Aidan McArdle told David Hennessy about playing Colonel Blood in the new riotous West End comedy The Crown Jewels which also stars Al Murray and Neil Morrissey.
You may recognise Dublin actor Aidan McArdle from his roles in TV hits such as Mr Selfridge, Garrow’s Law, The Trial of Christine Keeler and ITV’s Ridley.
He has played Dudley Moore in the 2004 television movie Not Only but Always, Albert Einstein in the biopic E=mc² and Igor Stravinsky in 2005’s Riot at the Rite.
Aidan can now be seen playing another character who is very true to life on the West End stage.
Cheekily advertising itself as “The Royal Event of the Year,” The Crown Jewels recounts the astonishing true story of how in 1671 the volatile Irish officer Colonel Thomas Blood (played by Aidan McArdle) plotted the most audacious theft in history – stealing the Crown Jewels in plain sight from the most impregnable castle in the land.
The Crown Jewels tells the story of the most audacious heist in British history and an attack on the heart of the nation as outrageous and far-fetched as the Gunpowder Plot; The story of how Colonel Blood stole the Crown Jewels – and got away with it.
McArdle takes on the role of Colonel Blood while Al Murray will play Charles II. The cast also includes Neil Morrissey who once again acts in the work of Men Behaving Badly creator Simon Nye, Joe Thomas (The Inbetweeners, Fresh Meat, White Gold), comedian/ presenter Mel Giedroyc and musical theatre star Carrie Hope Fletcher.
Writer Simon Nye describes as Blood as ‘part-lunatic, part-adventurer, with a touch of Errol Flynn about him’.
The Crown Jewels may be based on facts- some which may be hard to believe- but it is a farcical story.
The Crown Jewels does its best to capture the lunacy of Blood’s life on stage – but the facts are so extraordinary they defy belief.
“Colonel Blood” was actually no colonel.
Born in Ireland in 1618, the son of a blacksmith, Thomas Blood joined the forces of Charles I in the Civil War – then changed sides to fight for Oliver Cromwell, giving himself a spurious promotion (his actual rank was lieutenant).
In 1653, the victorious Cromwell made Blood a rich, landed gentleman, and a justice of the peace.
Seven years later Blood was penniless, his land and title dissolved with the Restoration. Charles II now ruled England – but Ireland could be wrested back, or so Blood thought.
In 1671, he planned a coup to steal the jewels used for Charles II’s Coronation from the Tower of London where they were guarded by just one man – a 77-year-old retired soldier called Talbot Edwards.
Blood and his conspirators knock Talbot Edwards unconscious, grab the jewels, and prepare to make their escape – but the sacks they brought were too small for the loot.
So the robbers end up shoving the orb down trousers, flattening the crown with a mallet and starting to saw the sceptre in half.
But when Edwards’s soldier son returns from the wars, home for the first time in years, their game is up.
Blood was then imprisoned, awaiting a sentence.
But Blood asks for a private audience with the King, and is unexpectedly granted one.
He entered the room a dead man walking.
What he said to Charles will never be known but he left the room with a full pardon, a position at court, an estate in Ireland and a generous pension.
Aidan told The Irish World: “It’s going to be very slick.
“It’s a complicated show, but we’ll get there in the end.”
You’re in rehearsals with ‘The Pub Landlord’ Al Murray, comedian Mel Giedroyc as well as one of the Men Behaving Badly and an Inbetweener, is it fun?
“They’re such a bunch of funny people and really lovely people as well.
“Sometimes there can be a fear that when you’re doing a comedy, it can be actually the most serious rehearsal experience and when you’re doing a tragedy, you can be laughing your head off.
“So this experience has been brilliant really.
“Everybody is very, very nice and very ensemble minded. I think it’s led really by (director) Sean Foley.
“We’re just trying to find the funniest moments and whoever takes that moment to make it the funniest, we give them the sort of confidence to be able to do it.
“It’s been a really positive thing and Sean is brilliant that he’s just able to marshal any sort of funny bones instinct and to be able to allow us to be like, ‘this might work’, and ‘that might work’.
“Ya know, there’s no such thing as a bad idea.
“Well there are bad ideas, but you’re free to absolutely express them and some of them will get through, some of them you go, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s good. Let’s try that’.
“It’s been wonderful. Sean and Simon Nye the writer have just been so open and positive.
“It’s really just about making the boat go faster. That’s what we’re all trying to do.
“I know it’s such a boring thing for you for an interview but everyone is genuinely very lovely and open hearted and genuinely funny.
“I’ve been very lucky.
“I think everybody in the cast is having fun as well as just bouncing off each other.
“It’s very rapid fire dialogue, very gag a minute and physical comedy as well.
“So it’s heightened comedy and we’re all having a laugh but we haven’t been in front of an audience yet so we have to get through that test to really know where we stand.”
What is it like to get your teeth into a role like Colonel Blood? “The style of the play that we’re in- It’s a heist drama, it’s a farce.
“It’s a theatrical show.
“It’s not a historical epic.
“Anyone looking to study up on their A Levels, they might be advised to read a book.
“But it is loosely based on historical fact and some of the surprising things that are in the play are actually true.
“But I don’t want to spoil those.
