Gavin and Stacey Star Adrian Scarborough Sits Down With LeftLion Ahead of His Trip to the Nottingham Playhouse

Interview: Ashley Carter
Friday 02 September 2022
reading time: min, words

Some know him from Gavin and Stacey, others from his turn as Raymond in Killing Eve, to more still he’s among the most accomplished theatre actors of his generation. With a three-decade career spanning television, film, radio and theatre, you’d be hard pushed to find anyone who hasn’t loved Adrian Scarborough in one of his many eclectic roles. Now, the Melton Mowbray-born, Olivier Award-winning actor has penned his first play – an adaptation of Alan Bennett’s novella The Clothes They Stood Up In – which he also stars in. Ahead of its launch at Nottingham Playhouse, we caught up with Adrian as he left another round of rehearsals to talk about his first forays into writing, the secret to longevity in the acting business, and why the Playhouse means so much to him…


First things first, for those who haven’t read the original novella, what is The Clothes They Stood Up In about?
A middle-class, middle-aged couple come home from the opera to discover that their flat in St. John's Wood has been burgled. When this happens to most people, the burglars tend to pick and choose, but these burglars have taken absolutely everything: the carpet, the chandelier, the light fittings, even the oven with the sticky chicken casserole in it. Lots of things that were screwed down, and lots of things that weren't. They've really been cleaned out in the most extraordinary way, and they've got absolutely no idea why. You spend most of the play finding out how that came about, and it's a very interesting journey through a marriage that has lasted for 36 years, but hasn't always been the happiest. 

How did the process of adapting an Alan Bennett novella for the stage first come to realisation?
I was working with Alan on another play when the novella was published in 1994 or 1995. I had a conversation with him where I said that it would make the most wonderful play, and that he should turn it into one. He said that it wasn't a bad idea, and he'd think about it. I saw him five years later and asked if he ever got round to it, and he just replied, "No. You do it." I think he said it as a bit of a joke, but it sowed a seed. It's taken another fifteen years for it to come to fruition, but I've thought about it for a very long time. I put pen to paper and sent him a copy, and just hoped he would like it. And he did.

As well as being the first thing you’ve written for the stage, does the fact that it’s an adaptation of such a beloved, iconic British writer’s work bring an additional sense of pressure?
It really does, because you just want to do him justice. You agonise over everything. I spent a lot of time trying as hard as I possibly could to get every bit of dialogue from the novella into the play. Sometimes you reach the conclusion that it's just not possible, but generally speaking I really have tried to be as true to the text as I possibly can. What's been great is having the director, Adam Penford - a fabulous and phenomenal Artistic Director of Nottingham Playhouse – alongside me. We both know Alan and his work very well, so it's been wonderful having a fresh set of eyes on the process, and he's offered so many useful tips, as well as throwing in some judicious cutting, which has been very helpful. I simply couldn't have done it without him.

Your co-star is fellow Olivier Award winner Sophie Thomson and, from the way you’ve described the plot, it sounds like the chemistry between you two is integral…
I've worked with Sophie on lots and lots of things, but never in a play, which is absurd when you consider we've both spent half of our careers on the stage. It was a dream come true when she said yes. I did push quite hard to get her, and I wasn't going to take no for an answer! I badgered her into it, really. But she's taken it on with absolute aplomb, and is completely brilliant, as you'd expect. Working with her has been one of the great treats of rehearsals so far.

One of the reasons I wanted to bring The Clothes They Stood Up In to Nottingham is that I had so many of my formative theatrical experiences at the Playhouse. It's always been a very precious part of my life

You were last at the Nottingham Playhouse fairly recently, playing Dr Willis in the 2018 production of The Madness of George III alongside Mark Gatiss. What is it about that venue that you enjoy? 
One of the reasons I wanted to bring The Clothes They Stood Up In to Nottingham is that I had so many of my formative theatrical experiences in that building. It's always been a very precious part of my life. And not just at the building - I used to get regular visits in Melton [Mowbray, where Adrian is originally from] from the Roundabout Company, which used to be part and parcel of the Playhouse. My passion for theatre and my love for acting were sparked there. I suppose I thought it would be the perfect place. Also, Nottingham audiences are always really receptive, smart people, too. They'll totally get it. 

As an actor, do you notice much of a difference to regional audiences from, say, a West End production? 
Yes - there's definitely more excitement. Often in London, there's a kind of world-weary cynicism about going to the theatre. I find that often with regional theatre, people are just so happy and excited to be there. Big cities, particularly London, can be strangely unfriendly places sometimes. Often when I've travelled around the country, I don't find that to be the case in other places. 

Talking about your wider career, during my preparation for this interview I realised I'd watched seven films featuring you within the last three or so months without meaning to…
Bloody hell, you poor thing.

