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Interview with James Lance

9 June 2015

James Lance has a host of TV and comedy credits including I’m Alan Partridge, Spaced and Smack The Pony. But he absolutely loves theatre and is starring in ‘The Dead Monkey’ at The Park Theatre. London Calling caught up with him to find out why this surreal and dark play still has a place on the stage.

London Calling: Hello James! How are rehearsals going for ‘The Dead Monkey’?

James Lance: It’s going well actually! We’re in the middle of the first week of rehearsals, so it’s going really smoothly.

LC: The title of the play instantly grabs you. So, could you tell us a bit about it?

JL: Well firstly Nick Darke the playwright is a brilliant writer and not just as a comedy writer, he’s just an amazing writer. And this is a very very dark comedy and it’s got a monkey! It starts off with a dead monkey on the kitchen table in a house in California and a woman is panicking on what will happen when her husband comes home as they’ve had this monkey for 15 years. It’s an extraordinary bit of writing because it’s all about love, dreams, loss of dreams and life not going quite the way it would when you were younger and well, it’s quite a car crash. An emotional car crash, but with a real, dark, wonderful sense of humour running through it. It’s quite amazing I think.

LC: What drew you to the play and why did you want to be part of it?

JL: Well, because it’s very rare that I read things and laugh out loud. But this properly had me doubled over with laughter and it also shocked the hell out of me too. There’s just a real sharp turn where you just think, no way, what!  The writing is quite mesmerising and gripping and it’s just a good way to get involved with great writing. That was the reason and now I’m very lucky as I’m with an amazing cast and a brilliant director. There’s a lot of good people involved.

LC: Tell us about your character Hank?

JL: So I play Hank Wonderbank and he is an ex surfer, now a travelling salesman. And life really hasn’t worked out at all as he wanted it, he used to be this cool surf dude who had a monkey on his back and unfortunately nothing has worked out the way he wanted it to, so there’s many depths to this character really.

LC: What connections can a London audience have with a play set in washed up California?

JL: I think the connection is within the human relationship and the marriage that is going to the dogs. It’s due to oppressed things not working out they as they wanted it to. I think people may relate to some of that!

LC: It’s nearly 30 years since ‘The Dead Monkey’ was written and nearly 10 years since the death of writer Nick Darke. Do you feel the play is as relevant as it was all those years ago?

JL: Good writing is good writing regardless of when it was written. All I can say is that it’s one of the best things I’ve ever read, so I can only take my own gauge to it, but it’s a very, very, rich piece of writing so I think it’s completely relevant.

LC: What is your best piece of work? Or the project you are most proud of?

JL: Well they all have their own moments and challenges. I mean I played Bertie Wooster last year and I did that for 6 months and that was with John Gordon Sinclair doing Jeeves… That was like a marathon, a difficult, mental challenge and I just adored it. I adored the connection with the audience and with the character, and I just kind of fell in love with the character of Bertie. It was so much fun to play.

LC: You are well known for your TV roles. How is the challenge different working in theatre and which do you enjoy more?

JL: Well, I’ve got to be honest, I do have the bug for theatre. I think it’s just the live connection. It’s a real thrill. Everything is energy isn’t it and the energy on stage is concentrated and moves around and you start playing with it, etc. And that is why I wanted to become an actor, to move and to be moved and be part of something. I like to do things that make people feel good and I’m quite drawn to the comedy because dare I say it, comedy is close to the truth of humanity.

LC: What should audiences expect when they see ‘The Dead Monkey?’

JL: I think the audiences should expect the unexpected. I really do. I think if the audience is anything to go by my reactions when I read the play, then I definitely think they should expect the unexpected.

LC: And finally, has the experience made you consider getting a pet monkey?

JL: I’ll give you a one word answer for that, no! Bizarre pets, well, I did have a hamster once who tried eating through my pajamas. He pulled it through the cage and the next morning when I tried to find them, there was a huge hole in the front and yeah, my hamster was dead. Poor thing.

The Dead Monkey is on at the Park Theatre from Tues 9th June until Sat 4th July. For more information and to book tickets please click here

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