Spinal Tap dancer on stage

Maureen Lipman and Harry Shearer in Daytona''photo Manuel Harlan
Maureen Lipman and Harry Shearer in Daytona''photo Manuel Harlan

American comedy star Harry Shearer reveals that next week won’t be his first time in Sheffield.

“It was when I was hanging around with Saxon in the run-up to making Spinal Tap and learning what it was to be on the road in a heavy metal band,” he explains. “I guess the city will have changed since then.”

And so has he, of course, since the 1984 rock mockumentary whose enduring popularily has ensured his creation of cockney bass guitarist Derek Smalls is still vividly with us.

But his name has become more readily associated with The Simpsons for whom he has voiced a whole host of characters, most notably Mr Burns, Ned Flanders and Principal Skinner.

But now he is touring in Daytona, a new play by Oliver Cotton, in which he and Maureen Lipman play an elderly Jewish couple who share a passion for ballroom dancing, But the unexpected arrival of a figure from their past threatens to throw everything off balance.

He was drawn to Daytona, he says, because of its compelling story and a resonance in the characters to his own life. “Both mine and Maureen’s characters are originally from Austria and came through the camps during the Holocaust and survived but that part of their lives is a closed book,” he says.

“My mother came from Poland and my father from Austria and although they didn’t go to the camps they were the only ones from their family to survive but they rarely spoke about it and there was so much unresolved pain. So I understand these characters.”

And how good is he at ballroom dancing? “I said as clearly as I could at the beginning that I don’t dance but here I am dancing, although it does bring back memories of being 13 and my mum getting me dancing lessons because she thought it would give me confidence and it was another but.”

Shearer is married to Welsh singer-songwriter Judith Owen and is a regular visitor to Britain. “I do enjoy London and am always finding reasons to come over, either for work or family, but I get pulled back sooner or later to New Orleans.”

He is able to do his voice work for The Simpsons anywhere these days. “It used to be a group thing and we would all get together and most of them still do apart from me and Hank Azaria who is often busy filming,” he reflects.

In the UK he has been filming a series to go out on Sky next year, Nixon’s The One, based on the ex-president’s secret tapes. “It’s nothing to do with Watergate but other bizarre, funny, and scary things to be heard in the White House.”

After Spinal Tap Shearer and fellow actors Christopher Guest and Michael McKean have performed as a band and, he says, found themselves in the reality of what they were spoofing.

Daytona is at the Lyceum from Tuesday to Saturday.