We are used to seeing Neil Pearson in comedies on TV such as Drop the Dead Donkey and Trevor’s World of Sport but they are very different from farce and his current role in Michael Frayn’s Noises Off
“For my money it’s the best farce ever written which makes it even more of a challenge,” says the actor as he prepares to come to Sheffield on tour next week. “It’s a play where the received theatrical wisdom about keeping things alive and fresh by making it different each night does not apply.”
Everyone has to perform in exactly the same way every night or the whole thing falls apart, he explains.
“It was very disorientating to rehearse. Usually you start at nought and about halfway through rehearsals you feel you are at 4 or 5 and you can work to get it up to 10 by the time you open. With this it’s either 0 or 10.
“The second act is particularly tricky. It’s played out in complete silence, as the play within the play is being performed, and people are coming on and off backstage. It made it very difficult to rehearse because you were essentially working on a 45-minute stage direction and there are no lines of dialogue for the moves that you can practise later on your own.
“Dancers do it all the time, of course. There were all sorts of things that were new to me and I’ve been around for a while. You do discover something new in every play you do but nothing on this scale. It is both rewarding and intimidating at the same time.”
Though best known for screen work - most recently in an episode of TV’s Murder in Paradise (“otherwise known as the actor’s Caribbean holiday destination” - Pearson has plenty of stage experience, mostly in the West End.
“I have toured half a dozen plays in the last 10 years but 17 weeks is new for me. But it’s fun and it appeals to me, especially the idea that we’re a touring company of actors doing a play about a touring company of actors.
“There’s the added bonus of the physical workout that comes with it,” continues the actor playing tempermental and philandering director Lloyd Dallas. “I have the least exercise of the three boys, the others are falling downstairs every night, but we are already on our second costumes. They’ve had to make them smaller because we have lost so much weight despite eating what we like. It’s like a cheaper and more enjoyable weight watchers programme.” he laughs.
Noises Off dates back to 1982 and Pearson saw the original production with Paul Eddington, Patricia Routledge and Nicky Henson. “It was clear it was an instant classic,” he recalls, “although it was more of a nightmare to rehearse, apparently, because no one knew it would actually work which we obviously do.”
He also saw the Old Vic revival directed by Lindsay Posner which transferred to the West End before being recast for the current tour.
In addition to his stage career Neil Pearson runs a rare book business which is mostly online so he has been able to keep up with it on tour. The physical receipt and dispatching - his recent catalogue included a collection of 1950s radio scripts - has to be done at weekends when he can get home.
“But I’m loving getting out and seeing different places on tour. You can’t beat the hours. Three hours working at night, the rest of the time is your own.”
Noises Off is at the Lyceum from Monday to Saturday.