PLAYING the part of a lecherous old man in a nursing home was not something that musician Andy Marlow ever envisaged himself doing. But next week the classical guitarist will debut his comedy skills as Wilf in the Henley Players’ production of Quartet at the Kenton Theatre.
The play — about four retired opera stars limbering up for a production of Verdi’s Rigoletto — was a big hit at the cinema last year, with Billy Connolly playing Wilf.
Andy, from Nettlebed, says he has not seen the film, and has studiously avoided doing so since being cast in the role partly because the Scots comedian would be such a hard act to follow.
“The first 20 pages of the play is just a tour de force of innuendo, and to be honest I’ve been advised by a couple of people that I shouldn’t see the film,” he says. “They say I mustn’t be too influenced by Billy Connolly. I certainly won’t be putting on a Scots accent.
“It was just before Christmas when I had the audition, and I had long, wild hair like Billy Connolly. I hope the director Bill Bowder didn’t cast me for that reason, because since then I’ve chopped it all off.”
(At this point it is worth pointing out that, even though all his locks may be chopped off, Andy does bear a pretty impressive resemblance to the mad Scotsman.)
Andy, who plays with the English Guitar Quartet, and is a member of the re-formed Springfields alongside Mike Hurst, had not acted for many years until the role of Wemmick in last year’s Henley Players’ production of Great Expectations was thrust unexpectedly upon him.
He says: “Pip was played by my son, Toby, and my daughter Annabel was also in the play. I went to pick them up from rehearsals one night and the director, Jill Richardson, peered over her glasses and said, ‘do you act?’ I foolishly said ‘yes’.”
While playing the part of Wemmick he was talent-spotted by Bill Bowder, who snapped him up to play Wilf.But even though he is enjoying playing the comic role, he says there are also shades of sadness in his character.
“There are lots of very tender and moving moments, and it’s going to be quite a rollercoaster for the audience,” he says.
“I think Wilf is quite a sad individual. He’s actually had a long and happy marriage. He feels obliged to say all these sexually charged innuendos throughout the piece, but every now and again there’s a little moment of honesty. For instance, it’s interesting how shocked he is that he could ever have been unfaithful to his wife, Melissa. He’s a likeable character, and a lot of it is bravado.”
Last week Andy — whose wife Helma was a professional soprano — and the other three main characters were given a two-hour lesson in classical singing by Tim Yealland of English Touring Opera.
“It was absolutely stunning,” he says. “It just shows you what a different world it is when someone like Tim Yealland is sorting us out in a two-hour slot. I sing three-part harmony for every song for the Springfields, but this is so different.
“The day after that rehearsal I had an incredible pain in my ribs just because the breathing techniques are so different.”
•Quartet is at the Kenton Theatre from Wednesday, March 19 to Saturday, March 22. Box office (01491) 575698 or visit www.kenton threatre.co.uk