The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air star on the Southampton stage

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Joseph Marcell, probably best-known for his role as Geoffrey the Butler in the six seasons of the NBC sitcom The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, plays Sir Peter Teazle in a fresh take on Sheridan’s classic comedy of manners.

The School for Scandal plays MAST Mayflower Studios, Southampton from May 8-11. Promised as “deliciously naughty and outrageously silly”, it offers a masterclass in social satire and the art of gossip, featuring a cast of larger-than-life characters, each armed with a lacerating wit in a lightning-paced evening of romance, revenge and rollicking fun. And as Joseph says, it’s the kind of play that we don't see enough of: “We see the more modern comedies rather than Sheridan. It is not often done. And it's not often you get a non-white actor cast as Sir Peter.”

And what is the significance of that? “You will have to judge the production yourself when you see it, but I hope that you're persuaded when you do, and I like to think that I was picked for reasons of my ability rather than any political reasons!”

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What makes it such a great play is that “It presents a time of theatre and theatrics that we somehow don't see anymore. We are really into reality as you imagine it. We're more into the kitchen-sink type dramas rather than just laughing at eccentrics. It is a history play. It is a comedy of manners and it's very funny. The English is old-fashioned and laborious. It is wonderfully verbose. You are talking about characters who don't exactly edit themselves. The problem for us modern actors is trying to learn the sentences. The sentences are very short and then they are incredibly long but it is beautifully structured and the characters are endearing, and the main focus is the misunderstandings between husband and wife and the schools of scandal around them. There is nothing improbable about it. We all suffer from the green-eyed monster!

Joseph Marcell (contributed pic)Joseph Marcell (contributed pic)
Joseph Marcell (contributed pic)

“The character that I'm trying to create is at the time when the Bank of England had been established but not entirely and when it was more a means for people of wealth to invest their money. Sir Peter is a man who is not a self-made man but has used his inheritance wisely and now at his ripe old age he is wanting a wife. He wants somebody to love him and he wants the companionship and he wants to share his life. But the structure and the language have to be so exact. There are certain moments where you think this seems incredibly modern and then you're thinking this is not modern at all.

"You have to get your mind into it. If you're playing Shakespeare you know immediately that it requires a certain discipline and requires a certain grappling of the imagination, and it is the same with this. It is going to be fun, I think. The closest apart from Shakespeare that I've done to this was Oscar Wilde which I did about four years ago, Lady Windermere's Fan and that had to be precise and that had to have a discipline which I think we have lost.

“But I'm enjoying it and I enjoy acting and I think it's because I haven't yet found the key to the art. I enjoy the attempt. There's that elusive sense that I have not quite been able to find it yet. It's like childbirth. I can't approach any play without actually starting from nothing.”