This Is Bath – 20th March 2008

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One of television’s best-loved doctors has marched out of accident and emergency and into a stage play that has become a modern classic.Simon MacCorkindale, whose character Harry Harper left Casualty two episodes ago, takes the leading role of Andrew in Sleuth which comes to the Theatre Royal, Bath, next Monday.

It’s 38 years since Anthony Shaffer’s thriller first opened, beginning a 12-year stage run in London and New York.

Shaffer then wrote the screenplay for the film version which starred Sir Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. And it is probably this, says Simon, that people remember most vividly.

“It’s interesting that because Larry was such a performer, you sort of assume that he made that part what it was in the film, but when you read the play, it’s all there on the page. Most of what the character is is Shaffer – all the vocal gymnastics and Machiavellian intrigues.

“You can’t help copying Larry a bit because that’s what the play is.”

He also feels that describing the play as a thriller is a bit misleading too.

“Audiences don’t go more than a few minutes without a laugh, and some are belly laughs.”

Even those who have seen it before have forgotten many of the intricacies involved in it.

Indeed, much of it came as a bit of a surprise to him, despite the fact that he has directed three theatre productions of it.

In the 1980s, when he worked extensively in America starring in hit TV series such as Dynasty and Falcon Crest, he directed Sleuth in Dallas, Houston and Southern California in productions that starred respectively Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, James Whitmore and Howard Keel.

“I don’t think I ever even thought about appearing in it at that time,” he said. “It was 1982 and I was only 30, much too young to have played the part of Andrew, and even too young for Milo.

“I loved directing it. It was a very interesting challenge with three different leading men but I don’t remember much about each of the productions.

“I really came to this production with an open mind.”

Michael Praed, who starred in Robin Of Sherwood as well as appearing, coincidentally, in Dynasty, plays the younger man, Milo, in the two-hander thriller, in which nothing is quite what it seems.

And as Simon revels in the psychological thriller, what of Harry Harper, the just-departed senior consultant in BBC1’s long-running Casualty? Has he gone for good?

“As far as I’m concerned, I have no immediate or longer term plans to go back, but it was agreed with the BBC that Harry would leave in a manner that would allow him to go back.

“I loved the character, but was not so thrilled at the route he was taking. I think he became a bit boring towards the end.”

That’s not a criticism that can be levelled at Andrew, the mystery writer he plays in Sleuth.

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