You might think that Christopher Biggins is just the bubbly personality that occasionally pops up on daytime TV shows, and was once the King of the Jungle, but there’s actually a lot more to him than camp sauciness and pantomime dames. Biggins has been theatre royalty for years, and his latest directorial project is sure to keep him well at the top of his game. James Moore caught up with him to find out all the showbiz details, and got some views on marriage equality, the Olympics and Paul McCartney thrown in for good measure.
We asked the star to explain to us what his new show, The Boys in The Band is all about, and he told us, ‘It’s a play by a writer called Mart Crowley, and it’s a classic gay play, which was written in the 60s and is still relevant to this day; I mean it’s a briliant piece because it’s very witty and very very funny, and then it becomes very scathing and not nice at all.’
So what drew the star, who’s more well known for his comedy and scathing wit to direct this kind of play? Well, according to Biggins, who’s been directing for years, he was approached by Dave Lynn, the famous drag queen who’s not only producing but also starring in the show, and he ‘thought it would be quite fun’ and he had the time so thought ‘why not!’
What’s so unusual about this version of the classic play The Boys in The Band is that the actors are all drag queens, so they’ll perform the first part of the play as themselves, and then don their finest pearls and most glamorous dresses for the second part, which according to Biggins is going down a storm; ‘We’ve had three days of rehearsal, and I’m very impressed with the girls so to speak, because they are good actors – all of them! I mean they are all without exception very, very talented, and it just goes to show they’re talented out of the dresses as well as in them.”
]The prospect of directing seven drag queens sounds slightly daunting to us, but when asked whether it was easier controlling them or living with ‘original supermodel’ Janice Dickinson for twenty days in the jungle on I’m A Celebrity back in 2005, through a big booming laugh he screams, ‘It was much easier directing them! Living with Janice Dickinson was horrendous, I wouldn’t put that on anybody!’[pullquote_left]Living with Janice Dickinson? I wouldn’t put that on anybody![/pullquote_left]
What a lot of people fail to remember about Biggins is that he’s had a long, successful theatrical career, including playing the role of Herod in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar at the Barbican in 1990. Last week saw Ben Forster crowned the winner of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s search for a new ‘superstar’ to play Jesus in his upcoming arena tour. Was Biggins as glued to the show as we were? Apparently not. ‘No, I didn’t watch any of it. I’m done with those shows, I think they are really dreary.’ Oh dear, so he’s not a big fan of the reality TV show format to find a new West End lead then?
‘I think it’s a difficult one. I mean, it shows by the ratings that ITV got for this show [Superstar], which were terrible, that people have had enough. I think the audience see that what they’re doing is casting a show that they’re going to have to see, and pay a lot of money for. Yes, it was fine to begin with, the Nancy one was fine [I'd Do Anything]. But now, where next? What are they going to be casting next? Leave that to the theatricals. I’ll be interested to see how the show goes, I mean the ratings for the television show were a disaster, so I don’t know how many people are going to bother going to see the actual show.’
Well if he doesn’t like the format of these shows, then how does he feel about Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles playing the same role of Herod that he played? ‘Well good luck to Chris! You know I like Chris enormously, but I don’t think I’ll be going to watch. It’s not on the top of my list to rush and see.’
There has been a lot of criticism regarding Andrew Lloyd Webber’s TV shows, that he’s taking roles away from talented performers who’ve been professionally trained and auditioning all their life. Would Biggins, who trained at the Salisbury Rep Theatre and then later at The Old Vic, recommend a crack at this tough business? Well, his advice to young actors is this; ‘Don’t go into the business, because it’s terribly hard and very difficult. You’re out of work a lot of the time, however, if you really want to go for it then just work really hard, and who knows, you may get there one day. I mean it’s a business that I wouldn’t want to go into again I don’t think. It’s changed enormously; in my day it was more fun – you could go to a repertory company and work for nothing but get wonderful experiences. Nowadays you can’t do that, so it’s very difficult. I think it’s not easy for young actors and actresses, those days are gone, but if they really work at it, and they’re lucky by meeting the right people, then they could be well away.’
Away from the lights of the West End, Biggins has also enjoyed success on both the small and big screen, and later this year he’ll be appearing in the British farce Run For Your Wife, alongside Danny Dyer, Denise Van Outen and Girls Aloud’s Sarah Harding. We can imagine that was a fun movie set to be on; ‘It was fantastic, we had such a good time. I play this outrageous costumier, and my boyfriend is played by Lionel Blair and we really did laugh an awful lot.’[pullquote_left]I am all for equality, I think it’s very important, however I don’t think equality means getting married in a church.[/pullquote_left]
Moving on to a very current issue, the director also has some strong views on marriage equality. He told the Loose Women earlier this year that he’s very much against equal marriage, and in 2005 said, ‘Marriage should be reserved for the union between a man and a woman – primarily for bringing up a family’. Last week, Scotland announced new laws on same-sex marriage, but it doesn’t seem Biggins will be changing his mind anytime soon; ’I am still against it; I mean it’s just not for me. If that’s what people want and if that’s what they can get, then that’s fine. I don’t see the necessity. I’m a Church of England, I believe in God, and I just don’t believe this is the way to go. I think civil partnerships are fantastic, and as far as I’m concerned that’s enough for me. I am all for equality, I think it’s very important, however I don’t think equality means getting married in a church.’
This month at So So Gay, we’re running a debate on whether photo rating and ‘Hottie or Nottie’ discussions on websites such as Twitter and TubeCrush are fair, or whether they’re encouraging a form of cyber-bullying. We asked Biggins what he thought, and at first we think he got a little confused; ‘I think the title ‘hottie or nottie’ is very funny! I mean listen, not everything has to have a message. It’s not like the opening of the Olympics, which was full of messages for everybody. I think if that’s what people want to do then that’s fine, I mean I’m all for anything really, as long as we do it between ourselves and we don’t include children.’
When we went on to explain that the websites involve people snapping strangers on the street, and then uploading the pictures to a website for other people to decide whether they are hot or ugly, he instantly became horrified, exclaiming, ‘Oh no, I don’t think that’s a very good idea. and I don’t think it’s very clever. I think it’s very outrageous actually.’ That was more the answer we were expecting. We seriously can’t imagine Christopher Biggins spending some weekend downtime on TubeCrush.
Talking of the Olympics Opening ceremony, what did he make of it from a theatrical point of view?
‘I loved the majority of it. I thought it lost its way, I didn’t quite know where it was going, but I did enjoy it enormously. I thought the moment with the Queen was sensational, and I think all of us thought it was going to be a lookalike, and when she turned round and it was really her, I thought it was absolutely phenomenal. And I loved Rowan Atkinson, plus I loved the rural theme going into the industrial revolution, that’s where I think it lost its way a bit, and I think we could have had a few more key things that England is famous for. I thought the lighting of the cauldron was absolutely phenomenal, stunning, and then unfortunately we had to have Paul McCartney.’
Not a fan of Sir Paul then Christopher? Obviously not.
‘I mean, he must be put down. Just put him in Madame Tussauds for the rest of his life.’
So there you have it. Biggins seems to be a very happy chappy, and continues to slowly take over every job in the industry he can find. Actor, director, King of the Jungle, presenter, talk show panelist. What’s next? One quater of a Beatles tribute band? Somehow, we don’t think so.
The Boys In The Band runs at the Theatre Royal in Brighton 22-26 August 2012.
Run For Your Wife, also starring Danny Dyer, Sarah Harding and Denise Van Outen is released in cinemas later this year.
Featured image courtesy of University of Salford Press Office.