From gritty thriller to comedy

The Wire star Dominic West switches focus for a revival of Simon Gray’s comedy Butley which plays Brighton’s Theatre Royal before a summer in the West End.

“I’ve done theatre every couple of years,” says Dominic who played Detective Jimmy McNulty in the HBO drama series.

“I like to do that. It gives you a bit of variety. Unlike doing film or TV, the actor is in control for a couple of hours. Whatever your performance (on film or TV), you are reliant on others and you just don’t know what the final result is.

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“I enjoy that control you get in the theatre and also that lack of hanging around that you get with films. I have got bigger parts now, but with the smaller parts, there was generally hanging around!

“You are being hugely challenged when you go on stage because you have got to act in a way which is more extrovert. Film is more introvert. It’s closer focus. Rather than radiating out, you are absorbing. The great thing is that the camera can read your thoughts. You take it in. On the stage, you are radiating out…”

And now with Butley, he’s certainly got a stage role to sink his teeth in, Gray’s rapier-tongued lecturer in crisis.

Ben Butley is having a monumentally-bad day. So bad he’s making sure everyone else has a worse one. His estranged wife has taken up with the most boring man in London. His beloved boyfriend has found a new benefactor.

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And in an unprecedented act of betrayal even the English department’s resident failure has a book deal. In response, Butley resorts to his trusty arsenal – mischievous irony and gleeful troublemaking.

Butley premiered in 1971 in Harold Pinter’s award-winning production starring Alan Bates at London’s Criterion Theatre - and there is much of Gray in the character.

“He is a boozer, as was Gray. He is a smoker, as was Gray. He is an academic, which is like Gray in a way, and his life is in collapse. He is a guy in crisis. He is just awful to everyone but you forgive him because he is so funny and so likeable. When Alan Bates did it, he was so lovable and funny and charming. There is a lovely vicious, gossipy humour - but you just wouldn’t want to be on the wrong end of it. It’s all set on one day when his wife and boyfriend dump him. It’s all crashing down around his ears.

“I haven’t done any Gray before. I did meet him very briefly before he died. I only said hello, but my wife sat next to him. He just looked great. He was fairly shambling. He looked well lived in!”

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For Dominic, Butley comes on the back of his success in The Wire, an American television drama series set and produced in and around Baltimore, Maryland, created and primarily written by author and former police reporter David Simon.

“The success didn’t really come until after it was finished. It was well thought of in Baltimore with people we met, but it didn’t hit England until after we had finished.

“It’s something that I am very proud to have been part of, and as one does, you end up getting praise for things that have really nothing to do with you, like how good the writing was! I have managed to enjoy a bit of undeserved acclaim!”

Butley is at the Brighton Theatre Royal from May 25-28 (