Under starter’s orders for Dandy Dick

Nicholas Le Prevost and Patricia Hodge in Dandy Dick
Nicholas Le Prevost and Patricia Hodge in Dandy Dick

DANDY Dick is a thoroughbred with legs and it is hoped that he’ll to romp to victory in the comedy stakes at The Waterside next month.

By Pinero and out of a new Brighton stable of productions this is one nag which is expected to draw the crowds during a tour of the country before a ride out in London’s West End.

Nicholas Le Prevost and Patricia Hodge in Dandy Dick

Nicholas Le Prevost and Patricia Hodge in Dandy Dick

On its back is a filly who has stayed the distance. Patricia Hodge is now known to millions of young TV fans as the mother of Miranda while earlier generations remember the cut glass voice and icy elegance from the likes of Rumpole, Edward and Mrs Simpson and The Naked Civil Servant. On stage she’s lately appeared in Calendar Girls and Noises Off.

Riding alongside as joint favourite is distinguished screen and theatre veteran Nicholas Le Prevost who has been a character stalwart in pretty much all the TV detective series, dramas including Brideshead Revisited, Wild At Heart and Jewel In The Crown as well as a lengthy stage career that has seen him effortlessly slip into both comedy and high drama.

Pinero’s Victorian farce is the first classic play out of the stalls for director Christopher Luscombe’s new Theatre Royal Productions.

“We’re thrilled to be staging Dandy Dick, a glorious British comedy. It is a rarely seen treasure that so richly deserves to be enjoyed by modern audiences in search of quality and entertainment in an evening out at the theatre,” said Luscombe.

Written in 1887 DD tells the hilarious story of a Very Reverend Augustin Jedd (Le Prevost), a pillar of Victorian respectability who preaches regularly against the evils of the Turf.

But a visit from his high-spirited sister and habitual gambler Georgiana (Hodge) leads him to risk all at the races. Mayhem ensues with romantic intrigue, mistaken identity and a runaway horse.

Both stars took time out from their hectic schedules (Nick has been appearing in a political thriller at Chichester while simultaneously beginning rehearsals – in London – on DD while Patricia is getting ready for a new series of the award-winning Miranda) to meet the press at, appropriately, Brighton Racecourse where both novice gamblers came up with a winner.

Patricia praises the playwright for making Georgiana a very modern and independent woman while at the same time bravely poking fun at the church.

“It’s great fun to be playing this sort of character. She causes havoc but she’s also full of joy. I’d got to a point, when I read a script and I thought: ‘Oh god, I don’t have to cry again do I?’

Unlike Georgiana, Patricia doesn’t risk a flutter on the gee gees. “Oh, no, I’d be much too worried that I’d get addicted!” she said.

“Georgiana is very different. You get polar opposites in families and she and her brother have been estranged for a few years because the Dean hates the disreputable way I’ve been running my life and the things I’ve got involved with which he preaches against.

“Time has passed. Georgiana has fallen on hard times and suddenly you return to family but none of her spirit has been lost. She’s quite a piece of work.”

Hodge shot to fame as barrister Phyllida Erskine-Brown in Rumpole of the Bailey but soon realised that she had to make some hard decisions to avoid being pigeon-holed as upper class totty.

“Very early in my career I realised that it was so easy for people to only ever want you to do one thing and that doesn’t interest me.

“So I made a point of jumping around. I’d do a bit of theatre, then television but also, within what you’re offered, to keep things varied.”

Patricia got involved in Miranda when she was asked “out of the blue” to do Miranda Hart’s Joke Shop on the radio.

“I was sent it and I hadn’t heard of her and, at the time they only sent me one script. I read it and couldn’t really see where it was going. They sent more scripts and I found myself laughing out loud.

“I was about to start Calendar Girls and so I thought I might really enjoy doing it. I did it for the enjoyment factor.

“I walked in to this group and this adorable girl came in and I thought that they were all so good and, from day one it was just a joy.

“Then we put it in front of a radio audience and I saw the magic of her interaction with them and I thought it was extraordinary. I had the most wonderful time. So when it came to the television I thought, yes, let’s do it.

“A third series begins shooting this September. There’s now a whole new generation of people who recognise me. Miranda appeals to such an incredibly wide perspective of ages, the youngest of which are only eight or nine. It’s a massive cult in schools.

“There’s my generation who know me from other things but when you walk down the street and all these children come running up saying: ‘We love Miranda!’ That’s really nice.”

Nick is instantly recognisable with a wonderfully distinctive voice but he’s self-effacing about his success. In a profession where about 90 per cent of its work-force are unemployed for 90 per cent of the time, he has continued to work since getting his break in a BBC Play For Today more than 30 years ago.

He goes from playing adulterous 1950s Labour politician Hugh Gaitskell in Hugh Whitemore’s A Marvellous Year For Plums to donning a dog collar just a couple of weeks later for a much lighter role in Dandy Dick. In the spring he goes to Paris for a Stephen Sondheim musical and returns in the autumn for My Fair Lady. He admits the nearest he’s ever got to gambling is with his career choices.

“I play a Dean, he’s a cleric who deals with the money, the restoration of the church etc and he’s a bit of a dry old stick and a bit of a hypocrite and a moral coward. He disapproves of his sister.

“That’s what Pinero is doing, highlighting the hypocrisy of the time which he was right in the middle of. This was written in 1887, so right in the middle of all that ostentation and propriety.

“He promises money for a new church spire, which he hasn’t got, and he gets a tip and gambles on a horse. It’s all about weakness.

“I’m not a gambler but I suppose acting is a bit of a gamble and, by my terms, I’ve been incredibly successful. I’ve been in work almost constantly which is extraordinary.

“I’ve never chased roles. I’m hopeless at that. I’m no good at interviews. I’m no good at persuading people that I’m worth having. Luckily I’ve been well taught and I know how to do the job and, by just good luck and by trying to do things that are worth doing, rather than doing things that will earn a fortune – much to my wife’s regret – I’ve made a go of it.

“There have been times when I’ve been foolish and could have earned more money and got our family much more comfortably set up. I once turned down a big TV series because of a grand idea about theatre that I was going to do and if I’d really been thinking about the family I’d have done it.

“Somehow, although I’ve made mistakes I’ve also made some great choices, largely due to great advice from my wife, and I’m still working. I’m bloody lucky and delighted to have got this far!”

Dandy Dick runs at The Waterside, Aylesbury, from July 16-21. For tickets and more information call the box office 0844 871 7607 or go to www.atgtickets.com/aylesbury.