Actor Ralf Little made his name as a teenage member of the Royle Family, before becoming one of the lead characters in Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps. At the same time a successful stage career bloomed, and now he is about to take to the stage of the Liverpool Playhouse in A Day in the Death of Joe Egg. MADE UP spoke to him to find out more…
There are so many exciting elements of this production, from tackling a modern classic to working with director Stephen Unwin (artistic director of the Playhouse’s co-producing venue, the Rose Theatre Kingston). What was the clincher that made you want to be part of it?
Personally, it was perfect timing. I’m known as the kid from the Royle Family, and then Two Pints, where I was the young lad. Unavoidably, I’m a man now I’m afraid. I’m 33. So it was a chance to play a grown man struggling to grow up. It’s the perfect play at the perfect time.
What is Joe Egg all about?
It’s one of those amazing plays, an extraordinary piece of writing. It’s hilarious and heart-breaking and provocative. It is about a young married couple with a severely disabled daughter, and how they try and deal with it by making jokes, or in any way that they can. They have to laugh – what else can you do? The amazing thing about the play is everybody’s just normal, it’s a situation that can happen to anybody.
What are the challenges of performing such a darkly comic work?
It goes both ways – if it’s not funny, you’ve failed; and if you’re a bit too flippantly funny, you’ve failed. You have to walk a line carefully, because it’s such a tricky subject matter.
Playwright Peter Nichols, who is now 85, came to visit you in rehearsals. What was that like?
Absolutely amazing. The play is autobiographical for Peter, and we got to ask him what he was thinking when he wrote certain scenes. And another great reason to have him in was he kept laughing at his own jokes! He is an absolute living legend, such an extraordinary intellect, and if he’s laughing, that’s all you need to know.
You are also working with one of the country’s leading theatre directors, Stephen Unwin.
Stephen is a fantastic director with an incredible track record, and he also knows what these characters are going through, which is invaluable. Stephen has a disabled child as well, and it’s fascinating because he can give an extraordinary insight into that.
There has been a number of high profile revivals of this play over the years, with actors including Clive Owen and Eddie Izzard taking on your role of Bri. Has this production put its own slant on it in any way?
It is set in 1967 and we have kept it there, although there has not been a huge amount to change. It doesn’t feel dated. Anything in there that is provocative is not because society’s moved on and it’s 2013, it’s because it was meant to be when Peter wrote it.
On the eve of opening night, how are you feeling about the production?
Sometimes when you do jobs you’re obliged to do press, but I’ve been very lucky in that I do work on things I’m proud of. And to be honest, I want to talk about this one a lot. The play is so good I feel confident about it, and if you can half match the quality of that in your performance, you’ve half a chance.
Your West End career has been highly acclaimed (including an Olivier nomination in 2004). But what has been your experience of theatre in the regions?
I did a mini tour of Billy Liar in 2006 that went as far north as Stoke, I think – I’ve actually never been on stage in the north, so I’m really looking forward to it. I love Liverpool anyway, and because of that North West connection it does feel like coming home. The Everyman and Playhouse are fantastic theatres and I can’t wait to get up there. I think northern audiences will really get it.