Viv Hardwick finds that Shaun Williamson has high hopes of a TV return after finding his comedy feet in a Ray Cooney farce

SHAUN WILLIAMSON reveals his car is in for its MoT as he prepares to hit the road for Newcastle Theatre Royal in a tour of the popular Ray Cooney farce Out of Order.

“At least it’s just the car... I’ve had mine,” jokes Williamson, who admits that his comedy skills have really been put to the test by this 1990 production about a randy junior Government minister which has been updated to include today’s General Election rivals.

“Appearing in farce is like a work-out. I’ve gone down one notch on my belt because I’ve dropped six pounds... I don’t need to go to the gym,” he adds, having also had to sweat through a difficult decision to go ahead with a stage performance on the day of the Westminster terrorist attack on tourists and PC Keith Palmer.

“We made a curtain speech at the end which praised the policeman and marking what had happened. We were in Canterbury and had a bucket collection in aid of PC Palmer’s family. A couple of other cast members talked about doing shows on the day of the Twin Towers attack and found people were howling with laughter because the show was treated as a bit of a release. We just kept going and it was uncanny this happened and we have a comedy based on Westminster. I think it was important for someone to make a speech acknowledging what had happened that day, but there was no difference in the laughter during the show,” says Williamson.

He feels that this might sound callous, but there was no alternative but to carry on. Williamson ended up paying tribute to PC Palmer and says: “You don’t want it to sound too condescending or too sanctimonious and you just want to point out that innocent people have lost their lives and that we wish their families all the best.”

Williamson has done One Man Two Guvnors but never appeared in a Ray Cooney farce before where he plays the minister’s hapless personal private secretary called Pigden, trying to save the face of his boss (played by Andrew Hall) as angry marital partners and a dead body confound a liaison between Tory toff Mr Willey and a curvy Corby team secretary (Susie Amy).

“I once did a farce directed by David Warwick at drama school and he’s in our cast for Out of Order. I said on the first day of rehearsal that David taught me all I know about farce, so if I’m rubbish it’s all his fault,” he jokes.

“The MP has most of the first half, but once I’m on in the second half I’m on. I sort of drive the comedy because I’m fire-fighting the fact that the MP’s wife turns up, the husband of the other woman turns up and we’re trying to keep a dead body hidden. Then my mother’s carer turns up and wants to know why I’m not at home. People are running in and out of rooms, windows and cupboards, just missing each other by seconds. I’ve been aware of Ray Cooney for many years and what was really appealing to me was that Ray is directing and I’ve always wanted to work with him before he retires. It’s his 70th year in the business . He’s so mentally and physically fit at 84 and in unbelievable shape. I think it’s because he comes from a generation who knew deprivation and probably the last people to have good eating habits before fast food came along. I recently had a scan of my heart and it’s in fine condition despite me totalling abusing my body since I left school 36 years ago. So, sometimes life just isn’t fair,” says Williamson.

He feels that all comedy if it is any good is about someone in a deadly serious situation and how the person reacts. “Everything is about tragedy, but comedy is tragedy that makes you laugh,” Williamson says.

The actor who shot to fame as Barry Evans in EastEnders between 1994 and 2004 is hoping that further TV work awaits him. “I regret missing the boat with the return of Porridge (Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’ magnificent comedy starring the late Ronnie Barker) because I did the stage version, but this is about Norman Stanley Fletcher’s grandson. Perhaps I could have played his father. But I’ve just made a pilot for a BBC sitcom called Swings and Roundabouts which is a sort of re-boot of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em and I’m playing a dad in that. The main character is not called Frank Spencer, or wears a beret, but it’s about a man-child who causes havoc. I play his girlfriend’s dad. There are high hopes that this is going to be made into a series. Comedian Spencer Jones, of Upstart Crow fame, takes the lead.

“I think I’ve been very lucky in my career because I wanted to be a stage actor and then instantly found fame in EastEnders. It was a wonderful diversion and it’s the gift that keeps on giving because I keep getting wonderful stage roles almost as a result of my work in soap and with Ricky Gervais. Although I might be rather typecast, I feel most people are apart from Michael Sheen who seems to be able to do anything. I’ll never know what EastEnders cost me because you don’t get offered what you’re not offered, but I know what it’s given me.

“I think I appeared at the end of the golden age of EastEnders just before everybody got Sky and a mobile phone which meant leisure options were still limited and down to what people’s parents were watching. At one time you had no choice but to watch Top Of The Pops with the rest of the family and your dad telling you to turn that rubbish off. I remember watching Sparks and my dad saying, ‘Who is this idiot?’”

  • Out Of Order runs from Monday, May 22 to Saturday, May 27. Newcastle Theatre Royal. Box Office: 08448-112121 or