As we look forward to Nigel Planer’s new play ‘All Above Board’ coming to the stage in partnership with The Northern Comedy Theatre, we asked Nigel about playwriting, his views on comedy and where did the idea for his character Neil from ‘The Young Ones’, come from?
For further details of ‘All Above Aboard’ including tour dates and booking information, follow this link to The Northern Comedy Theatre’s website – https://northerncomedytheatre.com/
Your new play ‘All Above Board’ is due to premiere in New Brighton on the 23rd August. Without giving away too much, can you give us a brief summary of the plot of the play?
Well, it’s a farce, so the plot is a bit intricate, but I’ll have a go. Timothy Upton-Fell has quit the world of banking and now – for all the wrong reasons – wants to “give something back”. Along with his shameless PR agent, Florence Spink, he plans a charity auction to raise money for worthy causes and to make himself look good.
He misguidedly enlists the help of narcissistic TV personality, Matthew Board – a man on the edge in more ways than one. Matters are made worse by Timothy’s upstairs neighbour, Sir Ommany John, an elderly famous artist who still has an eye for the ladies; and by Sir Ommany’s wife Claire who is not as caring as she seems; and by Katia, a disdainful Finnish exchange student, and of course, by Timothy’s crazed ex-wife, Cressida who is out for revenge…and will Walji the plasterer ever turn up?
The Northern Comedy Theatre have collaborated with you on ‘All Above Board’. Why did you choose the Northern Comedy Theatre to produce your play?
They had worked closely with another writer, David Spicer and had given a very successful world premiere of one of his plays in Liverpool last year. I sent the script to them, and they loved it and were very keen to bring it to life for me.
Do you tend to be very hands on when bringing one of your plays to the stage?
Well, it depends. Sometimes I am very hands on – for instance with the play I wrote with Adrian Edmondson; ‘Vulcan 7’, or the musical I’m currently working on; ‘She Devil’. But at other times I’ve literally just handed over a script and then turned up on the first night. My play ‘On the Ceiling’ has had wonderful productions which I had nothing to do with, including at the Landor in Clapham, and, in Barcelona in a Catalan version called ‘Al Sostre’.
You have chosen to premiere ‘All Above Board’ with a tour of North/Midlands theatres, was this a conscious decision not to premiere in London?
The Northern Comedy Theatre are based in Merseyside and so it made sense to start there. Maybe it will get to London in the near future!
You have written several plays, and last year had readings of ‘Should We Be Standing Here’ and ‘Heading Straight Towards Us’ before the lockdown. What are your plans for these plays as theatres reopen?
The ‘It’s Heading Straight Towards Us’ reading went brilliantly, with Tony Gardner and Samuel West in the cast. Then next day, lockdown. Just picking up the pieces on that one now that the theatres are beginning to open up again, looking for a theatre. And ‘Should We Be Standing Here’ is also looking for a home. That one is perhaps not what people might expect from me – it’s a verse play inspired by the Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore. It’s got some great music recorded specially for it by Nitin Sawhney.
I am one of the ‘The Young Ones’ generation and like so many, I watched the show religiously. You are still thought of by many as ‘Neil’, do you have fond memories of filming the series? And where did the idea for the character of Neil come from?
Neil originally came from a show I did with Peter Richardson, called ‘Rank’. Peter and I went on to form the Comic Strip and several other characters from Rank appear in the Comic Strip Presents series. The original Neil act was a bad folk singer – I used to do it as if it was real and see how many people would fall for it. Not many really, I suppose, because it did get pretty silly, comedy-wise.
In your acting and writing career, comedy has been at the heart of your creativity. How do you feel comedy has evolved since the days of Neil? And do you feel these changes are for the better?
I think comedy is a continuum – there’s a scene in a play by Aristophanes that could have come straight out of The Young Ones, and it was written two thousand years ago. The means of communication may change – telly, live, radio, internet, but on the whole, I believe, funny things just are funny. I think there might be a generational difference in that old people sometimes disapprove of things in young people’s comedy and vice versa.
Your career is a hybrid of actor/writer/singer, do you enjoy this diversity, or do you see your future career moving in a particular direction?
I do enjoy almost all of it. I’m greedy that way, I suppose. I feel like if I had another life, I might be able to get half of the things I’d like to do done. These days, though, I get most satisfaction from writing because it’s so exciting when you see a whole cast being brilliant and funny, all the different characters. If you only act or sing, you can only be one of those characters at a time! So, I’m very much looking forward to coming up and seeing the cast doing their funny bits on All Above Board. Hopefully, it’ll be a complete laugh.
Nigel Planer Biography
Nigel Planer is a British actor, comedian, novelist, and playwright who played Neil in the BBC comedy, The Young Ones and Ralph Filthy in Filthy Rich and Catflap. He has appeared in many West End musicals including the original casts of Evita, Chicago, We Will Rock You, Wicked, Hairspray and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He won a BRIT award in 1984 and has been nominated for Olivier, TMA, WhatsOnStage and BAFTA awards.
The Northern Comedy Theatre Biography
Known for presenting new work and collaborating with writers such as David Spicer and Nigel Planer, The Northern Comedy Theatre has been recognised with six ONCOMM awards and a special ONE OFF award from OffWestEnd, to recognise their achievements. They were cited as one of 2020’s ONLINE INSPIRERS by Reviewer Number 9 and were included in 2nd From Bottom’s ’20 From 2020′ of things that amused, inspired, moved, and delighted. They won the Scenesaver Birthday Honours Award for Best Ensemble in 2021. They will make their West End debut in November 2021.
Based in Merseyside they are proud of the comedy heritage of the North West and aim to be fearlessly funny in all they do.