Adam Woodyatt may have left EastEnders behind him but as he comes to Manchester next week in the hit musical My Fair Lady, he’s still celebrating the East End. Before the show opens at the Palace Theatre, Adam reveals more about playing Alfred P Doolittle in the show - his first musical in over 40 years
What hooked you in about playing Alfred P Doolittle?
It is such an iconic role. The original stage show and the film came out before I was born but the story and characters are ingrained into musical theatre history, as are the two songs I get to perform With a Little Bit of Luck and Get Me to the Church on Time. Everyone knows the music and when it came along I was like “I’ve got to give this a go”.
How would you sum him up as a character?
There’s an edge to him. He’s very outspoken, very socialist, and he does what he likes. He lives life his own way and that’s it. He has opinions on things and always thinks he is absolutely right about all of it. He has this wonderful speech where he says “I’m not the deserving poor, I’m the undeserving poor”. I’m having so much fun playing around with it and looking at different ways of doing it, and Bartlett Sher [the director] wants him to not just be a comedy character but one who, as I say, also has an edge. There’s something else behind it, there’s something else that’s driving him.
Can you relate to him in any way or are you completely different?
I’m completely different. He’s very much a man of that time, although it’s interesting how George Bernard Shaw (who wrote Pygmalion on which My Fair Lady is based) favours women in his writing, as does Alan Jay Lerner’s book for the show. They create strong female characters whilst showing the men to be not so good. There are perhaps stronger words to describe most of the men in the show but I’ll refrain from using them.
You’ve done plenty of pantos but is this your first fully-fledged stage musical?
It isn’t, actually. It’s just a very, very long time since I’ve done one. I was in Oliver! back in 1980 in what is now the Noël Coward Theatre. That was my first musical and indeed my last until now. I played one of the kids in Fagin’s gang and I had far more to do in that show than I have in this. But I’m bouncing around in rehearsals for My Fair Lady like an excited puppy. I’m not on stage loads but it’s so much fun.
Did you train in song and dance at the Sylvia Young Theatre School as well as drama?
I only did the evening classes because I was too busy working. In fact, I didn’t got to too many of the evening classes either because I kept picking up jobs, one of which was Oliver! So I never studied song and dance.
In that case, how are you finding the singing in My Fair Lady?
They’ve been very patient about getting me up to speed because it’s been a long time since I’ve sung. I didn’t often sing in panto. There was the odd time when I did but singing isn’t something that comes naturally to me, I have to work at it.
Why do you think audiences love the show?
It’s such an engrossing story and the characters are so brilliantly written, even the supporting characters who only have the odd line here and there. They are all so well defined and it’s just a timeless, classic show. Then there’s the music. Not just my numbers but also others like On the Street Where You Live, Wouldn’t It Be Loverly? and I Could Have Danced All Night. Everybody knows these songs.
You came to fame as Ian Beale in EastEnders in 1985. What are your fondest memories of your time on the show?
That’s like saying “Pick a favourite child”. The programme and the character changed so much since 1985 to the moment when Ian got on an underground train and disappeared. It became a completely different beast but all through it I loved the camaraderie with the cast and the crew, and with Ian he was doing something different all the time. He was constantly changing and evolving.
You went on to become the longest-serving cast member. How was it saying goodbye to the character last year?
Have I said goodbye to him? I don’t know! I think for as long as I live Ian Beale will always be part of the fabric of EastEnders, whether I’m actually there or not. I could go back but then again I might not go back. I have no idea what the future holds, what storylines they’re planning or whether Ian is in those plans. But I’m very happy at the moment being back in the theatre. I absolutely love it.
What do you like about stage vs screen?
I love the rehearsal process. With most of things on TV, it’s very immediate. You do something, change it a bit, do it again and it’s ‘Done, move on’. With a play or musical you can really investigate things; you’ve got much more time to work it all out. Then of course the biggest difference is that when you do something on TV you have to wait weeks, months or however long it is to get the audience reaction. On stage the reaction is immediate. You know at the end of a song if you’ve nailed it, you know at the end of a funny line if you’ve delivered it. There is nothing like the feeling of performing for a live audience. It’s such an adrenaline rush.
How was it returning to theatre in Looking Good Dead earlier this year, some 40 years after you made your stage debut?
It was amazing. Doing that and now this has reminded me why I fell in love with acting in the first place.
My Fair Lady, Palace Theatre, Manchester, Wednesday, March 22 to Saturday, April 1. Details from www.atgtickets.com