Nigel Pivaro, known to Coronation Street fans as ‘rogue’ Terry Duckworth, told David Hennessy about taking on the role of Da in the current tour of The Commitments, returning to the stage after early 20 years and that life is what happens when you are making plans.
“No pressure,” actor Nigel Pivaro (62) says of putting on a Dublin accent for a Dublin audience in the iconic Dublin story The Commitments.
“No pressure whatsoever,” he laughs.
Nigel, well known for playing Terry Duckworth, Jack and Vera’s no good son, in Coronation Street for many years, is playing Da in the new production of The Commitments the musical that is touring the UK now.
When we chatted to him last week Nigel was in the middle of their Olympia run. It is currently in Ipswich.
“It’s one of the big deals to get that authenticity.
“I wouldn’t want people to come to Manchester particularly with a show Love on the Dole or A Taste of Honey, one of the great Manchester/ Salford classics and speaking Thames Estuary.
“But at least if they were having a stab at it, I’d kind of forgive them.
“Obviously, Dublin is the place where the action takes place.
“It’s Roddy Doyle’s home city so there’s great responsibility for us to kind of give it as much authenticity as possible.
“But I’ve asked people and they’ve said, hopefully without prejudice, that it’s absolutely great.
“I’ve had 17 weeks of this now so I’ve had time to get to get used to it.
“Plus, there’s several Dubliners in the cast anyway so I can always refer to them for reference on certain words and things.
“There’s been so much pressure to do well that you’re overthinking it sometimes but put it this way, I’ve had no complaints only compliments.”
Nigel remembers first seeing the film about Dublin’s hardest working band.
“I first saw the film not knowing what to expect and I just saw the director’s name on it, Alan Parker. I knew his name from other films that he’d done, Mississippi Burning, and Bugsy Malone and stuff.
“I thought, ‘Oh well, what’s this?’
“And I was completely enchanted by it and of course, the music as well.
“It had all the ingredients
“I was enchanted by it back in 1991.”
The story of Jimmy Rabbitte putting a soul band together in working class Dublin has been enthralling audiences since the 80s, first in the original novel, then film and now the musical.
It has been followed by books and films The Snapper and The Van, known collectively as The Barrytown Trilogy until Roddy followed The Commitments once more with The Guts in 2013 which would feature Jimmy Rabbitte once again.
In the original story, while Jimmy has high ideas about himself and his band, his dad is more cynical.
“He’s done it all.
“He’s been there, it didn’t work for him and he’s cynical that it could work for anybody else from his neighbourhood, not least his own son but then maybe he changes his mind.
“So that journey is interesting, the fact he starts off a curmudgeon.
“It’s quite nice to play that, quite fun, ‘Turn that shite down’, ‘What’s a boom lacka lacka? It’s not Irish, whatever it is’.
“it’s quite fun to do all that and sort of take the mickey out of the younger generation, as they as they do with him obviously.
“Jimmy’s Da starts off with one particular attitude towards his son, towards what his son is trying to do with the music and disapproves of it really because he’s a big Elvis fan and doesn’t like soul music really.
“But then he goes on a journey where he mellows a bit without giving too much away.”
It’s Elvis or nothing for Jimmy’s Da, isn’t it? “That wasn’t hard for me to do. I’m a big Elvis fan myself.
“I do sing a few bars. Unaccompanied, I might add.
“Just a bit of light relief really, I suppose given the expertise of the rest of the cast who are fantastic singers and dancers, West End veterans and stuff.
“Especially James Deegan, local Dubliner and he alternates with Ian Mcintosh. Both great, worth the ticket prices on their own.”
Many remember Colm Meaney’s memorable turn as Mr Rabbitte, the cynical father of Jimmy, in the 1991 film based on Roddy Doyle’s book.
But it would be wrong to think Nigel was merely trying to imitate that portrayal.
“I’m not stepping into his (Colm Meaney) shoes,” he says.
“I’m stepping into the shoes of Jimmys’ Da.
“I’m not stepping into Colm Meaney’s shoes because that would be impersonating Colm Meaney.
“You’re onto a loser if you approach it like that.
“It’s between me and Roddy Doyle.
“It’s nothing to do with Colm Meaney although I greatly admire his portrayal but as I say, it’s your own thing. You’ve got to make it your own thing.”
Has the author Roddy Doyle been involved in rehearsals and the process of the show? “Yes he has.
“He came to London on the second week of rehearsal and heard a rehearsed read through, was very complimentary.
“He gave us a lot of background to how the writing of it came about which was very informative and instructive.
And he was very giving, very constructive and there for reference and then he came on Friday night. He came on first night as well in London.
“So he has been hands on with this.”
Born in Manchester, Nigel studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, made his stage debut in Short Of Mutiny in 1983.
Over the years Pivaro has done a lot of stage work and cites groundbreaking drama Just Frank, about an AIDS sufferer, at the Theatre Royal Stratford East as a personal favourite.
He’s also been in Funny Peculiar, A View From the Bridge and An Evening With Gary Lineker, to name just a few of his stage credits.
