FOR a man who is just about to spend a week baring all to the unsuspecting patrons of the Festival Theatre, Craig Gazey is keen to retain a little bit of mystique.
Having spent three years winning numerous awards as Coronation Street’s most popular wayward son Graeme Proctor, he’s happy to embrace different characters and get on with new projects rather than bask in the four-page tabloid spreads and champagne-fueled nights out that can accompany new-found celebrity.
He compares the experience of being an actor to being on stage, saying, “There’s a reason why there’s a curtain at the end of the show. You’ve got to retain an air of mystery.
“I never discuss my private life or who I’m going out with,” he continues. “If people see who you really are, then it’s difficult for them to believe the character you’re playing.
“I saw something about Gary Oldman the other night and you really don’t know anything about him - he’s mysterious. I’m no Gary Oldman, but the point still remains.” Gazey does concede, however, that he’s making an effort to be a party boy for his birthday this weekend. And why not. After all, hitting the big 30 is an occasion that needs to be marked.
“I’ll be in Leicester for my birthday, so some of the cast and I are going to go out for dinner,” he says. “Then on the weekend I’m going to have a party in London.
“My friend is an excellent singer and I do some DJing, so there will be Mod and Ska music.”
It sounds like a brief moment of fun on a hectic touring schedule with Mike Stott’s racy stage play Funny Peculiar, Gazey reeling off city after city as he peppers his description of the show with anecdotes.
There’s the lovely lady in Darlington who dragged her long suffering husband along to the show, that meal in Leicester and a spotlight issue in Windsor, more of which later.
Then there’s the lady who complained to Gazey how shocked she was by the script of his latest project, Gazey himself taking delight in challenging someone’s sensibilities.
Characterising the play as an Open All Hours on Acid, he’s coy about the production’s liberal content. “It was written in the Seventies and it’s a similar shop that Trevor [Gazey] and Irene [Suzanne Shaw] run,” he explains. “The show is quite rude at times but there’s lots of comedy and slapstick. It’s certainly not for younger kids.”
The actor has been taken aback by how open-minded most of his audience are of the material. “I’ve actually apologised to people before they come to the show, I’ve said that it’s quite rude and older women have gone ‘oh good’. It shows that you can’t ever be patronising about your audience.”
Working alongside other soap favourites, including Suzanne Shaw, Vicky Entwistle and Gemma Bissix has been a joy for Gazey.
“The cast are all lovely, they’ve got really good intentions about the work. Suzanne is brilliant, she has to play this mousey, unglamorous character, which just isn’t her. I already knew Vicky but hadn’t really worked with her, so it’s great to be doing that, although her biggest rant is when I’m off stage.”
He’s also keen to point out that he wouldn’t really categorise acting as work, which is why he found it so easy to leave Coronation Street.
Always on the lookout for new ways to challenge himself and explore a character’s development, he says, “I was misquoted as saying I was leaving television to work in the theatre but I just like to meet and work with new people. I wouldn’t rule out going back to Coronation Street at a different stage in Graeme’s life.
“My dad once said to me, you need to get a hobby. But dad, I said, acting is my hobby, I just get paid to do it”.
Explaining the motivation of his latest character, Trevor, Gazey uses the words ‘liberation’ and ‘self-expression’ a number of times. It’s Trevor’s gung-ho attitude that leads to Gazey finding himself naked on stage after engaging in some amorous activity. At first, the performer bluffly admits he shares Trevor’s sentiments, saying, “I’ve been naked on stage before so it’s no big deal.” But his attitude softens as the interview continues, later admitting that nerves may have got in the way of a confident cross stage streak. “My agent said ‘I can see you’re bothered’, you really need to get over that, which I did”.
And finally suggesting that he may even have been a little shy about being so liberated in public at first, he adds, “We were rehearsing in Windsor and I know the lighting techie really well. I was standing at the front of the stage and he put this really bright spotlight on my bottom which I wasn’t happy with, and the director said, ‘but I want to see your eyes’. I said, It’s not my eyes I’m worried about’.”
Funny Peculiar, Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street, Monday until Saturday, 7.30pm (Wednesday and Saturday matiness, 2.30pm), £15–£28, 0131-529 6000