'I don't do it as Michael's Frank Spencer; that would be an insult to Michael...' SOME MOTHERS DO 'AVE 'EM Joe Pasquale tells VICKY EDWARDS about "round two" of playing Frank Spencer in the on stage adaptation of Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em.
BEFORE Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em embarked on its inaugural tour, the producers were adamant: the stage manager must be equipped with a well-stocked first aid kit.
"Oh blimey, yes!" says the effervescent Joe Pasquale, once again playing Frank Spencer, the character made famous on TV in the 1970s and who had the nation chorusing "Ooh, Betty!".
"I do it all - hanging by my ankles and all sorts. During rehearsals the bloke choreographing the stunts fell down the stairs [of the set] and caught his knackers on the bannister. All he could suggest by way of reassurance was that I'd better wear a box. I mean, he was a professional stuntman and I had to do it every night!" And now he's doing it all over again. Rave reviews and public support will see Frank back on stage, but Joe wants to make something clear.
'I don't do it as Michael's Frank Spencer; that would be an insult to Michael...' I'm putting my personality into it," he explains, as we discuss the character made famous on the telly by Michael Crawford.
"Frank isn't childish, he believes in what he's doing. The relationship between him and Betty is a love story. He might always mess up, but she loves him anyway. For it to work she has to; otherwise he'd just be an idiot."
With a storyline based on an original story about Frank trying to get on a TV talent show ("it's still set in the 70s, so you get the mustard wallpaper, tank tops and all the trimmings"), Joe loves that it's a family friendly show and nods his agreement when I suggest that with the Goes Wrong series booming, and successful recent revivals of comedies such as Noises Off, there seems to be renewed enthusiasm for family comedy.
"Some Mothers is two hours of surgically tight performance. It is a show without malice or aggression and it is sweet, touching and very funny, and it has real heart."
And Joe believes giving people a good laugh is also timely.
"People want comedy during times of uncertainty. Every single day [of the first tour] was a joy and a blessing. To get the audience laughing as much as they did was just wonderful.
"Guy Unsworth [director and writer] is a real talent," says Joe, admitting that on meeting "this very well spoken young lad who looked like an American football player" he questioned what the youngster could possibly teach him about comedy.
"I soon realised that he's a natural. He suggests the smallest change; a tiny nuance to get the comedy out of a line, and he's always right. This kid is a classic comedy anorak who really knows his stuff. He has rewritten the script [ready for this new tour] and peppered it with even more jokes and most of the original cast are back for the new tour, which says a lot."
Joined by Susie Blake as Mrs Fisher, Frank's disapproving mother-in-law, Moray Treadwell as Mr Luscombe, David Shaw-Parker as Father O'Hara and Ben Watson as Desmond, playing his longsuffering wife Betty is Spamalot co-star Sarah Earnshaw. Also in the cast are Peter F Gardiner and Jayne Ashley.
"Susie is an experienced comic actress and she's brilliant in the show. Sarah's role is more difficult. She has to be softer and likable," says Joe, confessing that not ever having trained as an actor he needed Guy's help.
"He told me to do it as an absolutely proper role; no asides or ad-libbing. Putting me with really good actors also makes me raise my game. Sarah is a linchpin and the relationship we have on and off stage is built on trust and affection."
Knowing her chum Joe so well that she can stop him deviating from the script almost before he thinks of doing so, Joe says she puts the mockers on any nonsense from him with an imperceptible movement.
"She'll give a tiny head shake that nobody else notices. It means 'I know you're about to do something and DON'T!' She calls me the Unstoppable Moron," he chuckles.
Unstoppable is right. As well as Some Mothers, Joe constantly works on new comedy material, writes horror stories and is a talented artist - a skill he has been known to incorporate into his stand-up act.
"I am really aware of my mortality so you might as well live while you can," he says, waving aside any suggestion that the general schlepping of a long tour might be tiring.
"Touring in Some Mothers is a lot easier than my stand-up show. Then I usually do 40 one-nighters. A week in one place is a holiday," he beams, adding that there are certain places he is particularly looking forward to.
"I absolutely love Frank Matcham theatres and Nottingham is a lovely theatre and a proper playhouse. This show works really well in a proper playhouse. I did panto there last year and have played there many times. The audiences are fantastic and it is always a pleasure to go back."
As for playing Frank, Joe knows he's likely to collect a few bumps and bruises along the way. But then he's used to "industrial injuries", having previously got himself stuck inside a bingo machine, broken his toe while tap dancing and dislocated a shoulder in panto.
"It's got danger written all over it for me.
I wouldn't want to be my understudy!" As for the future, there are hopes that Some Mothers may continue to delight audiences, both at home and abroad. Watch this space.
| Nottingham Theatre Royal, March 10-14, trch.co.uk, 0115 989 5555, PS16.50 to PS36.50.
Joe Pasquale as Frank Spencer and (insets) on stage in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em