Blue Peter legend: Here’s one I’ve not made earlier
ACTING has been Peter Duncan’s life since he was 16. He first acted professionally in 1970
ACTING has been Peter Duncan’s life since he was 16. He first acted professionally in 1970 but four decades on his enthusiasm, his love of his art and his thrill at new challenges are as keen as ever.
The Three Musketeers at the Kenton Theatre is his latest challenge.
At the beginning of September he opens in what will be a world premiere of a new comedy based on Alexander Dumas’s heroic trio.
Rehearsals start on Monday (August 8) in London but the four-man cast has already been to the Kenton for a read-through of the new show written and directed by Ian McFarlane.
“It was interesting doing it in the space you’re going to use,” says Peter. “You can imagine it as the play. You get an idea of what it will be like.”
The show’s full title — The Three Musketeers: All for One and Every Man for Himself! — gives a flavour of the comedy, in which the cast play 27 different roles.
Set in 1942, Peter plays actor-manager Aubrey Everett who in the aftermath of an air raid is forced to tell the audience the play cannot go ahead — cast members are missing, as are many of the props and costumes.
But then Aubrey spots leading film producer Arnold St Arnold in the audience and suddenly the show must go on — his career could be made! Aubrey leads his cast of three in a chaotic new version of the Musketeers’ story where blunders, comedy and innuendo go full pelt as you might expect in a play written by the man who brought the successful Jack and the Beanstalk panto to the Kenton last Christmas.
“I worked with Ian on his musical Betwixt! and we had stayed in touch and various ideas had come up with various projects,” says Peter.
“We wanted to do something together and this show gives us the chance.
“To try out something new is exciting and different — it is a problem that often people are scornful of new theatre.”
One of the appeals of Ian’s play was the subject matter. “You don’t stand much of a chance with a new play unless you have a name or title people are familiar with — and The Three Musketeers has that.”
It is far from the traditional take on the book and Peter sees it as being more in the vein of Richard Lester’s 1973 film with Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch and Richard Chamberlain.
“I think people will be surprised. It is a populist comedy, it is pantomimic but is also more than that. There is a lot of flourish and swords. It is Pythonesque, zany, with an appeal across the age range.
“Working with Ian you have to surrender yourself to the process. All theatre ventures are exploration — they have a nemesis, a bunch of ideas and it is what you attach to it that makes it work.”
Since Peter, who trained at the Italia Conti stage school, first appeared as Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island, his career has been one of remarkable diversity.
In rep at Westcliff-on-Sea he honed his skills successively playing in Billy Liar, then Equus and then panto. He has done a range of films and TV programmes like Duncan Dares. He made a six-part BBC television documentary called Travel Bug in which he, his partner Annie and their four children backpacked their way around the world. In the two follow-up series their adventure travels took them to China and India.
He produces his own panto in between starring in radically different shows like Birdsong and Hairspray. Oh, and he also found time to serve as the Chief Scout.
And then there is Blue Peter — the two words that still appear in front of his name on billboards and in biographies. He had two spells fronting the hugely popular show that remains part of all our childhoods.
He looks back on it with affection but, you sense, as just part of his performing journey. Not that it has done him any harm.
“People have an expectation — it adds to your persona,” he says.
Musicals loom large in his CV, with shows like Barnum, Me and My Girl and the award-winning The Card — and there are songs in The Three Musketeers arranged by musical director Alex Beetschen, whose work proved so popular in the Kenton pantomime.
Peter’s love of acting is all-encompassing. He enthuses about watching the recent TV production of Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser and delighted in seeing The Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare’s Globe — a production in tune with the times that drew an audience of all ages.
Soon it will be his turn to bring his talents to Henley — we should not miss the chance to see a theatrical enthusiast display his many skills.
The Three Musketeers: All for One and Every Man for Himself! is on at the Kenton Theatre from Thursday, September 1, to Saturday, September 17. Showtime is 7.30pm, with Saturday matinées being staged at 2.30pm on September 3, 10 and 17.
Tickets are now on sale and can be booked by calling (01491) 575698 or visiting www.kentontheatre.co.uk
Callers in person can book at the box office in New Street from 11am to 3pm on weekdays and from 10am to 1pm on Saturdays.