Dudley Sutton's leaving Lovejoy for Queen of the Nile at Hull Truck Theatre
Dudley Sutton's shaking off Lovejoy and heading for the real antiquity of Egypt in a scandalous new Hull Truck play, finds Phoebe Jackson-Edwards
He's famed for his role as the sometimes tipsy, wheeler-dealing sidekick to Lovejoy, but Dudley Sutton has spent years trying to shake off the shadow of Tinker Dill.
Luckily, the much-loved luvvy isn't afraid to step up to the plate and push the boundaries of his thespian profession.
Donning his loudest Hawaiian shirt, Dudley will be walking like an Egyptian to play an "old queen," in Hull Truck's forthcoming Queen Of The Nile.
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Although it's not an obvious role for a man who's popped up everywhere from The Pink Panther Strikes Again to controversial teen drama Skins, he couldn't pass up the opportunity to work with Hull Truck founder Mike Bradwell, who'll be returning to directing duties at the theatre for the first time in more than three decades.
Roaming through his expansive CV, it's clear Dudley is an old hand in the business, with more than half a century of work to show for it, but he's still thrilled to take part in a little bit of Hull's heritage.
"Mike Bradwell's the least pretentious director I know," says Dudley, bemoaning the lack of salt-of-the-earth directors out in theatreland.
"Most of them are educated way beyond their intelligence," he shrugs.
"It's a very well-written play and it's directed by Mike, whom I've tried to work with for a number of years.
"He talks sense and I'm very pleased to be a part of it."
The black comedy combines Carry On Cleo with the dark underbelly of the pharaoh's land. If you can picture fnarr fnarr bedroom farce and salty double-entendres mixed with Middle Eastern sexual politics, you're on the right lines.
The tale revolves around middle-aged Debbie, who elopes from her burger-flipping life, Shirley Valentine-style, to find a holiday romance in Luxor.
Stumbling upon a handsome young boat captain, she might have found her happy ever after, if he weren't also a gigolo with an "adventurous" outlook on indulging in the pleasure of the flesh.
"It's set before the fall of Mubarak and it's quite a salacious story," says 79-year-old former RAF mechanic Dudley.
Debbie's boat captain also provides "services" for Dudley's 80-year-old gay restaurateur, leading to all sorts of romantic – and not so romantic – entanglements.
It was the darker themes that drew Dudley to the role, he says, as well as his links to Hull through Lovejoy co-star Chris Jury, who studied in Hull and loved the city.
Plus, the small screen has nothing on the stage when it comes to grabbing you by the collar and shaking you with a story, says the actor.
He likes to have the crowd in the palm of his hand.
"The audience aren't hidden away behind lights," he says. "It's the intimacy of it – you can see the whites of their eyes.
"I like doing things I'm afraid of. So, if someone asks me to sing a ballad on the stage on my own, I'll grab it because I think it's important to face your demons."
With Bradley at the helm, a man who sent shockwaves through the staid theatre world with his controversial Truck plays in the early 1970s, it'll be no surprise if Queen Of The Nile ruffles a few feathers and scandalises the more prim theatre going audiences, when it opens on April 18.
As well as dealing with sexual and political issues – the show is unlikely to leave many taboos untouched.
Not that Dudley's unduly bothered; having been involved in scandalous theatre as far back as the 1960s with the kitchen sink drama The Leather Boys.
Playing a pioneering gay role back then, Dudley says he's not scared of a little controversy, but thinks the subject matter isn't just for shock tactics.
"There aren't many plays that have a particular voice all the way through them," Dudley says.
"It's not about controversy. It's all about discovering stuff about the world, and discovering yourself through it."