As one of the country’s best improvisers, comedian Ross Noble isn’t known for spending a lot of time in rehearsal rooms.
The Cramlington-born comic is known for crafting a stand out stand up show on his feet – and on a nightly basis – which is impossible to practise without an assembled audience.
But when he was approached about taking a role in the touring production of Mel Brooks’ The Producers, the 38-year-old became quickly aware his usual stage prep was going to need adapting.
“For starters I’d never auditioned for anything before,” he laughs as he prepares to take to the stage for the first time as Franz Liebkind at the Sunderland Empire on Friday, May 15.
“I’ve rehearsed things before, but it was a slight wake up call when you realise that the cast and the ensemble are just phenomenal. Every single one of them is a brilliant singer and a brilliant dancer – completely at the top of their game. They are scarily good, and then you sort of wander in.
“The good thing about the dance routine that I’ve got, The Guten Tag Hop Clop, is that it has a lot of hopping and clopping involved,” he continues.
“Also, I’m wearing a German army helmet and big military boots, so it’s not the full Fred Astaire. There’s not a huge amount of finesse, just a lot of tapping and slapping to get right.”
Ross says the responsibility for him being in the multi-award-winning production, which took Broadway and the West End by storm, lies 100% with fellow comic Jason Manford, who plays Leo Bloom alongside Cory English as Max Bialystock in the travelling revival of the show which sees a plot to put on the worst musical of all time spectacularly backfire.
“Jason suggested me for the part and I’m a massive Mel Brooks fan, so when they asked me to come in for a meeting, I said ‘yes’ straight away,” remembers a jet-lagged Ross. He only got back from Australia a couple of hours before our chat, having spent a few months touring down under.
It turns out that in theatre terms ‘a meeting’ is another name for an audition, so Ross was faced with a guy with a piano, a script to read from and dancing to boot.
“I got there and it was all ‘Can you just sing this song’ and ‘Can you just read a bit of the script?’ and ‘Can you just move around to this?’
“It was weird because, the thing is, everything I’ve ever done has been self-generated really,” he continues, recalling more than two decades of stand up comedy all over the world as well as a string of TV appearances, most recently in his much-loved and Twitter-driven travel series, Freewheeling.
“But of course, for this, they had to check that I could sing and stuff. Luckily they were dead happy with me, which was good because it would have been awkward if they’d turned around and said, ‘Oh, yeah, you can’t do any of that. That’s a shame’.”
It will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen Ross in his stand up comfort zone over the years that he is more than capable of getting around the stage in a variety of manners and guises.
What has surprised a lot of his fans, though, is that he has signed up to stick to a script, night after night, when he takes over from Phill Jupitus as the “insane ex-Nazi pigeon keeper” who pens the iconic Springtime for Hitler number for Bloom and Bialystock.
“Yeah, I think a lot of people were surprised, but I was in the youth theatre at the People’s Theatre in Newcastle, so I did do a bit of this as a kid and really enjoyed it. Admittedly, having a massive picture of yourself outside the theatre will be a departure from what I was used to as a teenager,” he laughs.
“People have asked me a lot if I’m worried about getting bored saying the same things every night. But because there’s a lot of backward and forward between me and the other characters, you can play around with the energy of that.
“And in terms of having to stick to it, well, you’re saying Mel Brooks’ lines. It’s so beautifully written that it’s a joy to do. Every single line is like a gag. I’m looking forward to trying it one way one night and looking to make it better the next.
“I don’t think there’s any danger of me getting bored here.”
- The Producers is at Sunderland Empire until May 16, with Ross Noble joining for the performances on May 15 and 16. For tickets, visit www.atgtickets.com/venues/sunderland-empire or call 0844 871 3022.