TO BE FRANK: Interview with Joe Pasquale
Joe Pasquale talks to Vicky Edwards about playing Frank Spencer in the stage world premiere of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em.
I hope the insurance is comprehensive and the Stage Manager has a well-stocked first aid kit when the world premiere of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em goes on national tour.
“Oh blimey, yes!” says the effervescent Joe Pasquale, who will play Frank Spencer, the character made famous on TV in the 1970s by Michael Crawford and that had a nation chorusing his ‘Ooh, Betty!’ catchphrase.
“We have a stunt coordinator and I’m doing it all – hanging by my ankles, chicken chasing and all sorts. But we’re not doing it as Michael’s version of Frank Spencer; that would be an insult to Michael. I’m putting my personality into it, which is how to make it believable. There’s a difference between child-like and childish and Frank isn’t childish; he believes in what he’s doing.
“We did three workshops and at the last one we had an invited audience who were across an age range of between eighteen and seventy. All the younger people didn’t know the show or have a frame of reference with Michael, but they laughed their socks off. Even the older people who remember the original, forgot Michael doing it in within five minutes – the script is so good,” enthused Joe, explaining that the show is based on an original story about Frank trying to get on a TV talent show.
“It’s still set in the 70s, so you get the mustard wallpaper, tank tops and all the trimmings. It is so funny and you can take the whole family to see it. Apart from panto and maybe musicals there aren’t any theatre shows that people of all ages can enjoy together, but this is proper family comedy.”
Agreeing that he is something of an adrenalin junkie (as well as slumming it on – and winning – I’m a Celebrity fourteen years ago, Joe has also appeared in TV documentaries that have entailed him being trained by the SAS and imprisoned in Costa Rica) he jokes: “If it’s not dangerous or life threatening then I’m not interested anymore. I read the book Feel the Fear and do it Anyway fifteen years ago and it made me think. Now, if I’m not sure about doing something, I automatically say OK; let’s do it. You might as well live while you can.”
Asked how the show came about, Joe recalls playing King Arthur in the Monty Python musical comedy Spamalot in the West End a couple of years ago. Stuck in an airless dressing room at the height of summer, wearing chainmail and kingly robes, a broken fan was about as much use as a chocolate fire guard. Setting about taking it to pieces, cleaning it and putting it back together again (“I was sweating my knackers off”), when he turned the power back on the fan exploded. The show’s director Christopher Luscombe and staff director Guy Unsworth were present and both roared with laughter, calling it a pure Frank Spencer moment. A seed was sown and Guy sought out Raymond Allen, writer of the original TV series. Fate was smiling. Allen, it transpired, was a big fan of Joe’s. Unsworth set about writing a script and now, two years, several script edits and three workshops later, the show is underway.
“We have been working really hard on it, Guy in particular,” says Joe, admitting that when he first met “this very well spoken young lad who looked like an American football player” he questioned what the youngster could possibly teach him about comedy.
“I soon realised that he knew everything; he’s a natural,” marvels Joe. “He suggests the smallest change; a tiny nuance to get the comedy out of a line, and he’s always right. He’s also a real historian on British comedy. I think he’ll be one of the biggest directors in the West End.”
Joined by a cast that includes Susie Blake as Mrs Fisher, Frank’s disapproving mother-in-law, Moray Treadwell as Mr Luscombe, David Shaw-Parker as Father O’Hara and Chris Kiely as Desmond, playing his long-suffering wife Betty is Spamalot co-star Sarah Earnshaw.
“Sarah’s role is so much more difficult. She has to be softer and so likable, but she’s brilliant,” says Joe, confessing that he’s a terrible on-stage ‘farter’ and that Sarah knows all about playing long-suffering having been downwind of his lively bottom during the run of Spamalot. “She calls me the Unstoppable Moron,” he chuckles.
Unstoppable is certainly right. As well as the tour of Some Mothers, Joe continues to do stand-up and has just had a book of his short horror stories published.
“It’s a book for adults called Deadknobs and Doomsticks. I’m a bit of a horror buff and when I did an Open University course in geo-science and geology, as a by-product I did some writing courses.”
Sending his stories to an author friend for feedback, his chum promptly forwarded them on to his publisher who saw the potential and immediately told Joe to write some more.
Reminiscent of the Duracell Bunny in terms of energy, does Joe find acting in a long tour a tiring prospect?
“My life is a sitcom, so, no acting required for this one [another infectious laugh], but touring in Some Mothers will be a lot easier than my stand-up show. Then I usually do forty one-nighters at different theatres. A week in one place will be like a holiday,” he beams, adding that there are certain dates he is particularly looking forward to.
“I like to get out and about. I don’t just sit there watching the telly. I get the local pamphlets from the hotel and go see whatever there is to see and get to know a place. Curve is a lovely theatre and Leicester is a smashing town. I’m looking forward to going back there.”
As for playing Frank, dare-devil Joe is mindful that he has already had his fair share of ‘industrial injuries,’ including getting stuck inside a bingo machine, breaking his toe while tap dancing and dislocating a shoulder in panto.
“It’s got danger written all over it for me,” agrees Joe cheerfully. “I wouldn’t want to be my understudy.
“But the world is a miserable place sometimes and we need to empty our bins, mentally. The only way to do that is release some laughter and you’ll laugh for two hours solidly at this, I promise.”
Radiating warmth as naturally as Frank Spencer causes chaos, Joe’s mum certainly ‘ad a very funny, talented and lovable lad.