Liverpool lad Philip Olivier – best known for his role as Tim O’Leary in Channel 4’s Brookside, not to mention a killer set of abs – spills the beans on his directorial debut: a site-specific production of The Ale House opening next week at The Dome in Grand Central, Liverpool.
Tell us a bit about The Ale House
It was written by Tony Furlong and Jimmy Power back in 1995 and it went down a storm even back then in Liverpool. It’s about your local boozer, with lots of Liverpool jokes and the caricatured characters you’d expect to find in your typical Liverpool ale house.
Would you say the play works best in Liverpool then?
Yes. It’s got the same sort of comedy angle as Mrs Brown’s Boys, and we’ve brought it right up-to-date. The writers brought the play back in October last year for a run at St Helens Theatre Royal. The group of actors – myself, Lindzi Germain, George Wilson and Jake Abrahams – worked as a team to adapt the script and got five star reviews. Following that, the writers came to me and asked if I was interested in producing and directing another production of the show.
Had directing ever crossed your mind before?
Well I’ve always been very keen on the idea and, in every job I do, I have a bit of input – not often it’s wanted, but I give it anyway – and this job is no exception. And because some of the things we changed went down really well, the writers saw that I had the same vision for the show that they had.
And what does that vision consist of? Can you describe it for us?
Tony Furlong – who died last year – his catch phrase was: “we’re not here to confuse you and we’re not here to educate you; we’re just here to entertain you.” And so the show is lighthearted. It’s not black humour or grotesque comedy. It’s less than an hour each act, and there’s songs thrown in. It’s not a musical, but I like to class it as a hybrid. Every song is prompted by the juke box, which is in the ale house itself, and the scene skirts off into fantasy.
So it’s genuine light-hearted entertainment for everyone to enjoy?
Absolutely! The ideal audience for The Ale House are people who want to go out and have a good time. When we were in St Helens, 40% of the audience had never been to the theatre before. A lot of the folk in Liverpool don’t ever go the theatre, which I find shocking. So we went into the pubs to find locals and encouraged them to spend just £10 on getting out to the theatre and doing something a bit different. We’re trying to convert them basically – a bit like how pantomime converts kids, we’re trying to convert non theatre goers.
How does your new production differ from the one at St Helen’s?
We’ve added extra songs and really tightened up the story line, so there’s much more than just the jokes and the action going on. And the way we’ve approached the songs this time – as I said, skirting off into fantasy – makes it a completely different show, but with the same characters everyone loves.
And do you hope to do more directing in the future?
I’m a bit of a control freak, so yes. But I’ll let you know how this show goes first!
So, I hope you won’t mind me saying, but you’ve got a reputation for being a bit of a hunk. What can you tell us about your character in The Ale House?
I personally think it’s the best character I’ve ever played; I enjoy it more than anything. I play Yogi – a local, larger-than-life, wheeler-dealer character. He comes on stage and doesn’t leave for 15 pages. During that time, the stories he tells are just brilliant. It’s so well written, I revelled in doing it every night and I can’t wait to get back onstage to do it again.
Can I take that to mean Yogi’s not sexy?
No, he’s not sexy. He’s a character you want to hate, but you can’t help loving him. Then there’s Lindzi Germain, who plays the brassy landlady, and Jake Abraham playing a drunken Irish priest; what more could you possibly need?
What’s so special about this venue?
Getting this venue was the key part to us getting this producing role. When we came out of St Helens last October, all the venues were booked up, but a friend of us had just recently acquired The Dome.
It was an old methodist church that was built in 1904. When you walk in, you just see all the old art work and the dome and it’s absolutely beautiful. We’ve put all central heating throughout and we’re hoping now to become artistic directors of this venue and really put it on the map in Liverpool. It’s generating a lot of interest already with lots of production companies approaching us to put shows on. It’s just great.
You’ve been keeping seriously busy over the years with a broad range of projects from Brookside and Benidorm. What’s been your professional highlight?
It’s got to be what put me on the map; it’s got to be Brookside. I was in it for so long and had such amazing story lines. It was like shooting a film every other week; I loved it.
What’s next for you?
Well, I’ve been so busy with The Ale House these past months. I can’t go into detail just yet but, this certainly isn’t the end of the road for this show… There’ll be more news after the run.
And, as you’re a Liverpool lad, I can’t not ask… Everton or Liverpool?
Liverpool – I was well raised!