In some theatre-goers’ eyes, the casting of former ‘Allo ‘Allo actor, Arthur Bostrom, in the new stage production of Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong may be seen as risky.
The reason would be nothing to do with Arthur’s fine acting skills, but instead, the fact that his main character of Monsieur Berard in Birdsong is French and, as Officer Crabtree in ‘Allo ‘Allo, the actor’s job was to draw in the laughs with an extraordinarily dodgy French accent.
But he hopes there is not a hint of the ‘Good Moanings’ about his performance in Birdsong; a powerful love story about a young Englishman in pre-war France, who embarks on a dangerous affair with his host’s wife, Isabelle.
Arthur said: “I had worked for the producer before and I thought it was very brave of him to cast me. He saw it only as ‘Arthur would be right for this part’ and I really think I am, it is a good part for me.
“Just because I’m known for playing a part several years ago, does it mean I can’t play a Frenchman. There rarely is any reaction when I begin to speak and if there is it lasts five seconds; that is inevitable. Anyone who saw me in ‘Allo ‘Allo would know the character I played, but hopefully I can take them beyond that.”
Arthur has had a long, successful career on stage and screen, most recently taking on parts including Malvolio in Twelfth Night, Martin in Hebburn and Antonio in The Merchant of Venice, but he admits that Crabtree is mentioned a lot.
He said: “It still comes up a lot, but that is natural. I know for some people who have been known for one part and are always referred to as that part, it can be a millstone and in some ways it has been. But I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. It has been good to me for many years and has helped me to make a career. I could be having a bad day and someone will come up and say ‘thank you for all the laughs you gave me’ and that can change your day and you think your career has some worth.
“I’m usually noticed by people in their mid to late 30s who have grown up watching it and they tell me I’m their TV hero. But I had people who I grew up watching and I understand that feeling. I’m a lot older now and I don’t get recognised as much in the street.”
He continued: “Back in those days there were only four channels and 15 million people would watch ‘Allo ‘Allo every week, you don’t get those figures now, it was quite different then.”
Based on Sebastian Faulks’ celebrated novel, Birdsong, many fans of the book will no doubt be casting a critical eye over the stage version.
Arthur, however, is trying not to influence his performance too much by reading the original book.
He reflected: “I had never read it. Because this play is an adaptation, which I think has been beautifully done, that is the information I have got to play the part. Sometimes if you do read the book you have more information than is actually in the piece you are doing.”