Crook makes seamless transition to life on stage

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The Independent Online

His television career took off after he perfected the role of a nerdy right-hand man to Ricky Gervais' middle management boss in the cult sitcom, The Office.

Now, Mackenzie Crook has won the acclaim of London's theatre critics after transforming himself into a serious stage actor.

His success mirrors the extraordinary careers forged by his other Office co-stars, who have gone on to star in hit shows on both sides of the Atlantic.

Crook, who also impressed in the Hollywood hit movie Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, produced an astonishing performance in Anton Chekhov's classic tragi-comedy, The Seagull, on Thursday night. He left the critics raving about the versatile talents that have seen him rise from television to film and stage.

According to the glowing opening-night reviews, the Kent-born actor plays the suicidal Konstantin, as the "quintessence of a tortured Russian writer".

He plays a doomed and unsuccessful playwright who is helplessly in love with the sexually obsessed would-be actress, Nina.

The London Evening Standard's critic, Nicholas De Jongh, wrote of Crook's seamless transition from a successful sitcom actor to a stage actor, comparing his performance with that of his co-star, Kristin Scott Thomas. "Scott Thomas's limitations serve only to make Crook's Konstantin appear more pathetically isolated and his transition from TV comedian to serious actor more amazing," he wrote. "What a blaze of desperate intensity he brings to his hopeless wooing of Mulligan's ardent, vulnerable Nina.

"Eyes fixed in a distant stare, shimmering with passion, the desolate, bearded Konstantin promises early on to kill himself and the threat for once sounds like an assured prophecy. I have never seen the last Nina-Konstantin encounter done better."

The Guardian's Michael Billington described Crook's "lean, hungry Konstantin" which, he said, "captures the character's vital change from aspiring mould-breaking to self-acknowledged literary failure".

The theatre critics of the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph commended the Royal Court Theatre's Ian Rickson for casting Crook in the physically fitting role as well as the evocative performance he gave.

"Wraith-like, he looks like he's got a good two decades of vodka abuse under his belt and the appearance of a man not just tormented by demons but by his thyroid gland too," wrote the Mail's Patrick Marmion while The Telegraph's Charles Spencer wrote: "His painful thinness, feverish energy and those haunted, hollow eyes constantly suggest a man nearing the end of his rope, and his final scene with his beloved Nina ... is almost unbearably affecting."

Crook, 35, first rose to fame for playing Gareth Keenan in The Office. In 2003, he won a role in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl in which he played Ragetti, a pirate with a wooden eye, and returned to play the same role in the sequel.

A year later, he starred in Michael Radford's 2004 film adaptation of William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, which starred Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons.

Born in Maidstone, he went to grammar school in Dartford, and performed in his first plays there, spending the summers with his uncle in Zimbabwe where he discovered a love of painting. After joining a youth theatre company - and failing to secure a place at art college - he turned to writing comedy sketches.

Having worked at Pizza Hut, and a chicken factory, he was finally scouted by the comedian Bob Mortimer at the Edinburgh Festival in 1997.

He made his television debut as a stand-up comedian on The 11 O'Clock Show, then worked on other TV shows playing grotesque and exaggerated characters, and landed the part of Gareth in The Office in 2001, for which he earned a British Comedy Award nomination.

Office stars

* Lucy Davis

Best known as Dawn Tinsley in The Office, Davis has since had roles in the hit comedy, Ugly Betty, and NBC's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

* Ricky Gervais

Co-writer, co-director and star ofThe Office, he went on to star inExtras, before a role next to Ben Stiller in the Hollywood film, Night in the Museum, this year.

* Stephen Merchant

Co-wroteThe Office and Extras as well as starring in the latter as an incompetent actor's agent. He recently filmed a cameo in the Fox series 24.

* Martin Freeman

He began his career in The Office and appeared inLove Actually and Confetti.