Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Phonebox speaks to Peep Show actor and stage star Robert Webb

"Everyone speaks very highly of the theatre in Milton Keynes"

Robert Webb (left) will be at MK Theatre from today (April 7th) in Jeeves and Wooster: Perfect Nonsense.

felt a bit of a fake waiting for Robert Webb to pick up the phone. Everyone seems to have their favourite moments in Peep Show, and I had never seen an episode. Robert stars as the sarcastic and selfish Jez in the BAFTA-winning show about two dysfunctional flatmates, which is heading into its final series later this year.
It seemed his current character is a million miles away from his most famous role, as Robert is currently touring the UK as the brash and energetic Bertie in Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense. 
An adaptation of the P G Wodehouse novels and TV series staring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry from the 90s, he has returned to the role following a 3-month stint as the character in the West End.
When we speak he’s in a B&B in Canterbury, the morning after their first performance in the town. 
“I thought the audience were a bit quiet but they were clapping like crazy at the end. We thought, where have you been for two hours?" explains Robert. 
The actor stars in Jeeves and Wooster.
The show follows the aristocratic Bertie Wooster and his dutiful butler Jeeves (played by Jason Thorpes). Having enjoyed four and five star reviews, the Olivier Award-winning production has gone on a national tour. 
Robert adds: “It’s a lovely part and I’m delighted to get the chance to do it again. Bertie is such a big and energetic part to play and it’s easy to enjoy. If you don’t enjoy it, you’re not doing it right.
“I first went to see it when Stephen Mangan was playing my part…” He paused and laughed, “now I say my part!”
Performing at MK Theatre from April 7-11, it’s Robert’s first time in the town.
“Everyone speaks very highly of the theatre there but no, I haven’t been before. I’m a Milton Keynes virgin!”
In the comedy, one of Bertie’s friends suggests he puts on a play. Naturally he turns to the ever-faithful Jeeves to stop him making a fool of himself as Robert explains: “Jeeves is playing half the parts. Between him and another butler they play all the other characters. It’s the fun of not having enough actors on stage for 15 characters.”
Did he take any inspiration from the comedy duo of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie?
“I had a quick look at what Hugh was doing but it’s a very different ball game on TV. If I played it this big and bold on TV I would look like I was out of my mind. It’s a very different medium.” 
The actor, originally from Lincolnshire, has regularly appeared on stage but is best known for his TV roles. Alongside his comedy partner David Mitchell, who also stars in Peep Show, their BAFTA-winning sketch show, That Mitchell and Webb Look, ran until 2010. Panel show appearances include Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Would I Lie To You? And Have I Got News For You. He’s even currently starring in the Post Office adverts. 
But acting on stage each night to a new audience is completely different.
“It’s lovely to do your job for two hours and then go home,” laughs Robert.
“Filming days are long. I’m not moaning, but the bit in-between the acting and cut is only about 15-20% of your time. A lot of it is waiting. You can’t really relax as you will always have a scene coming up.
“You don’t really tune out. It’s a marathon in a way and you feel you’ve worked hard, but the work of the actor is very small.”
Playing Bertie until June, it’s clear he loves being on stage: “Theatre is great. When you’re doing it, you’re really doing it. When you’re not, you’re not.
“It makes a difference when the audience is right there, especially with comedy. You step it up a gear to help it along. You get a lot in the way of feedback from that.”
Robert (right) with his Peep Show cast mates. 
It’s been widely reported that the final series of Peep Show will be filmed later this year, following a three-year break since the eighth was broadcast on Channel 4. For Robert, filming starts in September, following a nice long break with his family.
Can he tell us anything about it? (I suspect not). “Nope,” he laughs. 
“They won’t die and they won’t win the lottery. You could see Mark and Jez in the same flat in their 70s one day. If everything goes terribly right for them it won’t be Peep Show. They will be unhappy.”
You may think this would be a sad ending, but not for fans of the show. The comedian is hugely proud of everything it has achieved too.
“It really is terrifically good,” adds Robert, “and I can say that because I don’t write it! It’s been a big part of my life and a joy to play Jeremy. He’s so rude and sarcastic. It’s been a fun challenge making the guy likeable, but I’ve been living in a post-Jeremy world for a few years now.”
And the future? “I don’t have a grand plan. I’ll be unemployed in September! Playing a Doc Martin type character would be lovely one day, but I’m not bored of comedy.”
I better see if I can find a Peep Show box-set. 

Jeeves & Wooster runs from April 7-11 at MK Theatre. Tickets available on (0844) 871 7652 or atgickets.com. 


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