Spotlight On… Star of Dead Sheep, Steve Nallon

Dead Sheep is currently touring the UK, for more information and to book tickets, visit this link: http://www.deadsheepontour.co.uk/

Steve Nallon is well known as the voice of Margaret Thatcher from Spitting Image, recently he has re-visited that role and plays the Iron Lady herself in Jonathan Maitland’s play, Dead Sheep. I caught up with Steve to find out how he discovered that he can impersonate the ex Prime Minister and to see why everyone should be going to see the production.

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Steve as the lady herself, with Paul Bradley as Geoffrey Howe.

How does it feel to be revisiting the role of Margaret Thatcher having originated ‘character’ in Spitting Image?

I loved working on SPITTING IMAGE but that voice was a caricature. An exaggeration of the real thing and overtly satirical. In DEAD SHEEP the challenge is to keep it real.

When did you first realise that you could impersonate the Iron Lady?

1975. Thatcher had become Tory leader and Mike Yarwood had a go at doing her but he just couldn’t get her. I had a go and found I could. I’ve never really understood why.

Do you feel that your command of her voice and mannerisms has changed?

Yes, her voice changed a lot. In the early days it was at a higher pitch and more posh. In the 80s she brought it down and it became less ‘alto’ and more ‘tenor’. Like all politicians she loosened her RP tone and tried to make it more ‘of the people’. After she left office in the 90s she had problems with her teeth and developed a slight whistle not unlike the one Tony Benn had!

Tell me about Dead Sheep and what your initial reaction was to the script.

I thought there were too many characters and too much written exposition that was supposed to be projected as images onto the set. I suggested to the writer Jonathan Maitland that he create a Chorus of three actors to play all the characters other than Geoffrey, Elspeth and Margaret. I also suggested the written exposition could be incorporated into the dialogue of the Chorus.

What do you think the audience will take away with them from the piece?

Inside knowledge. The play is a ‘backstage’ drama in away. Jonathan researched it thoroughly and you really are a fly on the wall to those events.

What would you say to encourage people to buy a ticket?

It’s funny! That’s the biggest reaction we get every night chatting afterwards to audience members. They never expected it to be so humorous.

Finally, what are you memories of the period of time that is covered in the play?

I remember being exceptionally busy but because of the act I did (taking spontaneous questions from the audience with no advance knowledge) I had to keep up with events. Like most people of a certain age I remember Geoffrey’s speech in the House of Commons but I was a political geek and I even recall Geoffrey’s Sunday afternoon interview on WEEKEND WORLD with Brian Walden!

Huge thanks to Steve for his time, I thoroughly enjoyed the production!

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Dead Sheep ~ Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Dead Sheep is at http://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/ until Saturday 1 October 2016 and continues to tour the UK afterwards, tour dates and more information can be found here:  http://www.deadsheepontour.co.uk/

Star rating: ****

A political play based around the Conservative party didn’t necessarily sound like my glass of Drambuie. However, with a stellar line-up which included Paul Bradley, Carol Royle, Graham Seed and Steve Nallon in the cast, amongst others was a more inviting prospect. The thought of the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher being played by a man sounded somewhat akin to Pantomime Dame, but I didn’t bank on the brilliance of Steve Nallon who is known for providing the voice of the late Baroness Thatcher. Therefore, this production came as a pleasant and indeed powerful surprise to me.

The story focuses on the relationship between Thatcher and Geoffrey Howe (Paul Bradley), Foreign Secretary, the influence of his wife Elspeth (Carol Royle) and the events which ultimately led to Howe’s resignation from the government. Jonathan Maitland who wrote the piece decided on the title Dead Sheep following a statement made by Denis Healey “being attacked by Geoffrey Howe is like being savaged by a dead sheep”. Howe’s charisma, or lack there of is certainly put under scrutiny as he blends in benignly and serves Thatcher obediently until they lock horns on the subject of Europe. His fate is sealed, as a change in the cabinet is instigated by the Prime Minister and Howe is relegated to Deputy Prime Minister. His wife, Elspeth remains at his side, her own principles unwavering as she campaigns for rights for women and the homeless. In fact, the play explores the relationship between Margaret and Elspeth, from their hand shake which the latter would not be ‘moved’ by, to Mrs Thatcher’s enquiries about her welfare, through clenched teeth, during interactions with Geoffrey.

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The cast in action

The cast are a delightful combined force, this is an ensemble piece, regardless of the dominance of The Prime Minister who could not have been played by anyone better than Nallon. His portrayal of her is quite disconcerting in the nicest possible way, from the steely glare to the familiar gait, plus the voice is perfectly mimicked. Paul Bradley is a fantastic choice for the role of Geoffrey, he has the ability to adapt the character depending on the scenario and seemed a natural in the role. Carol Royle was wonderfully dominant and supportive as Elspeth, she and Bradley formed a formidable duo and her interactions with Nallon were a work of art. One of Royle’s strengths is conveying so much without saying a word. Christopher Villiers took on a range of characters, including Bernard Ingham, who he particularly delighted the audience with his portrayal of. Graham Seed played each of his many roles brilliantly, he moved seamlessly between Ian Gow, Nigel Lawson and Minister 3 and at no point did I question which one he was. John Wark was similarly able and his performance as Brian Walden was a real highlight.

Ian Talbot OBE has directed an important piece of theatre, innovatively and creatively. The set design is quite something, too, it envelopes the piece and although it’s a fairly static backdrop, it lends itself to the various scenes.

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Mrs Thatcher (Steve Nallon) looks on as Geoffrey Howe (Paul Bradley) makes his exit speech

There is a good deal of humour injected into the play, all of the cast have comic timing which matches the pace of the script. Despite the casting of a Spitting Image impersonator in an iconic role, the character is not exaggerated, and at no point did I consider that this was a man playing a woman, either. It’s worth noting that although It’s set in the 80’s, the topics raised are as current today as they were back then and that is one of the many strengths that Dead Sheep has to offer.

 

 

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