Richard Grieve is best known on British TV for playing handyman Sam in Neighbours, but he was also Dr Frazer in Home And Away. The hard-working Aussie actor talks to Viv Hardwick about fans and his hopes for the future.

AUSTRALIAN actor Richard Grieve is used to fans struggling to name the soap series which shot him to stardom, mainly because he was in both Neighbours and Home And Away.

"Lots of people stop me in the street because they recognise my face and say 'what show were you in?' and I say 'both'."

London-based Grieve is rehearsing hard for the Middle Ground Theatre tour of Dial M For Murder which will see him star alongside Steven Pinder (Brookside), Richard Walsh (London's Burning) and Joy Brook (The Bill) at Darlington's Civic Theatre next week.

He says: "Since finishing work on Home And Away in Australia, which was five or six years ago, I've worked pretty much continually in theatre mostly in Australia and a little bit in the UK.

"I've done a Noel Coward play which, stylistically, is close to Dial M For Murder. I've got my stiff upper lip in place... and I hope my English accent isn't too transparent."

Outlining his role in Dial M, he adds: "My character Max is the lover of the wife who returns from America hoping to woo her back, but finds she's happy in her marriage again. Basically, I have to try and clear her of a murder charge and save her from the gallows. For me it's a romance as much as anything else.

"I haven't seen the film yet, I was given a video version but I haven't got a video recorder and then I thought maybe if I watched it I would try to make my character too much like the film. I'll wait until we open and then have a look," he laughs.

The latest stage version is creating a stir because it promises to include film footage as part of the murder plot.

Grieve says: "The director Mike Lunney is really inspired by the piece and one thing we don't want is another drawing room thriller so there is video footage which hark back to film noir and gives it a slightly different edge. The music will be slightly different and the play uses scene-setting film to create the world outside the apartment. You see the street and people coming and going. The filmwork doesn't change the piece or alter the tone but brings something new to it that people would not have seen before."

Grieve is booked for the tour until November and then returns to the play next spring after a pause to play panto at Redhill

Moving back to his soap fame, most TV fans will remember him as Sam Kratz the handyman who rode a motor bike in Neighbours (1994-96), lived with his grandma Marlene and was "seriously" in love with Annalise played by Kimberley Davis. In Home And Away (1996-97) he played Dr Lachlan Frazer who went out with Chloe.

He says: "I really enjoyed working on both shows and were a great opportunity for any actor to cut their teeth in this area of the craft. I guess I probably enjoyed working in Home And Away more purely because I was at the beach most of the time and locations were really stunning as opposed to a little rainy cul-de-sac."

He finds it surprising that Neighbours has captured the hearts of millions of TV viewers and regularly out-performed Home And Away which has ended up on five after being axed by ITV.

"I would have imagined that British people would have been attracted to the beachside element of Home And Away which has a more modern edge to it with more colourful characters, but the English do much prefer Neighbours."

Grieve is aware of the fans interest in him and supplied information to the website, although he claims he rarely uses the web.

"Some people have come up to me and said 'I once keyed in your name and found myself on a left-handed people site'," he jokes while confirming that he is indeed left-handed.

He doesn't mind that people have identified with his soap characters so closely that they can't separate the actor from his roles.

"You want people to believe in the character you're playing on stage or camera so it's not scary. It can be frustrating in a pub when people refuse to call you by your real name, but they are not your friends anyway. It doesn't wind me up. A fan asked for my autograph and apologised because I must find it annoying. I told him if it never happened then it would be far more alarming. You need the audience respect to perpetuate your career."

So what direction is he hoping to take in future?

"That's the question you ask any actor and they find it hard to find an answer. I learned to blow with the wind a lot, but if I could plan things I'd like to do more musical theatre. I did quite a bit in Australia and I've just finished doing a showcase called Paradise in this country and I'd love to get a big musical gig. I was cast as Danny Zuko in Grease in the West End a few years ago but I couldn't get a work permit so I'm hoping that now I'm able to live and work here that my chance will come again.

"Everyone's got their ambitions and dreams and it's very good to plan and have a path but I've learnt in the last 12-14 years of being an actor that you do have to submit yourself to go with the flow. You have to be quite fatalistic and wait for the phone to ring like everybody else.

"I've got a lot better as I've got older and more experienced and relaxed. I spent a lot of earlier years really stressing about it and feeling the need to have the end result now. You have to throw your hands up a bit and let it happen... you've got to enjoy the ride."

* Dial M For Murder, Darlington Civic Theatre, Tuesday-Saturday, box office: (01325) 486555.

Published: 05/08/2004