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Cooking up a storm – Tom Goodman-Hill

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We have seen a lot of Tom Goodman-Hill on TV screens recently but, he tells Jeremy Austin, it was important for him to return to theatre with Pete and Dud – Come Again

Playing Peter Cook in Come Again at the Venue is starting to affect Tom Goodman-Hill. As we chat over lunch just near Leicester Square, the actor – seemingly ubiquitous on our television screens during the past 12 months – cannot stop slipping into Cook. If you’ll pardon the expression.

“Look at that. Lovely bit of scampi. Lovely,” he says in his best Pete and Dud voice. “None of that,” I say. He apologises.

“I love doing research,” he adds by way of explanation as to how far he has immersed himself in the role. “And for this one, there’s hundreds of hours – tons of research and a hell of a lot written about Cook.” This, he reckons, is a better position to be in than Kevin Bishop, who plays the man with whom Cook is eternally partnered, Dudley Moore. “It’s harder for Kevin actually. There’s not as much written about Dudley. It is terribly remiss. This play reassesses the history from Dudley’s point of view and that is absolutely the right thing to do,” he continues.

“Because Dudley spent so long in the States, people over here were not writing about him so much or holding him in the same esteem, which is a shame. And the whole faded glamour of Peter Cook is very attractive to a British audience. Everyone loves that – that he is a mystery.”

Having worked with Bishop on Channel 4 sketch show Spoons, Goodman-Hill says the pair have an exciting dynamic that goes some way to reflecting the partnership needed for a double act such as Cook and Moore. This is helped by the casting of real-life comedy double act Colin and Fergus – Colin Hoult and Fergus Craig – in the production, who play a variety of roles including the Beyond the Fringe co-stars Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett. And of Alexander Kirk as chatshow host Tony Ferguson, whose fictional programme brings Cook and Moore back together one last time.

“Me and Kevin have got such a natural, stupid banter together, which really helps. It is a massively important dynamic,” he explains. “But it is fantastic having people working on it who know what that chemistry and that ability to work with material and just make it funny is all about. That’s something that me and Kevin didn’t naturally have but watching Colin and Fergus in rehearsals improvise together, sparring off each other, you realise the way that chemistry works.”

Stage work is a welcome break for Goodman-Hill. Last year he appeared in A Cosmonaut’s Last Message… at the Donmar Warehouse but otherwise seemed to crop up at regular intervals on both the large and small screen.

Feature-wise he appeared in Festival, Annie Griffin’s dark take on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and Stephen Poliakoff’s film for the BBC, Gideon’s Daughter. Also for the Corporation he filmed Broken News and Baby Cow’s Johnny Vegas vehicle Ideal. He made Murder in Suburbia for Granada and then there was Spoons.

He said he was heartbroken when he discovered Bishop was travelling up to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with an hour-long version of Come Again, which eventually won a Fringe First. Goodman-Hill had played Cook in the very first read-through at the Hen and Chickens in north London alongside Olivier winner Andrew Scott but could not commit because of these filming duties.

“I think it was the most gutted I have ever been knowing that Kevin was doing it with someone else because I desperately wanted to,” he admits.

“We would stare at each other and he would say, ‘Back out of the telly, back out of the telly’ and I’d say, ‘I can’t. I’m contracted. I’ve got to do it – wife and kids – it’s bread and butter’.”

Now it is being performed in its fully extended glory in the West End, Goodman-Hill is involved and – having just been cast as Lancelot in the forthcoming Monty Python musical Spamalot – his television ubiquity is being put on hold for a year.

“I suppose I became in danger of overexposure which is why, I think, doing theatre for a year is quite a sensible move, just to remember what it’s all about really,” he says.

“You can get a bit head in the clouds – well, I do – and full of myself, if I stick in front of the camera for too long. I forget there is hard work that needs to be done.”

More important to Goodman-Hill is that it brings a certain amount of diversity to his career. “I would leave the industry in a moment if I thought I was going to get stuck in one particular area of it.

“I think that like Cook I would become so mind-numbingly bored that it would drive me out of it,” he says.

Not only does that diversity cover all platforms – theatre, TV, feature films and radio – but also all genres. If moving from working on a sketch show to working on a Poliakoff drama is not example enough of the breadth of his work, then how about from Torvald in A Doll’s House to Peter Cook.

“I am very lucky that Stephen Poliakoff is a momentously loyal individual. Because I worked with him at Stratford-upon-Avon – I had a supporting roll in Talk of the City in 1999 – the enormous capacity of his memory flicked through all of the actors that could have played Nicholas Dent in Gideon’s Daughter and landed on me. And that’s fantastic,” he somewhat understates.

“That was an extremely welcome departure from the run of comedy that had occupied me for the whole year. And likewise A Doll’s House. It was fantastic to play Torvald because that came right out of the blue as well and the most fun I have had to date in a play.”

And naturally, the next thing he is scheduled to do – Eric Idle’s Spamalot – is different again. A musical, something he says his singing and movement coaches at Bristol Old Vic would never have believed he would do.

As Lancelot, he is playing a role created by another British comedy legend, John Cleese. “It is an odd progression to go from Peter Cook to what is effectively John Cleese,” he laughs.

“They are two of my absolute idols. Absolutely. That is why it is so bizarre to be playing them both in the same year.” Or as Peter Cook and Dudley Moore would undoubtedly say: “Funny.”

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