Radio star shines on stage

You may well have heard Carl Prekopp's voice without realising it, for as well as his theatrical and film career the young East Anglian has made quite a name for himself in radio drama.

Lynne Mortimer

You may well have heard Carl Prekopp's voice without realising it, for as well as his theatrical and film career the young East Anglian has made quite a name for himself in radio drama. The actor talks to Lynne Mortimer.

IT's a name you don't really forget so when Carl Prekopp turned up on the cast list in a recent radio adaptation of Terry Pratchett's Nightwatch, it was clear this must be the same gifted young actor that has toured with Ipswich-based Eastern Angles.

Carl has also appeared in shows penned by the Suffolk playwright Joel Horwood. He appeared in a reading of Horwood's Stoopud F**ken Animals, at the Ipswich Pulse festival, last year, and Carl was also a leading performer in his musical Mikey the Pikey at the Edinburgh Fringe.

The name is Slovak, Carl explains. His Grandpa left Czechoslovakia after the communist coup in 1948 and met his Slovak wife - Carl's late grandmother - in a refugee camp in Paris. The couple then went to Africa where Carl's dad was born. “So he is pure-blood, Slovak born in French-speaking Africa and then they moved back to London and that's where dad met mum who was Peckham born and bred.”

I venture that Carl must have a number of relatives he hasn't met?

Most Read

“Yes,” he agrees. “Slowly, I'm learning about more and more people scattered across Europe that are related to me that I knew nothing about. With the internet - Facebook and things - we're all getting in contact and sending photographs to each other.”

Carl and his brother were born in Sheffield and the family moved down to Norfolk, near Aylsham, in 1986, when Carl was seven.

“I did have nice thick south Yorkshire accent at one time believe it or not,” he says adding with a grin “When you get to Norfolk they knock that out of you.”

Now in possession of an elegantly modulated voice with nary a trace of an accent, Carl can turn it on if he needs to, as he showed last summer when he produced a fine Suffolk dialect for a reading of Joel Horwood's Leiston-based play at Pulse. Carl also went to Edinburgh with the production.

“I work with Joel a lot on any new plays he's got - doing readings, testing them out, seeing how they sound. Then he'll go away, do another draft and we'll have another reading.”

The latest Horwood play is I Caught Crabs in Walberswick, which is being co-produced by Eastern Angles. Carl knows the Ipswich-based touring theatre company well. He played the title role in their 2003 tour of David Copperfield and was also in Bone Harvest later the same year.

A former pupil at Aylsham High School and Paston High School, in North Walsham, Carl admits he was not a model student but he was captivated by drama and he is an alumnus of the famous Theatre Royal Arts Course in Norwich.

“Nick Wardle was an English and drama teacher at Aylsham and she was wonderful. She saw that a few of us were going a little bit off the track and we weren't really paying attention and were putting other people off.

“She saw our interest in theatre and would take us up to Stratford upon Avon to see the Royal Shakespeare Company and to London, to the Barbican, in this minibus - and she would put on Shakespeare plays at school and we would all take part in them.”

“And I was also going into Norwich every weekend for the Arts Course under David Lambert, who was then at the helm. He was introducing us to other styles of theatre and musical theatre.

“I was spending most of my time not applying myself to education or the national curriculum but to drama. It was something that was making me tick at a very early age.

“At a time I could have gone off the rails and done nothing, suddenly I had some sort of incentive, some sort of purpose.”

“I started out reasonably intelligent and got reasonably good grades but by the time I was in my teen years and getting to GCSE level I was either playing truant or putting other people off in the classroom… I don't feel proud of it looking back.”

At Paston, Rob John was the “incredible” teacher who further sparked Carl's interest, introducing him to complex theories of the politics and philosophies behind central European theatre.

But Carl still wasn't loving school. “Again, I wasn't really applying myself to turning up.

“Luckily, they persuaded me to stay on and I got English Literature and Theatre Studies A levels and, by the skin of my teeth I think really, I got good grades even though, as one teacher said to me, I didn't deserve them. Which I thought was a little bit harsh… but true.

