Monday, 30 November -0001

‘I’LL BE A WOMAN for six months…’

Playing the infamous Lady Bracknell and following in the holy footsteps of St Peter – David Suchet’s having a jolly old time, as he tells Kate Whiting

Written by Kate Whiting
Spare a thought for David Suchet this Easter. While you’re feasting on chocolate, he’ll be watching his waistline for his next role – so he can squeeze into a corset.

The actor best known as Poirot is due to start rehearsals for Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest immediately after the long Bank Holiday weekend and he’s decided cinching himself in is the only way to carry himself like the formidable Lady Bracknell.

‘I will have to wear a corset, otherwise I may find myself doing this,’ he says, slumping back in his chair with legs akimbo, a deep belly laugh bubbling up. ‘And that would be unacceptable on every level, especially for the stalls!’

More of Lady Bracknell and that iconic line of hers later, but first to the more serious matter of Suchet’s latest documentary series, which will see him back on screen as a presenter over Easter weekend.

DavidSuchet-Mar27-01-590David Suchet working on In The Footsteps of St Peter

David Suchet: In The Footsteps Of St Peter, takes the actor to Israel and Italy, following the disciple closest to Jesus, who went on to become Bishop of Rome and the first Pope.

The actor, now 68, took a deeply personal journey around the Mediterranean back in 2012, in the footsteps of Paul the Apostle for a previous documentary. Suchet converted to the Christian religion when he was 40 and while he says good-naturedly today, ‘I won’t go into that old story, because we’ll be here until tomorrow,’ it’s clear how passionate he is about his faith and what he learned about St Peter from making the new show.

‘I discovered this wonderfully flawed human being,’ he says. ‘A lot of Christians now look to Peter as being so human and fallible and adorable. He’s a loveable rogue, isn’t he? He allows us all to fail and still be acceptable.’

Suchet was born in London to a South African gynaecologist father and an English mother, but was raised without religion. He went to boarding school with his brothers Peter and John, the TV presenter, before studying at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (Lamda).

DavidSuchet-Mar27-04-590-quote

He became a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1970s and television roles followed, including in 1985 playing Inspector Japp, opposite Peter Ustinov as Poirot in Thirteen At Dinner. Four years on, he would play Agatha Christie’s meticulous Belgian detective himself, which he continued until Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case, in 2013.

He admits he’s still slightly in mourning for Inspector Poirot. ‘I’ll never let him go, I’ll never be able to because he’s on our screens all the time somewhere in the world,’ Suchet says, chuckling.

‘I was in Rome last week and he was on – speaking Italian! I’m told by ITV there could be 760 million viewers worldwide, that’s quite a lot.’

A few weeks ago, Suchet and his wife Sheila, who he married in 1976 and with whom he has a daughter Katherine and son Robert, went to Prague for a weekend they’d bid for in a silent charity auction – and he saw the extent of Poirot’s reach.

‘We walk into the hotel and there are these young people behind reception who see me and go bananas. They grew up in the 1990s, and with all the problems in Prague, watching Poirot gave them such comfort. ‘One person had tears in their eyes when they said that their mother and father were kept going by the series. You just do the job and go home – but it’s had such a wonderful far-reaching effect beyond just being entertainment, and that’s very humbling.’

DavidSuchet-Mar27-03-590In the Footsteps of St Peter took Suchet to the Sea of Galilee

But back to Lady Bracknell, who Suchet will be playing on stage at London’s Vaudeville Theatre from June to November. ‘I’ll be a woman for six months,’ he declares, then stops himself…

‘Did I say that? Did I say I’d be a woman for six months? I think I did,’ he adds, before collapsing in giggles. He’s only once before donned a dress to play Napoleon escaping in disguise, but he makes a very attractive woman, from promotional pictures of the new play.

‘I never thought I’d be thanking someone for giving me that compliment,’ he says.

Suchet concedes that he’s excited but also ‘nervous’ about taking on such a formidable character.

‘She’s nouveau riche – she’s not naturally born to high society. So it’s putting on airs and graces, which is why she’s such a great comic character.’

And then, of course, there’s that line: ‘A HANDBAG? !’ – Lady Bracknell’s reaction to discovering her prospective son-in-law was adopted after being found in a handbag at Victoria Station.

‘I have no idea how I’m going to approach it. In rehearsal, I expect we’ll try a hundred different ways and end up not knowing how to… That scene starts and the audience is just waiting for the line. It’s just like “To be or not to be”, isn’t it?

‘You’ve just got to take a deep breath and get through it as best as possible.’

David Suchet: In The Footsteps Of St Peter is to be broadcast on BBC One over Easter.

The Importance Of Being Earnest is at the Vaudeville Theatre from 24 June to 7 November: www.vaudevilletheatre.org.uk


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