At 71, Ian Richardson has played many memorable television roles, from Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of Four and The Hound of the Baskervilles (1983), to Francis Urquhart, the manipulative chief whip in House of Cards (1990), and, more recently, the chancellor in Bleak House (2005). Now, he returns to the West End to star as Edward Kimberly in a revival of Pauline Macaulay's 1964 psychological drama, The Creeper.
"If you can ride a bicycle, it doesn't matter how long you leave it, provided you are physically fit. The same can be said of going back on stage," he says of his eight-year break from treading the boards. "I'm very happy back on the public platform. It is, after all, where I began. I just wanted to do something before it is too late."
From 1960, Richardson spent 15 years as a leading player in the Royal Shakespeare Company. His favourite part was Berowne in Love's Labour's Lost. "I received the most accolades for that part, but also it was the last young man that I was to play before I had to admit that I was a bit too long in the tooth to play juveniles!"
In 1976, he was nominated for Broadway's Tony Award for best actor in a musical for his portrayal of Henry Higgins in a revival of My Fair Lady; and in 1979, he was in The Government Inspector at the Old Vic. Richardson was last seen in the West End in The Magistrate, at the Savoy Theatre in 1997, though "during the years I was working in film and TV, I did some poetry recitals to keep my hand in".
The Creeper, directed by the Olivier Award-winning Bill Bryden, is about a young man who tricks his way into the home of a wealthy elderly eccentric (played by Richardson) and takes over, wielding his menacing influence on the old man. "The Creeper turns from the possibility of being a gentle, funny little drawing-room comedy into something so sinister and nasty, it's Edgar Allan Poe time," says Richardson.
Playhouse Theatre, Northumberland Avenue, London WC2 (0870 060 6631), from 9 February