Next Page Productions head to The Playhouse Theatre next week with Funny Faces – two one act plays based on the lives of Carry On stars Sid James (WOT SID DID) and Joan Sims (SIMply Joan). We’ve caught up with the actors playing the iconic performers…
Steve, you wrote Funny Faces and star as Sid James – what led to you writing the play?
I was 16 when Sid died. I can still remember the sense of shock from all my friends in the classroom the next day. Our teacher said ‘As soon as you saw his face on the 9 O’Clock News, you knew he must be dead as the only thing he ever did was make us laugh.’ That remark has stuck with me down the years.
After going through a snobbish phase when I considered the Carry On films to be too broad and clichéd to be worthy of my consideration, I came to realise what a marvellous series they were; they were funny, they were accessible and they were unpretentious. It was then I wanted to know more about the main stars and I started with Sid.
Sid is a mass of contradictions. A man who insisted on being a gentleman to all woman and yet had an almost uncontrollable lust for them. A man who had a burning desire to make money and was extremely astute with contracts and business dealings, yet frittered it all away on his gambling addiction. A man who was a devoted family man to some of his children and yet was deliberately absent from others.
It was these elements of his personality that I wanted to explore in a play. But I also wanted to present him fairly. There has been a lot of seedy sensationalism reported about what sort of man he was since his death and part of my reason for writing ‘WOT SID DID’ was to readdress the balance to present a consummate professional who might be flawed but is still worthy of the love the public still have for him.
Are Sid James and Joan Sims actors you both look up to?
Steve: I certainly admire their craft and their ability to keep their careers going. Joan worked as an actress for over 50 years, often reinventing herself to keep going. Sid died at the peak of his popularity. So both of them were survivors whose longevity has to be admired. And their comic timing was impeccable.
Caroline: I had always watched the Carry On films when I was growing up, but had no real knowledge of anything else that they had been in. It was only when I started studying Joan as a person that I realized how much more there was about her.
Your first night of Funny Faces at The Playhouse (26 April) is a rather poignant date?
Yes. We didn’t realise it when we booked The Playhouse but 26th April is the date Sid died, onstage at the Sunderland Empire. We wanted to acknowledge this, so we’ll be toasting Sid’s life in the interval with a spot of free bubbly. We think Sid would have approved.
Are audiences going to see a different side to the actors’ stories in Funny Faces?
Absolutely. Their public faces were far different from their private lives. Joan had a long struggle with the bottle and her mother was very domineering. Sid’s off-stage persona has a very compassionate warm side to him, far removed from the loveable rogue we see on the screen. So yes, hopefully, our audience will see sides of them that they never knew existed and learn a little about their struggles as well as their triumphs
Both actors are probably best known for the Carry On films, which mark their 60th anniversary this year. Do you have a favourite?
Steve: Carry On Screaming, which is a bit ironic because Sid wasn’t in that one! I also think Carry on Up The Khyber is great – that one usually comes out top in the polls. In a series of 31 films, there are also some stinkers as well but I won’t go into them!
Caroline: Now that’s a tricky question. I like lots of them for different reasons, but if you had to force my hand, I would probably settle on Carry On Doctor, and like Steve, ‘Up The Khyber’.
You’ve worked together in Northampton before – how has it been working together again?
Steve: Absolutely wonderful. We haven’t had one cross word. Caroline and I have different acting methods that seem to complement each other. I don’t think she’ll mind me saying she’s a very enthusiastic, eager actor who seizes the moment and runs with it. I’m more reflective and slow, almost ponderous sometimes, wanting to examine every possibility before committing to an interpretation. What it means for the plays is they both have their own different, very distinctive styles, miles apart from each other in terms of tone which means the audience gets a very varied nights’ entertainment.
Caroline: It’s been terrific. We worked together 30 years ago in a very different environment, touring pub gardens across the county. Steve is a fabulous writer and we actually started talking about this project 3 years ago. I feel very proud and privileged to have been able to work with Steve and give his writing a home on stages across the Midlands.