Captain Moonlight: Absolutely ridiculous

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The Independent Online
HI, DIDDLY, DEE, an actor's life for me. Outside the Lyric Theatre, mummers of asssorted sizes are stamping and queuing in the cold to audition for the forthcoming Oliver] Across the street, within the Lyric Tavern, a modest hostelry, Nicholas Le Prevost, farceur, is hunched over an orange and lemonade preparatory to a matinee and evening performance of An Absolute Turkey, Sir Peter Hall's idea of Feydeau, round the corner at the Globe.

The play is the usual sex and doors, deceits and confusions, arch asides, pursuits and humiliations. It is very funny. It stars Felicity Kendal and Griff Rhys Jones. Le Prevost is the fading rake, the patsy, the fall-monsieur, the absolute turkey, and he steals it. He twitches, mugs and quivers, dashes and delivers in his extraordinary, trademark voice, cut-glass and rasp, formidably anti-estuarian, a sort of son of Sinden (Donald).

It is a voice most familiarly employed by Le Prevost in the interests of self-parody and to save a number of recent television offerings, including Sue Limb's Up the Garden Path and two Mary Wesleys, The Camomile Lawn and the award-winning Harnessing Peacocks. Want a manic, mannered, middle-aged luster after young flesh who is funny rather than pathetic? Le Prevost's the man.

Not what you will find in the Lyric Tavern this lunchtime, though. The voice - product of '20 cigarettes a day and insufficient voice classes' - belies its owner, who is neither laddie nor luvvie. This is an interpreter of the playwright Howard Barker and director of his company; this is a campaigner of the Left who collected for the miners. Left-wing actors are not renowned for their comic playing. Vanessa, for example, has little truck with falling trousers (although she has just invited Hello] into her beautiful home).

'I think I've always had a gift for being ridiculous,' he says. 'I spent years trying to pursue parts where people would take me seriously, but I'm forced to admit that being ridiculous is what I'm best at, which is a painful discovery at 47.'

Still, he consoles himself by agreeing with Barker that the entire species is essentially ridiculous and we go off for lunch. He talks about politics being too important to be left to Conservatives and a Labour Party which, in his view, abandoned the moral authority and leadership it could be displaying now when it abandoned the miners, about the decline of a society which has entered the dead-end alley of consumerism where people are merely market fodder deprived of proper education and aspirations.

He talks, too, about his upbringing in genteel poverty in Bath and minor good schools after his businessman father left home, and about acting as an escape from himself and from a conventional career (it was the Sixties). Luckily, he says, he happened to be good at it. He talks, too, about the excessive attention paid to actors by relentlessly frivolous newspapers, and how interviews with actors are bound to be disappointing because they are bound to reveal that 'actors are just as bloody tedious and inadequate as everybody else'.

Next? There's the possibility of a tour in a Barker play, The Castle, in the autumn, there's been a BBC pilot he's heard no more about, 'and frankly that's it. I'm terribly envious of other actors who seem to have enormously complicated and certain expectations for years to come. I kind of nod as if it happens to me as well, but unfortunately it never does.'

Before you become too depressed on Le Prevost's behalf, I'd better reassure you that he does enjoy it, honestly. He is content to be a 'jobbing actor'. But there are times when he would like more, if only for the sake of the bills and his four children (two marriages, second wife actress turned barrister): 'When this play opened, I got some good reviews, and there are moments on the journey home, when you read the Sunday newspapers and you've got good mentions, that you think 'this is it] At last they've recognised my unique genius]' The reality is that I've not had a single offer - not even a voice- over.' There is a fine Eeyore- ishness to Le Prevost.

He left for the matinee, before asking if he could have his photograph taken with his bike, to which he is 'almost organically attached', and which he brings up on the train from Sussex. Actually, it's his second- best bike. His pride and joy had been vandalised at the station, more evidence of the parlous state of the country. When I rang him the next day, he was a bit happier: his mother-in-law had been to see the play and had thought him 'much better than that Smith-Jones'. Give this man more parts, please.

(Photograph omitted)

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