Another theatrical highlight was winning the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 1st award for No Further Cause For Concern, which is one of the things he says he is most proud of.
But this is Nigel’s first time onstage in nearly 20 years as he has been working as a journalist for the last 15 having moved away from acting to pursue a new career at the age of 39.
“I had taken leave of the profession in a way- Well not in a way, most distinctly.
“I became a journalist and was a working journalist, and I’m still working, still a card carrying NUJ member and will continue to practice that profession as well.
“I was away from the stage for at least 15 years and 19 years since I did the last big kind of national tour which was Bouncers.
“So there was a degree of trepidation (doing this) but I had been doing it for 25 years before that, so like riding a bike to borrow a cliche.”
Did you think you wouldn’t act again? “I take it as it comes.
“Life is what happens in between making plans and you never discount the unexpected because all sorts of things happen.
“I wasn’t particularly looking to come back into the theatre for many years and didn’t want to.
“I was absolutely engrossed within journalism.
“And then, I suppose to put it into shorthand, for the love of a woman who I met a few years ago, I decided, ‘Well, let’s dip my toe back in’.”
He did plays on BBC Radio 4, including The Corrupted opposite Toby Jones.
“And it did become an itch I wanted to scratch.
“So here I am.
“It was offered two years ago, when I came back in the business but obviously, the COVID restrictions put paid to the production.
“I thought it’s such an iconic play and an iconic part I couldn’t really pass it by.”
Does Nigel have any Irish blood?
“Only the good bit of me,” he laughs.
“I’ve never really explored it.
“I’m Italian on my dad’s side and on my mother’s side ostensibly English but I think certainly with Irish roots, on my paternal grandfather’s side.
“I have it- And I don’t know how reliable this is- that I had three great uncles or great great uncles who came over from the west of Ireland.
“They emigrated from the west of Ireland to Middlesbrough as Middlesbrough was booming as a steel and coal and dock town.
“And they did very, very well there until there was a dock strike.
“So what did they do? They looked around and saw that the port of Manchester was just opening so they upped sticks and moved there in the 1890s and set up and they were very successful.
“So on that side, on my paternal grandfather’s side, I believe there’s certainly some Irish there.
“It would be interesting to track that down, wouldn’t it?
“They were called Armes.
“I’ve looked into that name.
“There was a Norman invasion and apparently, the name Armes was established around then.
It’s just me researching the name and then being told that by a very distant relative, they could have been spinning me a right yarn.
“My paternal grandfather died years before I was born so I couldn’t test it with him.”
Nigel rose to prominence as Terry Duckworth in Coronation Street – the wayward son of long-suffering Jack and Vera.
Is it a role he is still recognised for regularly? “Absolutely. From the taxi driver who’s shouting out to me from the traffic lights yesterday as I’m crossing the road to the lady in the chemist shop on Cable Street: Still remembered.
“So yes, there’s still that kind of hangover from that, but I don’t look at it as a hangover.
“It’s a compliment really that people do still remember.
“It’s nice. It means that you obviously made an impression and that’s good.”
Viewers will recall how the soap villain spent his time swindling people out of money, sold his mother a death trap car and even sold his own child.
“He was a rogue and that developed, kind of happened over the years and I think that’s why it was so successful.
“He went on a journey from being this lost lad just come out the army to being put upon by his dysfunctional parents to becoming this real sort of practiced ne’er do well and it’s nice when your character goes on a journey through the narrative and it’s the same in The Commitments.”
An iconic couple of the soap, Jack and Vera Duckworth first appeared in the 1970s and made their last appearances in 2010.
Bill Tarmey, who played Jack, passed away in 2012, Liz Dawn, who played Vera, followed in 2017.
“They were iconic,” Nigel says of his late screen parents. “And rightly so not only to stay the course but they developed two wonderful, nuanced layered characters who went on a journey.
“Both of them started off as fairly abrasive and dysfunctional and mellowed out into being these cuddly, avuncular grandparent-y type characters who became the nation’s favourites over a 25 year period.
“That was great.
“But more to the point they were lovely to work with.
“They were lovely people, really lovely people.”
People may not know that Nigel originally auditioned for the role of the bookish Curly Watts that Kevin Kennedy would go on to became endeared to the nation for playing.
“That’s absolutely true.
“I think it was me and him really going for the part.
“I did very, very well in the audition and there was two or three weeks I was on tenterhooks kind of thinking, ‘I might get this part in Coronation Street of this character called Curly Watts- Norman Watts as he was called.
“And obviously it turned out it was much better casting to cast Kevin Kennedy as Curly Watts but they thought, ‘Let’s forget this character we were going to bring into the Duckworths, this Tracy Duckworth I think she was going to be called. Let’s give the Duckworths a son.
“So Tracy Duckworth became Terry Duckworth.
“I was offered the role.
“As I say, life’s what happens in between making plans.
“You think, ‘If only I could have got that part of Curly Watts…’
“And then Terry Duckworth comes along.”
The Commitments tours the UK until July.
For more information, click here.