Libertine romp is a morality tale

PROMISCUITY on a level that could make Russell Brand tut with discomfort.

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River City actor Andy Clark plays George Etheredge in The Libertine
River City actor Andy Clark plays George Etheredge in The Libertine

Debauchery and drunken orgiastic fun.

If the very thought of theatrical corset ripping makes you wish Mary Whitehouse was still with us, don't go anywhere near the Citizens' Theatre in the next few weeks.

The Citz is staging The Libertine, the true story of John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester and first rate rake.

The play by Stephen Jeffreys is set in London in the 1670s, when Charles II is on the throne and Nell Gwynn is in his bed and is a story of blinding excesses.

"It's very much a bawdy romp," says former River City star Andy Clark.

"It's a bit like a Restoration Carry-On film and although it's set in the 17th century, the themes of sex, and alcohol are timeless."

The actor, who played Michael Brodie in the soap, appears as George Etherege, a playwright and part of a group of young men from the court of Charles II who were known as The Merry Gang.

He adds: "It's about the shameful behaviour of the rich and famous, and I suppose these days you'd be thinking of people such as Russell Brand or Pete Doherty, the champagne and cocaine-taking Hooray Henries of the 1980s.

"Or perhaps Prince Harry playing naked billiards."

The Merry Gang was a group who made the Bloomsbury Set seem like angels.

And with such a colourful world serving as a backdrop it's no surprise Jeffrey's story was turned into a 2004 movie starring Johnny Depp.

However, Andy reveals it's also a tale of someone who is forced to re-think his past.

"There is a morality tale attached," he says.

"There is a price to pay."

Was Andy, now in his late 30s, ever a hellraiser?

He said: "When I was at college, when I was 19, I suppose. A couple of times. But I couldn't do it now. I just couldn't function."

The actor is having fun with his role. And he tips his hat to Citz director Dominic Hill for taking a chance on the play, not just because of the content but the lavish production, featuring a cast of ten.

He added: "It's great to get the chance to appear in a play like this. It remind you what great theatre is all about.

"I enjoyed River City but it was never a long-term thing for me," he says. "And luckily I had an idea a few things would happen so I could leave.

"But I think doing a soap is all about timing. I can see why someone like Billy McElhaney stays in the show as long as possible.

"He's had his 20-year career in theatre and done really well.

"For me, I felt I still had something to prove to myself. Ten years down the line, it could have been different."

He adds: "Television was full-on. Some days I was juggling four scripts at a time, plus learning others. So there's no time to really get into the acting."

Did he like his character, Michael Brodie?

He said: "I think he was maybe a bit po-faced, and if I had my time again I would have made him a little bit lighter.

"That said, he did have to deal with his fair share of murders and violence."

Television's loss is theatre's gain. Not only does he reveal real stage presence, Andy's talent runs to directing and writing, as evidenced in theatre work such as Oran Mor's Volpone.

However, while the actor may now be playing a morally-dubious character, he reveals he was once close to becoming a man of the cloth.

Growing up in Blairgowrie in Perthshire, the prominent role model was his local minister.

He said: "His name was Rev Stewart Young and he was the very opposite of the dull, dour Calvanist. In fact, he played the panto dame in our local productions.

"He was really charismatic, a great character with a real sense of humour. And such an inspiration. And yes, I had thoughts of becoming a minister."

But acting won out, with Andy going on to study at Dundee College and the RSAMD, then working with Dundee Rep.

Yet, while he's received critical acclaim for his Hamlet, and he's currently wallowing in The Libertine experience, his greatest acting moment, so far, is perhaps a little surprising.

"I've had as much pleasure in becoming a chorus boy in panto as a 10-year-old as I've had in my career," he admits with a smile.

n The Libertine, Citizens' Theatre, May 3-24.

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