Peter Grant talks to Matthew Kelly about his Playhouse appearance.
Matthew Kelly says it’s a bit like coming home – being on stage on Merseyside, that is.
The former Everyman actor is at the Playhouse – that other ‘creative heart’ beating in Liverpool.
Matthew is proud of his latest role – a touring version from the Regent’s Park Theatre company of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. He plays the sarcastic head of the Bennet family who have five daughters who he wants to see married off.
The Bennet sisters haplessly search for love while a certain Mr Darcy meets his match in the form of clever and witty Elizabeth. Meanwhile, with his owl-shaped spectacles perched on his nose and a newspaper in front of him, Mr B speaks his mind – not too often, but when he does it speaks volumes.
”I get to sit down throughout the play on a wonderful revolving stage – like a bandstand – it’s just my cup of tea,” chuckles Matthew.
”The adaptation dirceted by Deborah Bruce is very well-paced; it has to be to get a novel like this on stage with a cast of twenty . There’s so much in it and I like sitting down all the time. It’s my type of job – I am quite a lazy person.
”Mr Bennet is saddened by the fact that he has no male heir so he has to ensure his daughters marry into wealthy families. He is fond of his wife who lives on the edge – but he loves his daughters, even though he has a funny way of showing it.
”It is a fine production – funny and moving, and even though it was written in 1813 it is as relevant today,” he adds.
Matthew has much praise for his co-star, the stage and screen actress Felicity Montague who played the much put-upon Lynn in the Alan Partridge series and film. She was also in the hit movies Bridget Jones Diary and Dad’s Army. Now, until Spring on this UK tour, she plays the anxious Mrs Bennet.
Says Matthew: ”We worked together 30 years ago in a show called Kelly’s Eye which bombed – simply never took off. So, at last, we are finally working together again in this brilliant production. And she works very, very hard and really drives it along.’
Matthew is a driving force himself in show biz. He can turn his hand to any genre. His experience from Manchester Poly to the Everyman and West End is evident in all he does whether it is Educating Rita on stage or Bleak House on the telly.
He says his time in the 70s, in Hope Street , helped him to find a voice – to be himself.
Born in Urmston, Lancashire, 66 years ago he went on to win an Olivier Award in 2004 for his role as Lennie in the Savoy Theatre’s production Of Mice and Men.
The critics gave him five stars when he played alongside fellow Everyman star George Costigan.
Matthew, whose son Matthew Rixon is also an actor, is regarded as one of this country’s best TV presenters. He made his name putting people at their ease in such shows as Game For A Laugh, You Bet and Stars In Their Eyes.
He also received rave reviews when he played a chilling serial killer on television in Cold Blood back in 2005. It was a remarkable performance and showed his diverse acting credentials.
The affable actor, who has an Honorary Fellowship from John Moores University, was last at the Everyman for its 2014 re-opening play – Twelfth Nights Toby Belch.
He says Liverpool has been so important in his career. ”I went to a memorial service for
Alan Dossor the Everyman artistic director in the 70s who died in 2016 . It was laughter and tears. It was so good seeing Willy Russell and all those others like me who were inspired by Alan. Lots of wonderful memories”
And back to his current success – Miss Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – what many consider to be the first ever rom-com.
”It is timeless,” he says. ”It is very funny. I had never read it before. I alway thought it was chick lit.”
I ask if he has based the bombastic Bennet on anyone he knows?
‘No. I never, ever do that, Whenever I do anything – it’s always ME.
”I watch how people do things. I listen and take it all in.
”But I read the script and and I play the character as I hear and I see it.
”I play a cantankerous man so I guess it’s based on me. Though there are times when I say a line and hear it in my head and I sound just like my father.”
Matthew says that Merseyside audiences are warm and friendly and take actors to their heart.
”It’s a lovely city. Many people actually think I am a Scouser which is a compliment.
”It’s great to be back.
”I hear the Playhouse is 150 years old. It’s 50 years since the of Mersey Sound arrived and now this play is helping mark the forthcoming bicenential of Jane Austen.”
And then with a short pause followed by his infectious laugh, he mentions another anniversary closer to home – his very own.
”Do you know, I reckon I must be celebrating 50 years since I first started in theatre….
”So I’ll see you in the bar after the play to celebrate.”
Matthew Kelly – still game for a laugh after all these years.
Pride and Prejudice
Liverpool Playhouse, Feb 7- Feb 11th
Box Office: 051 709 4776