Flaming Future

The Royal Shakespeare Company finally got its teeth into Tyneside this week by lifting the curtain on the 2003 North-East season with a new Newcastle written and directed work called Keepers Of The Flame.

Created by Newcastle-based Sean O'Brien and directed by Live Theatre's boss Max Roberts, who is also hosting the month-long run, the play brings together familiar RSC names like Alan Howard and the best of the region's actors.

Uncompromising North-East performer Trevor Fox is now enjoying the chance to brush up his Royal Shakespeare and the actor says: "I think we had an idea they'd all be high and mighty and they're not. They're just jobbing actors like us and it's a great treat to work with Alan Howard. He's had such a brilliant career, but he's a very, very nice bloke as well.

"Hopefully it's the start of a strong connection with the RSC and more joined-up productions because it's ridiculous they've been coming up for so long and haven't actually invested in the region, other than turning up doing their plays and leaving again. With Michael Boyd as the new artistic director he's very keen to forge links with Live Theatre and Northern Stage because he used to run a similar theatre to Live called The Tron in Glasgow."

There are high hopes that O'Brien's play will transfer to Stratford itself and run at The Swan Theatre next year to complete the Geordie-Bard connection.

Fox confesses his knowledge of the world's best-known playwright is small and comments: "I've never actually done any Shakespeare, we did it at college for one day and I was off, so I never did any.

"I'm a real ignoramus when it comes to Shakespeare. There's a company called Northern Broadsides, they were doing King Lear and they phoned up and asked me to do a tour and play Kent, but I thought they were going to Kent and didn't realise he was a character. So I turned it down."

Instead, he's got the role of minder to an octogenarian poet who is looking back over his life with regret.

Fox describes the work as a monumental play and explains: "It's a play that's set in 1987 and in the 1920s and 1930s about an octogenarian poet who had fascist sympathies and looks back at his life and at the mistakes he's made. And the byline is: 'When you bargain with the devil there's a high price to pay'.

"Lots of references to the devil, hell and Mephistopheles. So it's typical RSC country."

Once again Fox finds himself cast as "the heavy", but he recently had a chance to act against type with a cameo in the high profile follow-up movie to Bridget Jones's Diary.

He says: "Funnily enough I've just played the opposite of the minder in the new Bridget Jones film where I've played a camp hairdresser. It's a really blink and you'll miss it part, I only had three lines but it was good fun. Unfortunately I had flu, but it was with Renee Zellweger who was very nice.

"Joe Caffrey, who is in Keepers Of The Flame, is also in the film and going down this week to do a day's filming. To be honest the director is Beeban Kidron who is married to scriptwriter Lee Hall (North-East creator of hit film Billy Elliot) so that's how we know her, but obviously we'd have got the parts anyway.

"We were down in London for three weeks rehearsing Keepers Of The Flame and the day I had off was the first day of filming for Bridget Jones and it was on location in Bloomsbury. I had false tan and everything and I was a character called Paulo. I think they just wanted someone to come in and do it and it was the first shot of a big budget project and they knew I'd just turn up and do my lines without any fuss."

Fox also found time to fit in a performance as Yermolai Lapakhin, the wealthy businessman with working class roots, in Oxford Stage Company's The Cherry Orchard, with Geraldine James as Ranevskaya.

"All the family were speaking standard English while everyone else had a different regional accent. Yet every review mentioned the fact that Lapakhin was a Geordie, and Benedict Nightingale in The Times said it was a fine performance but asked 'why Trevor Fox had to affect a Geordie accent I have no idea?'... cheeky bugger."

He's also been busy working on Elton John's musical version of Lee Hall's Billy Elliot which is due to open next year. Fox has played the role of Billy's boxing coach and pit village union activist Georgie for two performances (played in the film by comic and DJ Mike "the Mouth" Elliott).

"I'm not an Elton John fan by an stretch of the imagination but he's done a fantastic job. By the time a song has finished, you feel like you've known it all your life.

"I don't know if I'll get the run next year but it was great experience. Of course, the biggest thing is finding the kid who has to be a triple threat as they say in the musical business, being able to sing, dance and act."

And thanks to Keepers Of The Flame, the North-East's ability has another chance to shine outside the region.

* Keepers Of The Flame runs until November 30 at Newcastle's Live Theatre. Box Office: 0870 905 5060

Viv Hardwick.

Entertainment North East. 6.11.03.

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