From comedy smash to Shakespeare

Emma LeeNorfolk actor Carl Prekopp learnt his trade on the local stage but now he is starring opposite Sadie Frost in the high profile title role of Shakespeare's Richard III in London. EMMA LEE spoke to him.Emma Lee

Norfolk actor Carl Prekopp learnt his trade on the local stage but now he is starring opposite Sadie Frost in the title role of Richard III in London. EMMA LEE spoke to him.

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You can't say that an actor's life isn't varied. For more than a year, Carl Prekopp was virtually the only male cast member in the stage version of the bright and breezy comedy smash hit Calendar Girls.

He's gone straight from that to playing one of Shakespeare's darkest and most complex villains: Richard III, who manipulates, seduces and murders his way to the throne in the final chapter of the War of the Roses. 'Yes, it is a bit different,' he says with a laugh.

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The play, at the Riverside Studios in London until March 21, is part of the Love and Madness theatre company's Desire and Destruction season.

The production, directed by Ben Kidd, is done in modern dress, set in an office setting, with a moody electro soundtrack - and Carl's portrayal of the most anti of anti-heroes has been described as a cross between spin doctor Alastair Campbell and rock star Ian Dury.

It has garnered particular attention from the press as it stars Sadie Frost, making her return to stage acting as Lady Anne.

'She's lovely,' Carl says. 'The whole cast is terrific, a great bunch of actors, none of whom I had worked with before. It's a massive cast in the original text, and Ben's amalgamated some of the more peripheral characters. Some people play two parts or three.

'If the cast doesn't gel you're up the creek, so it's important that everybody's enjoying being on stage with the others,' he says.

It was a Norfolk connection that led to Carl becoming involved in Richard III.

Love and Madness was formed in Norwich by former Hewitt School pupil Neil Sheppeck, who Carl has known since he was a teenager.

'I was part of the Norwich Theatre Royal's Arts Course and I had known Neil since I was about 15,' Carl says. 'He set the company up 10 years ago, and he said would I be interested in meeting the director. I went and met Ben, who's terrific, and did a couple of scenes and he asked if I'd take on the part and I said yes.'

Love and Madness is known for its original takes on classic texts. The show, and Carl's performance, have been well-received by critics, which he says is a relief - especially when you're breaking with tradition.

'Critics will have seen that show a million times, so when you do a production like this you think 'what are they going to make of us?' From that point onwards you can breathe a sigh and enjoy it,' Carl says.

It's a physically demanding role for Carl. Power-hungry Richard is embittered by his physical deformity, and to prepare for the role Carl worked with a movement coach.

'I'm a bit battered and bruised to be honest,' he says. 'There's two scaffolds either side of the stage, and I'm climbing around on the scaffolding. At the end of it, especially at the end of a two-show day, I ache a lot.

'Richard III was 32 when he died and I'm 30 - usually the character is cast much older, so in a historically accurate sense I'm playing him to the right age.'

It's different to Calendar Girls, which tells the true story of the WI ladies who bared almost all for charity, and in which he starred alongside Lynda Bellingham, Patricia Hodge, Sian Phillips and Brigit Forsyth.

'It was good to get in to the West End - there were about 1,000 in the audience every night. But I was only on stage for about half an hour maximum. I spent most of the time in the dressing room. You're not necessarily getting the same fulfilment in a show like that. It's swings and roundabouts really,' he says.

Carl's association with Calendar Girls, in which he played photographer Lawrence, turned out to be longer than he anticipated, as he explains. 'I did nine months on the road, finishing in Norwich, and then we came in to the West End for three months with that cast. Then just before Christmas I got a call from the producers who had lost the guy in the new cast who was playing the role three days before. So I went back for a further three months, into the show with Kelly Brook, Arabella Weir and Debbie Chazen.'

Carl, a former student of Aylsham High and Paston Collegem is now based in London. He gets back to Norfolk to visit his parents as often as he can. 'I love coming back because it's a nice way of life. It feels less hectic,' he says.

His acting CV also includes radio plays, the feature film I Want Candy and he worked alongside Daniel Radcliffe on the West End production of Equus. What's next? 'I don't know,' he says. 'You're only as good as your last job. That's the nature of the business. I might go on holiday to be honest,' he laughs.

t Richard III is at the Riverside Studios, London, until March 21. More details: