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Paul Clayton: how familiarity breeds content

Paul Clayton as Ian in Peepshow; a role he has recently revisited
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It’s always nice to go back to a hotel that you have stayed in before and where you had a very good time. A second visit allows you the excitement of being away from home, yet the comfy familiarity of a place that you know well.

As an actor, there is a certain joy in being able to revisit something that one has done before. Last week, I filmed on the final series of the sitcom I spent lots of happy days shooting four series of in the noughties. It’s been five years since I worked with those people, and so to go back to a smelly industrial car park in north London to wreak my own brand of grumpy parental havoc for one last time gave me a big warm feeling inside.

Familiar faces all around, both actors and crew, and no sense of having to prove oneself. Just putting on the mannerisms and speech of a character I first played nine years ago was like slipping my feet into an old pair of Marks and Spencer luxury sheepskin slipperettes. I felt assured. I felt as though I knew what I was doing. And, in addition, I felt that nobody could do this now – only me.

While at the RSC in the 1980s, I spent two years acting in a production of The Comedy of Errors. I loved the play. So much so that when I was given a chance to direct it in a beautiful garden theatre in Oxfordshire some six years later, I jumped at the chance. I knew the play well, and now, in charge of the whole affair, I was able to add to my knowledge.

Five years later, I was asked to stage the same play at Nottingham Playhouse. The chance to revisit a play I knew inside out, both as actor and director, was too good to miss. Add to that the input of a fabulously inventive new cast, and it allowed us to create something of which I still remain truly proud. I knew the gags. I knew the text. And I knew that the play worked in front of an audience.

And yet, possibly the security that this brought also brought a lack of adventure. Even with a new cast, perhaps I didn’t always explore as much as I could have done for a different solution. Sometimes it feels better to settle for what one knows. Still, surely the very best acting and directing always pushes the envelope.

There are still many jobs that I take when after having said yes, I ask myself ‘Why?’. And yet quite often they turn out to be the best things that I do. To push oneself; to challenge – surely that is good.

A contemporary of mine recently gave up acting because he said he could no longer stand the stress and the pressure. I think that in a strange way, the day the pressure and the stress disappear is the day that I’d have to hang up my hat.

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