by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog
By Mark Shenton for Theatre.com, 11th January 2007
Meeting Rik Mayall is a bit unnerving. We are to talk about The New Statesman, the West End show in which he reprises his role as the none-more-venal politician Alan B’Stard. Mayall’s gleeful enactment of B’Stard’s wretched skullduggery made the original New Statesman TV series a 1980s classic. From beginnings with The Comic Strip and his breakthrough as Kevin Turvey in the seminal A Kick Up the Eighties, he has progressed through The Young Ones, Bottom and myriad stage and screen portrayals into the pantheon of British comedy greats. A near fatal quad bike accident in 1998 almost robbed us of his talent once and for all. Thankfully, he made a remarkable recovery and now returns to the West End for the first time since 1998, when his role in Cell Mates was brought to an abrupt end when Stephen Fry famously quit the show. It’s not his iconic rep that’s making me edgy, but the manic sweep of his conversation as he pogo-sticks relentlessly about his mental landscape. The danger and unpredictability that underpin his comedy are palpable. Winningly earnest, slyly evasive, self-mockingly egomaniacal, he cajoles, flatters and amuses in equal measure. And through it all, Mayall projects a natural charisma that lights up the room.
It’s quite a few years since Alan B’Stard helped to topple Thatcher.
We brought out a series after she was gone, but we knew that there was nothing much to bring down with Major, nothing to hit. So we called it off.
I once met Little Richard, in some cool club, last century in Soho. He’s one of my all-time heroes. Little Ben Elton and me were bringing out a book about The Young Ones, and it so happened that Little Richard was bringing out a book about himself. In my autobiography-called Bigger Than Hitler, Better than Christ, because I don’t fuck about with the truth-there’s a photo of me and Ben and Little Richard. It was him who told me, “Always stop at the top!” He was talking about performance. He said that you’ve got to get the audience high before you’re even on the stage, and when they are high, that’s when you go on there. Then you get to take them higher and higher, till they can’t get any higher. Then you get off that stage-and you don’t come back. It’s important to me never to repeat myself, never to go back.
But you HAVE come back with Alan B’Stard.
No, you’ve misunderstood. We killed The Young Ones – at the top. We killed Bottom – at the top. We killed The New Statesman – at the top. Although we kind of hung on a bit after the top had gone, though we didn’t know it. You could say, this goes against your principles then, Rik, doing Alan B’Stard again.
But it would mean you’re a very ignorant, irrelevant, small piece of barely human flesh and a waste of oxygen if you posed that one at me. Not that you did.
So why, in that case, are you revisiting the character?
Actually, it took me by surprise. The boys [Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, who wrote the TV series] gave me the script. I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t funny or was inappropriate or especially if it just seemed pathetic. Like, hey guys, let’s all do The Old Ones. That would just embarrass me and kill me.
Although you might see Alan as just a member of the right-wing, me-me-me ’80s generation, he’s a bigger character than that. He’s not just an ’80s figure. He IS British politics, or rather what it has become. He’s the evil, selfish fighter who shits on the people and takes their money. Alan took the Labour Party, which used to defend the British working class, and destroyed it. He called it New Labour and picked someone from nowhere, Tony Blair, to put in front of it. So Alan is responsible for the last 10 years of British unhappiness.
Alan B’Stard was originally a Conservative-now he’s New Labour. It’s quite a journey you’ve been on with him.
Can you give me another character in drama that has stayed in existence from his 30s into his 50s? I can’t either. Does it mean you don’t do those things? No, it means that Rik has broken another barrier of entertainment concepts. Yes, it does. I’m now a pan-global light entertainment phenomenon, not a mere award-winning top actor of the National Theatre [where he appeared in Gogol’s The Government Inspector].
The great thing about