I noticed that you were very ubiquitous in a lot of historical films: Gosford Park, To Kill a King, Bright Young Things, The King's Speech, The Madness of King George, 1917, Elizabeth: The Golden Age... What do you think it is about your film career that gets you cast in so many character roles in period pieces?
Well, there are two films you've mentioned there that I've never even seen

Which two?
I'm not telling!

Well, they're all pretty decent. You should give them a whirl.
I think there's maybe a look you have as an actor that dictates where you're placed in the profession. I think some people are more geared to period dramas than others. I don't know, really. I've never been a great one for sitting and asking why. I've always just been so bloody grateful for the work that, for most of my career, I've just taken what's been offered my way. I tend to pick and choose a bit more now, because I'm aware that some jobs will make me happier than others. It's nice to feel charged up by a project.

A very brilliant actor gave me a great piece of advice when I was younger: be a jack of all trades and the master of none. Because that way you'll stay in work. You'll be able to do lots of different things, and the profession will hold you up

Is that something that's come with age? Or getting wider exposure from being in widely seen series like Gavin and Stacey and Killing Eve?
I think that definitely has something to do with it. It's a longevity thing: people look at your CV and think, 'Oh my god, he's been doing it for 33 years. He must be alright, and able to do this in some form or another.' 

Has that also given you the freedom to create your own roles, like you've done with The Clothes They Stood Up In?
It was never actually my intention to be in this play. That was something that Adam more or less forced me into. It was partly because Sophie came on board and, when she did, I thought, 'Well, I'm blowed if I'm going to miss that opportunity.' I'm really glad I am though, even though I might come across as this mad egotist that's adapted this play and written himself a big role! Genuinely, though, that wasn't the case - but I'm having such a wonderful time being able to see it through the writer's lens, which is a first for me. 

Does that creative freedom mean you enjoy the work more nowadays?
Much more. It's great because my kids have left home now so I don't have to put Marmite on the table like I used to, and that gives you immense freedom to be able to know that you're going to be alright for a year. There's enough money in the bank for me to be able to do a vanity project, how lucky am I? That's brilliant. 

Does being recognisable from things like Gavin and Stacey ever become a hindrance to your theatre work? Do people turn up expecting you to be that guy from the sitcom?
I think a lot of my career has been spent doing lots and lots of different things. A very brilliant actor gave me a great piece of advice when I was younger: be a jack of all trades and the master of none. Because that way you'll stay in work. You'll be able to do lots of different things, and the profession will hold you up. You'll be able to keep your head above water and earn enough money to live, which, for a lot of actors, isn't the case. It's also what's great about being a character actor. If you're a leading man, you could argue that you'll only have a limited number of parts that you can play. But if you're a character actor, the parts you play are all different, and people will see you through different lenses. That's really helped me with not being typecast. 

With that said, you're the lead role in the Acorn TV original series The Chelsea Detective now…
Yes - something like that is completely absurd! 

How so?
It just came out of the blue, as often happens with parts in my career. I've been an incredibly lucky person, I think. I do believe in luck.

I know it's not the done thing to say that about yourself, but don't you think that you've created those opportunities yourself by being there, working hard and having talent though? Like I said, I've seen you in a lot of roles, and you've never been bad...
People say that to me, but I'm not altogether sure it's completely true. I'm always slightly bamboozled by that. I don't know how it necessarily follows. I just like a new challenge, which is why I'm so excited by The Clothes They Stood Up In. I've never done anything like it. There was a point around the time I turned fifty when I just thought, 'Oh, I don't care what anyone thinks anymore.' I've been doing this for long enough now. It's not about that, it's about the experience that I have personally, to be able to enjoy my life and enjoy my creativity and to keep being imaginative, keep going in different directions and keep challenging myself. What I don’t want to happen with something like The Chelsea Detective is that I endlessly play a police detective. I love that I've been given the opportunity to play one, and play one in the way I want to, but at the same time it would be absolutely deadly if I didn't do anything else. 

 All things being equal, you can only choose to do film, TV or theatre for the rest of your career - which do you choose?
I simply couldn't do only one. Again, that's one of the reasons I've had longevity in my career, I've always tried as hard as I can to mix it up. One of the things I positively adore is doing a radio play, or narrating an audiobook, or doing a Book at Bedtime for Radio 4, in exactly the same way that I love being on film sets, I love being on television and I love theatre. And now, I love writing. That's just given me a lovely, juicy path to go down. Let's see where it takes me. 

The Clothes They Stood Up In is at Nottingham Playhouse from Friday 9 September until Saturday 1 October. For more information and tickets, visit the Nottingham Playhouse website 

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