Q&A with Peter Baker from Only Fools and Horses
| By Kay Johal
Watching Only Fools and Horses is synonymous to having a good, belly-laugh. The kind of laugh that you cry with. Say the words 'Hooky Street', and someone will more than likely return with the words 'God Bless'. Centred around the lives of Del-Boy, Rodney, Grandad and Uncle Albert, with a strong supporting cast it has now made the journey from Peckham to The Haymarket. You can read my review of the show here. I sat down with Peter Baker currently in situ as the hapless but loveable Trigger, to find out how much of an impact this transition from television to the stage has had on him.
Hi Peter! Thank you so much for taking the time from your busy day to speak to me.
1. Trigg is a gem of a role to have landed. How did it come about?
It really is. I reckon I was inadvertently channelling Trigger himself when I walked into the audition room, because I had no idea of the magnitude of the production I was auditioning for. I’d battled the elements to get to London and bumbled into the room thinking it would be a small-time affair, only to be greeted with a grand piano, reams of script and score, and comedy legend Paul Whitehouse. Thanks to my improv training, I said yes to everything (“Yes, I can harmonise,” “Of course I can dance.”) and got the part. I also thank the heavy snowfall that may or may not have thwarted other auditionees’ journeys that day. Much later, I discovered it was Jim Sullivan (co-writer of the musical and son of original series writer John), who had wanted me to audition after seeing my picture on Spotlight.
2. Were you daunted taking on the role where there is such a responsibility of conveying the character to such a high standard?
Initially, my energy and focus was so directed to the script and rehearsal room that I didn’t really think of the impact it would have beyond the people I was working with. The writers (Jim and Paul), director (Caroline Jay Ranger) and musical director (Stuart Morley) have been so sensitive of the integrity of the show from the outset that, as an actor, I felt safe to play in the room. The responsibility I felt in rehearsals was to them. It was only once we opened that the importance of the show’s cultural heritage really hit me. Thankfully, the first-night response blew our minds and the audiences we’ve had since are always really up for it!
3. What attracts you to the role? Given that you are telling the same story every day (sometimes twice a day) what aspect of it do you enjoy the most?
Trigger really is a gift of a role. The dialogue is so well-written and he has some real zingers, which are always a joy to deliver. I also love his unwavering confidence, in fact, I think he’s the most confident character I’ve ever played. I’ve played successful and powerful characters like Elvis Presley and Queen Victoria, but none have had his unwavering self-belief, not to mention his unique internal logic. I’m hopeful that channelling this energy daily will rub off on me in the long run!
4. Again, Trigg's boots are somewhat big to step into and there must be a certain responsibility to portray him as he is on screen. How do you manage to maintain the integrity for that?
I’m lucky in that I had all the support I needed for playing the character in the script and with the director. Roger Lloyd Pack’s influence on comedy acting is huge and over the years he created an iconic character that I feel incredibly grateful to play. By approaching Trigger with truthfulness and respect, I hope I am in my way honouring his legacy.
5. Were you allowed freedom to try to self-develop or is there strict guidelines as to how he should be portrayed?
Initially, there wasn’t really a need for strict guidelines so to speak, as the script is so clear in terms of timing and delivery, so I felt I had the basis of the character quite early on. I had a fairly clear idea of his character from memories of watching the show, but didn’t want to watch any episodes again until told to do so. The area I had to work hardest on was his voice - my natural speaking voice is lighter and higher than Trigger’s, so towards the end of the rehearsal process I got to go back to the episodes to work on nailing the voice and accent.
6. The Haymarket is a lovely theatre, how does it feel performing there?
I still have to pinch myself sometimes when we’re warming up on the stage of one of London’s oldest theatres. It’s got a real family vibe too, with many of the staff having been working there for years. It’s a community, just like us Peckham fools!
7. OFAH has just announced it’s extending its run, will you be continuing the role?
I shall indeed, and happily so!
8. When I asked to review I was initially hesitant; I didn’t want the transition from screen to stage taint my experience of Fools, which I would imagine is true of most people. How have you found the audience reaction?
We've been blown away by the reaction. We all had faith that fans would love it, but you never really know until you have an audience in front of you. And we’ve had great audiences! I think Paul Whitehouse (co-writer and “Grandad”) put it best when he said our show is a distillation of the series as a whole. It’s got comedy, it’s got heart, it’s got pathos, plus, it’s got a whole lot of toe-tapping numbers, stirring ballads and cockney knees-ups! We’re honouring the original show and fulfilling certain expectations, but also bringing some surprising new elements.
9. The set is very closely aligned with the original. Is there any prop that you will perhaps be taking home with you…
Wild horses won’t part me from my broom. Four months in, and I'm firmly attached to it. I also really want to keep my donkey jacket, overalls and virulently blue suit. I mean, it was tailored to fit, so I think I have a strong case!
10. Have any of the original cast been to see the show – I imagine performing as Del-Boy in front of David Jason may have been tricky – given that Roger Lloyd-Pack is no longer with us, is there anyone who has been to visit that made you slightly nervous, knowing they were are in the audience?
So far we've had John Challis (Boyce), Sue Holderness (Marlene), Patrick Murray (Mickey Pearce) and Paul Barber (Denzil), all of whom loved the show and have been really warm and encouraging. I was nervous when Dawn French was in, not just because she's one of my comedy heroes, but she had also worked closely with Roger Lloyd-Pack for many years on Vicar Of Dibley. And when I found out another comedy hero of mine, Julia Davis (Nighty Night, Camping, Sally4eva), was watching, it sent me into nervous overdrive and I nearly forgot a line!
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