Nigel Harman has become a familiar name and face following his popular appearance in EastEnders as Dennis, the Son of Dirty Den. Since then he has gone on to appear on stage and screen as well as turn his hand to directing and producing. He has just finished a short run at Birmingham Repertory Theatre in What’s In A Name and Break A Leg caught up with him to chat about the play, his varied career and what his next ventures are going to be.
Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, Nigel, tell me about What’s In A Name and what you think the strengths of the production are.
It’s basically a play about a family getting together and sharing a few too many home truths. We’ve all been at that dinner party where a little bit too much wine is consumed and that thing that you shouldn’t say, you end up saying and it leads to a whole myriad of discoveries. The strengths of it are that is incredibly funny in places, I think most people come along and recognise the characters, they feel like they know them and that they have a friend like them. I also think that the structure of the play is brilliant, so we’re always climbing up a mountain until we reach the end and get to the top.
What sort of audience reaction have you had to the piece?
Really warm, the Birmingham experience has been brilliant. From the moment we started it wasn’t a case of the audience sitting back and judging whether this is funny, they have come to enjoy themselves. Some nights people in the audience are laughing so much that they lose it and we have to wait before we continue. The whole experience at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre itself including the audience themselves has been a warm and supportive experience.
What challenges present themselves when playing a central character like Vincent?
He never leaves the stage, so when you’re on you’re on and you’ve got nowhere to hide if it’s all going wrong. All of the actors at some point drive the play but Vincent does a lot of driving. You just have a good time and put all that aside once you’re out there. I set the scene for the audience which is quite nerve-wracking if I’m honest. All five of us have responsibility in the play so it doesn’t make it feel like I’m on my own.
Moving to your television career, what are your highlights from your days in EastEnders?
I remember when Les Grantham came back and we did a week of special episodes, there was me, Les, Letitia Dean and Scarlett Johnson who played my sister, that was a highlight because it was an important piece of story telling at the time. I’m proud of the reaction that the show got and my character got at the time, too. Although when I won spectacle wearer of the year and I pointed out that I had never worn spectacles I started to think that things were a little bit weird. It was a mad and crazy time, nothing has come close to that kind of intensity, because you’re there all the time and you’re on the telly all the time. It’s nice that the character is respected and loved, it makes walking down the street a lot easier!
Nigel as Mr Green in Downton Abbey, not such a loved character as Dennis in EastEnders!
Will there be any more series of Mount Pleasant in the future and was it as much fun to film as it looked?
We are doing a ninety minute special and then I think that will be it. I will be going off to film in two weeks’ time. I think we’re just doing a farewell. Is it as fun as it looks? Yes! hat’s because we all get on so well, we have a laugh and the scripts are really tight. The filming days are really long but we still find time to enjoy ourselves! It works as a show because we all respect and laugh with each other all the time, so when the cameras roll we just carry on doing that.
You’ve turned your hand to directing theatre productions, how does that compare to performing?
It’s a lot less stressful, you make the structure, you make the foundations and you make them as slick and tight as possible but ultimately you then hand over to your actors and say it’s over to you now. I love it, I love being part of the whole process, sometimes with acting I really want to be involved in the conversations that have nothing to do with me. Being a Director is brilliant in that you can shape something from the ground up and have your own vision, work with designers, lighting designers and sound teams to create a piece of work, I find it fascinating, very rewarding and it engages me in a level of conversation I don’t really get from acting. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about acting again as I have been doing more directing than acting the last year or two and I’ve enjoyed acting. I forgot what it was like to stand there before the first preview and think “why am I doing this?”.
What’s next for you after this play finishes?
Well there will be the special one-off episode of Mount Pleasant which will be ninety minutes long. I might be directing a musical in London in the summer. I know for sure that we will be touring with Shrek again which opens in Edinburgh in the second week of December, it will be on national tour for a year. Taking that show out to people’s home towns is brilliant and when we did it a couple of years ago it went massive. It was so much a part of the local community in every place we visited – I loved it.
Thanks to Nigel for talking to Garry McWilliams (in the absence of Helen!) – we wish him every success with everything that’s coming up in the future.