Theatre Q&A: Mark Williams

The comic actor best known for the Fast Show and Harry Potter takes to the stage in family musical Doctor Dolittle (11 Dec to 5 Jan at the Lowry, before touring)

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Doctor Dolittle looks like a real Christmas treat. Should we expect a fun festive feel?
Very much so. It’s got a very powerful and uplifting message. As well as being fabulous entertainment you’ve got dancing, singing puppets and music. It really is stupendous. I’ve never known a show where everyone’s in the wings watching. Whenever we’re doing a number on stage, most people are in the wings singing along!

They say you should never work with children or animals. Is it the same for animal puppets?
I’ve built a career on it! The puppets are very much characters. The family as we call them: Chip, Chee Chee Chimpanzee, Gub Gub and Polynesia The Parrot, who talks. If you’re working with real animals or animatronics it’s not the same at all. The amount of movement we have is amazing so we can choreograph and tell the story much more easily with puppets.

Has it been fun seeing audiences react to the puppets?
Yes! The other night, as Polynesia The Parrot began to talk, there was one little boy who just cracked up. It obviously touched his funny bone and he thought it was absolutely hilarious. That was deeply joyful. It really is what it’s all about. He thought it was so funny!

Doctor Dolittle is a classic character. What inspired your interpretation of him?
The fundamental difference here is that Dolittle is no longer involved in the love story so that frees him up to be what he is: an outsider who understands animals but doesn’t understand humans – and knows he doesn’t. He’s got his own story, which is fascinating for me, and so is his great enthusiasm and love for something that nobody else understands. He can’t understand why people don’t think like he does and lots of people like that are visionaries.

You’ll be at the Lowry over Christmas. Are you a fan of the festive season?
I love being festive! Christmas has changed a lot since I was a kid, Halloween has become more and more important and actually Easter is becoming more important again too. I don’t think New Year’s Eve is like it was in the 1970s when it was absolute carnage, which is a good thing really. There was a lot of damage on New Year’s Eve.

What’s the best festive snack?
Oh come on, that’s easy. Cheese Footballs – behave! I’m fond of a digestive chocolate-covered mint as well but it’s gotta be Cheese Footballs. I like the things you only have at Christmas, like almonds. Who cracks an almond any time other than Christmas?

Are socks ever an appropriate Christmas gift?
Oh yeah. I’m big on dad presents. I love a sweater. I’m very fond of a sock. If I smoked a pipe I’d be very keen on having a pipe. Gotta have the Viz annual, obvs. Oh, and liquorice pipes!

What’s your favourite Christmas film?
I like animations. When I was a kid they used to show lots of films and animations that I hadn’t seen before so if I had to choose one, I think I’d go for A Nightmare Before Christmas.

You played Arthur Weasley in the Harry Potter series – another cosy Xmas favourite.
They’re very wintry. If you like huge battles with the dark side, they’re quite cosy too. 101 Dalmations [Williams starred in the 1996 film] gets shown regularly. That’s weirdly a bit Christmassy as well. Cruella DeVille is another nostalgic character, a lot like Doctor Dolittle.

What would your ideal Christmas Day and Boxing Day look like?
I bake bread so my ideal Christmas Day would be to get up early, make bread and then read until I was disturbed to do something. Boxing Day is for sitting in a corner and looking at your presents, isn’t it? I’m a big fan of the cold collation, as my Nan use to call it. I love a bit of cold turkey, cold beef – cold whatever you had yesterday. It’s funny, Boxing Day – everybody suddenly goes for a walk. You’ve never seen so much brand new hiking gear. It’s like GoreTex heaven.

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