DOMINIC West is enjoying a journey from the dark to the light as the star of My Fair Lady at the Crucible Theatre.
The Sheffield-born actor who came to fame in the hit US police drama The Wire says he is most recognised these days from playing serial killer Fred West in the TV play Appropriate Adult last year, despite starring in the BBC series The Hour at the moment. In The Hour he plays 1950s TV news show presenter Hector Madden, whose off-screen exploits in Soho nightclubs mean he is regularly pictured on newspaper front pages.
There is a huge contrast between those two TV roles, he said: “I went from the tops of celebrity to the bottom of infamy, which is a great thing to act.”
He said of playing the serial killer: “I think there is always a consciousness of keeping a distance between you and the character, whatever part you play. I was especially careful to maintain that. I’m playing a role, not becoming one, which Daniel Day Lewis does, for instance. That’s not how I work.
“I was very conscious of it with that fellow. Anyone who came near him was pulled back towards him.
“This role, as Professor Higgins, couldn’t be lighter. I’m in heaven. I was Iago in Othello here last year and then did another play in London which was quite dark, so I had quite a gloomy year last year.
“This part is a sheer delight. It does make your life easier and happier.”
He plays Professor Higgins in the musical version of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, in which Higgins decides to prove his point that anyone could be accepted in Edwardian high society, provided they had the right accent and manners, by turning Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle into a convincing lady.
Dominic says he has never been in a musical before but always wanted to do one. He joked: “I always thought I was a brilliant singer but no-one else did. Director Daniel Evans was very polite about my voice when he heard it. But of course this is the only musical where you don’t have to be a brilliant singer. That’s the way it’s written, like Rex Harrison plays it in the film, because he created the role with all the spoken bits in the songs.”
He has seen the classic film, starring Audrey Hepburn as Eliza, many times as it was a big West family favourite but doesn’t feel that will hamper his portrayal.
He added: “I’m much younger. Higgins is supposed to be in his early 40s, so they got that right this time. They didn’t have that with Rex Harrison.”
Dominic defends his character a little against a charge that he is sexist towards women, saying: “He doesn’t have a lot of experience of women outside his mum, as lots of men in those days didn’t. He was a typical voice against the suffragette movement, saying they should stop being so shrill and annoying.”
He points out that Higgins says he treats a flower girl as a duchess and a duchess as a flower girl.
“In his favour, he’s not a toff looking down on the working classes. He is a member of the Fabian Society like Bernard Shaw was, who looks at social status as something ridiculous. It could be overcome simply by learning to speak in a different accent. He was democratic and quite progressive for those times.”
He adds: “I think he’s absolutely irresistible.”
Dominic’s own upbringing was privileged – he went to Eton – but he was always surrounded by women with strong opinions as he has five sisters. He is enjoying being back in his home city, saying: “I love Sheffield even in in November. I come back as often as I can. I’ve still got two sisters living here and I’ve got a lot of family and friends here.
“I love not being in London and I love being in the hills. It’s great: proper beer, proper people and a sense of home.”
My Fair Lady, which is directed by Sheffield Theatres artistic director Daniel Evans, also stars Anthony Calf from TV show New Tricks as Colonel Pickering and Carly Bawden, already a seasoned stage musical performer at 23, as Eliza Doolittle.
The show is at the Crucible from Wednesday December 12 to Saturday January 26.