually."

As for Adamsdale, he has found a new name for himself, too. After the interview he sends a triumphant postscript. "I've been thinking about those questions of comedy/theatre/writing and I think what's most important in all of this is the show… That's what I'll start putting on hotel forms – 'Show Guy'." It's a good fit.

'The Victorian in the Wall', Royal Court Theatre, London SW1 (020 7565 5000; royalcourttheatre.com) to 8 June

Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'