After workshopping Only Fools and Horses the Musical, Peter Baker has played Trigger in the show since opening at Theatre Royal Haymarket in the West End, and as an original London cast member, he has worked on the album and he is set to reprise his role of Trigger when the musical reopens in October. As an improviser, Peter has worked on a number of shows including Parlour Games, Murder, She Didn’t Write, including a week-long gender-swapped version for Bristol Pride, and Sherlock In Homes. On screen, Peter filmed as Alex Wolf in the feature film House of Bricks. We spoke to Peter about originating the role of Trigger in Only Fools and Horses the Musical, working on Sherlock In Homes and performing as an improviser.
Before the pandemic, you had been playing Trigger in Only Fools and Horses the Musical, what is the character like to play?
Trigger is great fun to play. It’s challenging, because he’s not my typical casting, but I absolutely relished getting to discover and play him. There’s the obvious hilarious one-liners but, beyond that, I really enjoy inhabiting this person that has his own unique view of the world around him. I actually think he’s the most confident character I’ve ever played.
How was it workshopping the production and then opening at Theatre Royal Haymarket in the West End?
The workshop was very fast-paced and joyful – there was so much laughter every day, thanks to the comic chops of the people involved. But also very focused. Our director, CJay Ranger, assembled a really great crew and it all seemed to flow seamlessly.
Do you remember how you felt booking the role and what was the cast album like to work on?
I felt a bit dumb-struck, to be honest. When I auditioned for the workshop, I hadn’t even realised it was for a musical. I think my cluelessness probably helped my audition in some respects. The cast album was great to record: we recorded backing vocals with mics onstage, spread out so as not to bleed into each other, and then all individual vocals were recorded in a small studio in North London.
What are some of your favourite moments from your time in the show so far?
I’ll never forget the first curtain call – it was electric, like being part of a rock concert. My favourite moment in the show is when I come off stage halfway through Raquel’s second solo, West End Wendy, to join the rest of the cast and backstage crew bopping along to the song – it’s truly infectious! I also love whenever Paul Whitehouse throws in a cheeky ad lib, especially if it makes Ryan Hutton (Rodney) corpse.
You’ve done a number of shows with Sharp Teeth, what is this like and can you say about some of them?
My first contact with Sharp Teeth was presenting a short piece I’d written at one of their monthly scratch nights. Then Stephanie Kempson (artistic director) got funding to commission collaborations between different performers who’d presented work there. This utimately led to Parlour Games, a devised play we toured in 2019, in which I played Queen Victoria. Stephanie is a great director and we ended up making three shows together this past year, all via the internet.
Can you tell us about Sherlock In Homes?
Sherlock In Homes is an interactive online murder mystery. The audience are the detectives and grill a colourful (and comical) array of suspects in order to determine who committed the crime. Our first show Murder At The Circus ran for eight months in total, with two casts. We got Arts Council funding to make our second show Murder On Ice in February 2020. Both feature intricate plots, red herrings, and bold characters with rich backstories. It was quite hard to say goodbye to them.
How did you come up with the idea and what are they like to do?
After Parlour Games, we kept up our group WhatsApp, and one day during the first lockdown, Stephanie messaged saying “why don’t we make a theatrical interactive murder mystery?” It all spiralled from there. I had a murder mystery already written that I’d done as a live event for a private company, so we used that schematic as the base to develop a fully theatrical experience. We wanted to satisfy casual viewers as much as keen crime solving enthusiasts.
It was truly great to get that rush of adrenaline performing live, although a shame we couldn’t all hang out in a bar together afterwards!
How have you found the experience working on Sherlock In Homes during the pandemic?
It’s been incredible, hilarious, exhausting and surreal, in equal measure. We never thought we’d end up performing for nine months, make a second show and have both run simultaneously. It was truly special to see people connecting across the country and abroad – from South Africa to Brazil, Australia to Norway.
It’s also been wonderful to provide theatre to people who have access needs that prevent them seeing traditional theatre. Sharp Teeth is very committed to accessibility for all, so there is definitely a space for Sherlock in Homes, and similar online theatre, going forward in a post-pandemic world.
You toured with Murder, She Didn’t Write, how was this?
I love this show and have just performed a week-long gender-swapped version of our show for Bristol Pride. Murder, She Didn’t Write is always great fun to do, as every show is different and you get to try out characters you’d never normally play. There’s something very addictive about performing in that show. I felt terrible FOMO when they were touring the country while I was playing Trigger. So much so, I’d perform with them on my day off whenever I could!
What was Pablo like to play in Closer Each Day – The Improvised Soap Opera?
That was a truly unique experience. Closer Each Day is the world’s longest running improvised narrative and I played and developed this character over the course of two years. I was truly devastated when he died, and vividly remember the scene. It’s a very rare position as an improviser to be able to improvise in character over a course of shows – after a while, you truly make narrative decisions and emotional responses based on the inner life you’ve created for them.
What do you enjoy most about working in improvisation?
I love the immediacy of it and the fact it makes you fully present in a scene. You’re in it with your partner and they’re the only thing you need – people sometimes stress about what they’ll say or what they’ll come up with but, really, everything you need is right in front of you.
Can you say about playing Elvis Presley in Ettu Elvie at Edinburgh Fringe?
Interestingly, that was my first experience playing a real-life person or recognisable character. An actor had pulled out last minute, so I got to play a young Elvis Presley alongside a great cast. The play was directed by Nancy Medina (Two Trains Running, Yellowman), and I learned so much throughout that experience. Nancy was actually my guest for Press Night of Only Fools – I feel I owe a lot of my growth as an actor to her.
You filmed as Alex Wolf in House of Bricks, what was it like to work on?
That was an intense shoot. We filmed it on location for two weeks, and as the shoot progressed, I found it harder and harder to get out of character at the end of the day’s filming. It was also the first time I’d really had to act on screen and, watching it back, there are certain choices I would make differently.
Where does your love of acting and improvisation come from and how did you start?
I’d always loved acting as a child, and had wanted to be an actor, but then life got in the way. I’d planned to apply for drama schools after university but ended up working various office jobs and moving to Spain. By my mid-thirties, I assumed it was too late, but a friend convinced me to book a short course at a British drama school and everything came flooding back. I moved back to the UK to make stab at doing something I loved, with no goal or expectation. I was cast in Murder, She Didn’t Write, which is a resident show of The Bristol Improv Theatre, and had a crash course in impro. I quickly discovered I love it.
Do you have any favourite theatre or TV shows to watch?
I’ve yet to see a play I haven’t enjoyed at the Royal Court – I love their programming and it would be a dream to be cast in a play there. I also enjoy a lot of devised theatre, and am particularly drawn to solo shows where a performer tells a story that’s dear to them.
TV-wise, I have religiously watched pretty much every iteration of RuPaul’s Drag Race there is, and will continue to do so. I’ve also found myself watching a lot of European series recently, such as Katla and a whole swathe of gritty crime dramas.
What are you looking forward to most for when theatres can return fully and do you have any further writing plans for 2021?
I’m just excited to see shows and to see people making new and exciting work. Obviously, I’m also keen to get back to Only Fools and very grateful I’m able to do so.
I have a play I want to finish writing and will look to do an R&D on it soon. I do also have a young adult novel trilogy mapped out in my head and a murder mystery TV drama. I’m going to focus on the play first though and then see where I stand. The ideas are the easy part…
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