“There’s a couple that were like, ‘That actually happened? Oh, I thought Simon had made that bit up’.
“But generally speaking, it’s just a very theatrical, fun, farcical show that should hopefully have the audience rolling in their seats.
“That’s what we’re going for here.
“It’s first and foremost going to be a very entertaining play, fingers crossed.”
Colonel Blood was born in Ireland but educated in England, does that mean you can use your Irish accent or does he have an English accent? “I have an Irish accent.
“Part of his battle is actually for Irish sovereignty.
“Really Blood went with the Cromwellians and then eventually he did genuinely try to steal the crown jewels and he was basically pardoned by the king and given land so they think that maybe he was a spy.
“He was a total rogue.
“He died owing money and they dug up his grave to see whether he was actually dead because they weren’t sure whether it was just another trick.
“He was a bit of a con man.
“He was a grifter.
“But he was very daring with it. He had a buckle to his swash.
“We’re simplifying his motivation for doing what he’s doing in our version of the story.
“If you’re going to want to actually go into historical details on Colonel Blood, maybe it’s not necessarily going to be very helpful because, as I said, we’re just trying to give people an entertaining night out.”
Does that mean you had to do a lot of research on the subject? “Only a tiny bit at the end where you go, ‘Oh my God, that bit was true’.
“But generally speaking, no.
“It’s a play that has some historical fact to it and is not completely intellectually stupid, but it should be a fun evening.
“You don’t need to have any historical background to watch it or to enjoy it.”
You have had the honour of playing some illustrious real life people before, haven’t you?
“I’ve been very lucky.
“I played Dudley Moore.
“Yeah, I end up playing real people quite a lot.
“I played Stravinsky as well, it’s very odd.
“The Colonel Blood thing, he might be a real person but in fairness no one is going to know. They’re not going to be, ‘He was exactly like that, you really captured that’, do you know what I mean?
“They’re going to go, ‘He might have been, he might have been exactly like that’.
Yeah, I guess you have to interpret it the way you interpret it and it’s probably still something you can really get your teeth into? “Exactly. It’s basically what Simon has written as well so when you come along and see the show, you’ll get what I’m talking about.”
Joe Thomas is well known as hopeless romantic Simon from The Inbetweeners. What’s his relationship to you in the play? “He’s my son and he’s a bit of a halfwit.
“I’m trying to make a man of him and he’s a bit of a halfwit idiot.
“So myself, Captain Parot who’s played by Neil Morrissey and Joe who plays Tom Jr are the trio who go on the heist and steal the crown jewels from Charles II and much hilarity ensues.
“Mel Giedroyc is in it and so is Carrie Anne Fletcher who is incredible performer but also has one of the most beautiful voices I’ve ever heard.
“We have the odd song from her at the beginning and the end.
“The show will definitely start off very well and really end very well.
“And then it’s up to us to make the middle bit work.”
It sounds very much like an ensemble piece, is it? “Yes it is.
“Well no, Al is the lead. He’s playing two massive big parts and he drives the whole thing.
“It’s Al’s show but we’re all part of an ensemble supporting him.”
I know he’s not on all the time but is it funny to be rehearsing with Al? “You literally can’t be in a scene with him without laughing because he’ll do one thing that’s slightly different and he’ll catch you out and you’ll start laughing and you’re trying to do your thing.
“He’s not doing it on purpose.
“He’s just naturally messing around and doing something for the audience but you see it and you see how funny it is.
“So yeah, it is.
“That’s gonna be one of the biggest challenges now, trying to concentrate on saying my lines and saying what my character needs to be saying.
“I might have a very serious line coming up and I’ll be laughing at something he’s said so I’ll have to watch out for that.”
The play also dwells on Irish- British relations. Have you ever encountered problems or ignorance as an Irish actor in the UK? “It was very rare.
“I was very lucky. I’ve been cast to play Richard III in the Royal Shakespeare Company as an Irish guy.
“I got to play Dudley Moore.
“I’ve had a very lucky and open career.
“There was one time and it was the same director twice with a couple of years in between.
“He was basically laughing at the idea of an Irish man playing a particular part. I had to look back and go, ‘It’s the same guy that said that weird thing to me when I was just coming out of drama school’.”
The weird thing was the assumption that Aidan came from a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father just because he was Irish.
“That is absolutely the exception to the rule. If anything I think I’ve been very lucky with how open minded the business is here towards Irish people.
“I’ve got some great opportunities and I was very grateful for them, I have to say.
“I didn’t find it a closed shop at all.
“What was weird when I was leaving drama school was that you were guaranteed you would get at least some IRA men or priests but the peace process happened and that disappeared and the paedophile thing happened with the Catholic church so there were no priests anymore.
“A lot of my mates who were in drama school were Asian or Islamic background and they were getting all the roles that the Irish guys used to get which was the thing that kept the dinner on the table even if they were a little bit of a stereotype.
“We were all getting our leather jackets and we never got a chance to do it,” Aidan laughs.
“So it is incredible how your nationality or whatever, historical events can affect your career.
“It used to be the thing that everyone would be a young IRA man in some story about Northern Ireland and then all those roles just stopped happening.
“People stopped doing them because of the peace process.
“So I mean there’s some downsides to the peace process,” Aidan jokes.
“All the work dried up.”