It’s 2pm outside Costa Coffee in Brindley Place,and Dave Rodgers seems as uncertain as the weather.
He’s a quiet and unassuming interviewee, and seems genuinely nonplussed as to why I should want to ask him particularly for his thoughts on ‘Forum’. At 65, he’s the most senior and experienced member of a diverse (and very talented) cast. He’s a modest guy; adept at self-deprecating banter. “My character’s name is ‘Senex’. It sounds like a laxative. Maybe they cast me ’cause I’m a crap actor.”
Dave first hit the stage aged nine,in a church group production in his home town of Manchester. He came to Birmingham to attend teacher training college in 1968, and soon fell into acting in college productions, because “there were girls to be met”. He first performed at the Crescent in 1972,an outside production of “Carmen”; he played the small part of a soldier.
Other roles with other companies followed, and it wasn’t until 1989 that Dave became a full Crescent member,landing a role in that year’s production of “Strippers”.
“I’d turned down a part in ‘Pal Joey’ to do ‘Strippers’, and really enjoyed it, mainly because I was acting with Bob Carradine, Mike Venables, Geoff Poole…terrific people to be onstage with”.
“It was done in the studio, the audience were quite close”, he says, smiling. ” And what never occurred to us until we did it was the kind of audience we’d get. The first night, the front row was full of seedy looking men in raincoats. They didn’t come back after the interval. It wasn’t exactly what they were expecting.”
Roles in musical theatre and straight acting followed, at the Crescent and elsewhere. He tells this story of playing ‘Bottom’ in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at Birmingham Botanical Gardens,as part of the summer tour: ” I was wearing an old demob suit a cast member had donated, it had been her dad’s and was a perfect fit. In the scene where Bottom falls asleep, I had to lie down onstage, for around twenty minutes…this was in the pouring rain. It was bad enough that I was getting soaked to the skin, but what was worse was that the rain released about forty years worth of foul stench from this demob suit I’d had to wear…it’d never been cleaned. It was so bad my eyes stung! I can smell it now,to this day.”
His favourite Crescent production? “I was lucky enough to be in ‘Faustus’, directed by Alan Marshall…an absolutely brilliant production,and one of the best experiences I’ve had at the theatre. There were scenes that terrified the audience!”
Does he have a process for preparing for roles? “When I read a part, I tend to see it in terms of other characters I’ve seen,and base it on that to begin with. It gives it a starting point. Senex, for instance, I saw as the Hedley Lamarr character in ‘Blazing Saddles’…his line of patter, his walk. Then I add aspects of me,and over time the character morphs into something different, sometimes completely different.”
What advice would he give to younger members of the ‘Forum’ cast? ” I feel like an elder statesman amongst all these kids”, he laughs. ” It’s a lovely cast. And it’s a very busy show, which is good.
But what I always say to people is, no matter what’s going on onstage, even if the focus is somewhere else, someone in the audience is always watching YOU. Even if there’s forty people onstage, and you’re in the background. If you switch off for a minute, someone will see it. Always be acting.”
‘A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum’, at The Crescent Theatre, May 25-June 1.
Photos by Jack Fitzpatrick.
Additional social ambience created by Gerry Lucas.