West End Journey: Julian Clary

Posted on 23 August 2017

Quick-lipped comedian Julian Clary is never far from a double-entendre or withering put down in his frequent live shows and TV appearances, and he also has a couple of gloriously camp musical appearances under his belt.  This September, however, he finally dives into his first foray into 'straight' acting in a play written specifically for him by the late Stephen Clark: Le Grand Mort at the Trafalgar Studios.

The much loved Englishman was born in 1959 in Surbiton, Surrey and studied English and Drama at Goldsmiths University.  He has become a household name over the last four decades however due to his own public persona rather than prolific acting roles.   A master of stand-up comedy with his own flamboyant style and razor sharp wit, he developed his comic brand in the mid to late 1980s alternative scene first as personas Gillian Pieface and The Joan Collins Fanclub, then becoming a more recognisable face under his own name.  As his star ascended in the early nineties, thanks to a string of TV appearances including cult 'quiz' show Sticky Moments and short-lived sitcom Terry and Julian, he bolstered his following with a string of acidly bawdy stand-up comedy tours such as 1989's The Mincing Machine and 1993's My Glittering Passage.

A lover of pushing both boundaries and buttons, a notorious appearance at the British Comedy Awards in 1993 including a jaw-dropping joke at then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Norman Lamont's expense incurred a backlash from some newspapers.  However, he was soon back on primetime TV in 1996 in BBC's All Rise For Julian Clary, which placed his unique brand of humour in a mock courtroom setting.   2004 saw him come third in the BBC's Saturday night ratings smash, dance competition Strictly Come Dancing, partnering with Erin Boag.

Clary enjoyed respectable notices for the two musicals he starred in after the Strictly Come Dancing appearance had further raised his profile.  His first mainstream musical venture saw him taking over the role of Leigh Bowery in the musical Taboo, loosely based on singer Boy George's life in the 1980s.  He debuted at the Leicester Square Theatre and continued with the show on its UK tour.  The Stage's Roger Malone assessed that "his smooth delivery is a sheer delight, leaving us willing more than the script allows" although some reviewers reflected that his performance was a little too 'Julian Clary', with Peter Lathan of British Theatre Guide stating "He was funny and outrageous but made no attempt to be anything other than himself."

2007 saw him in the role of Emcee in the Olivier Award winning revival of Cabaret, alongside Amy Nuttall's Sally Bowles.   Based on the wildly popular 1972 Liza Minnelli film, the pivotal role of the flamboyant Emcee seemed ideal for Julian.  Although Dominic Cavendish of The Telegraph opined that at the start of the show "there needs to be a more dangerous glint in Clary's eye and a more demonic zest", he admitted "his performance grows on you" and that he "dispenses a series of double-entendres with feline grace".   

After winning Celebrity Big Brother on Channel Five in 2010, further stand up tours followed, such as 2011's Lord of the Mince and 2016's The Joy of Mincing, about the latter of which Jay Richardson of The Scotsman summarised "Clary has developed into a lovable figure and two hours in his company breezily flies by". The great British pantomime seems another ideal outlet for Clary's talents as last year saw him heading up the cast of Cinderella at the London Palladium's long awaited revival of the format.  He scored more rave reviews for his typically outrageous performance as Dandini opposite Paul O'Grady, Lee Mead and Amanda Holden, with The Guardian's Michael Billington commenting he "unleashes a tsunami of smut".  After the show's successful run Clary will be returning to the venue this Christmas for their take on Dick Whittington.

Before that, however, is Le Grand Mort, in which it will be fascinating to see how he handles a more dramatic role.   The dark comedy is a two hander, opening with Clary's character telling witty anecdotes of times that the human body has been even more useful after death, whilst expertly slicing up vegetables for his upcoming dinner guest.  Once that guest arrives the audience is taken on a both touching and unsettling journey as the evening descends into funny, silly and increasingly dangerous mind games between the two men. Clary says "In 2010 Stephen Clark took me out to lunch in Camden and told me he'd like to write a play for me.  How lovely, how flattering, how unusual!...Then, one day in 2013, it arrived.  A funny, dark beautiful play".  Julian himself says "Le Grand Mort will take me so far out of my comfort zone I may never return".

Don't miss the chance to see Julian Clary showcase another side to his acting talents in this intriguing and thought-provoking play.  Le Grand Mort will be at the Trafalgar Studios from 20 September to 28 October.