“I applied for drama school and didn't get in that year so I was left, stuck working as a washer-upper in various (Norfolk) pubs and restaurants. I worked in a chicken factory and in a factory just outside Norwich that made tin lids … I had to polish tin lids. At the very end of the production line it came to me with my little chamois leather and all I had to do was wipe the grease off it - 9 o'clock in the morning to 5 o'clock in the evening. It was at that point I knew I had to get out… and I phoned nan up and asked if I could go and live with her in Peckham.

Carl's nan said yes and he got a job as a guide on the London tour buses. He also re-applied for drama school and got a place at Central of Speech and Drama.

After three years of spectacularly good training, Carl graduated from Central in 2001 - with a six-month contract to work in BBC radio drama.

Having learned radio and microphone technique and how to use his voice to tell a story, Carl auditioned for the Carleton Hobbs Award and was one of a handful of final-year drama school students selected to become part of BBC radio's in-house repertory company.

“It was an amazing beginning and you get to work with the best of the best. The guys who do radio acting are some of the heroes (of acting) I saw at Stratford upon Avon and the Barbican all those years ago. Suddenly I was working alongside them being treated as a professional actor; not wet behind the ears any more. You have to live up to the calibre of actors such as Alex Jennings and Roger Allam.”

Carl worked with Alex Jennings in Terry Pratchett's, Small Gods. It was one of three Pratchett adaptations he has been involved in having also played Mort in Mort and, most recently, Sam Vines in Night Watch.

“I loved them. I've done about 150 radio jobs,” says Carl who had his original six month contract extended by another three months and then another three months.

“I was developing and learning as a radio actor - a voice actor - and learning from the best.

“There is very little or no rehearsal time on radio, you are trusted to turn up having read your script, done your homework on the script, and then, once you go into the studio, you have to be able to do it. You get about three goes. You do one take which is your interpretation of the line, a second take with notes from the director and a third take which is pretty much a combination of the two. And in that time you need to have nailed it because you don't have much time on radio.”

It was after this that Carl went to work with Eastern Angles, finishing the David Copperfield tour and, about month later, returning for Bone Harvest.

“So I went straight back up to Ipswich with a brand new cast - two of whom have become my best friends.”

“Since then I have been consistently working in radio drama - touch wood.”

“I also got involved with voice-over companies and that has taken me into audio guides for things like the Tate Modern and Tate Galleries; museums all over the world. It was a part of the work that I had never really anticipated.”

Carl has worked with independent film makers on a number of short films. As well as a catalogue of five to 10 minute films he appeared in I Want Candy for Ealing Film Studios which was released last year. He explains the plot. “It's a comedy set in Leatherhead about these two guys who have made a porn film for their end-of-year film project - lovely British comedy. The Red tops loved it; The Guardian said it made Sex lives of the Potato Men look like Citizen Kane.” Carl quotes the review with relish.

Now living in London, the 28-year-old actor lives with his partner Kate, a doctor working in the field of clinical genetics. They have been together 10 years and met on the Norwich Arts Course.

Carl reveals: “At 12 we were friends, at 16 we had our first kiss and, at 18, decided to get together.”

He acknowledges they both work “ridiculously” anti-social hours and he is also away on tour from time to time but jokes: “To be honest, that's probably why the relationship's worked - because we don't see each other!”

As for his future career, he says there is no grand plan. “It's difficult to make plans in this industry because there's no logical progression to the career.

“It seems to me the best way to get a job is to book a holiday, 'cos you book a holiday and think you're taking two weeks' off and that's when you get the offer of a job - for that week,” he grins ruefully.

But this element of Murphy's Law apart, he says he is happy as he is, working and earning a living as an actor and working with fantastic people. “The excitement of the job is that it's constantly changing; you're constantly meeting new people and constantly learning. If I can continue in that vein then I'll be very, very happy.”

And he does appear to be continuing in that vein…

He is in episode 10 of BBC1 drama Holby Blue (tonight's episode is the third) and, completing a police drama double, Carl is also filming an episode of The Bill “playing another lost and lonely criminal” which will be shown on ITV1 later this year.

He has a part in David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago which is at the Norwich Playhouse in May. “It's the first professional theatre show of David Lambert's new theatre company, so I've come full circle and back to where I started which is going to be very exciting.”

Additionally, Carl has a voice-over job for the audio guide of the British Museum and he has been working as assistant to David Pugh, producer of God of Carnage, starring Ralph Feinnes and Tamsin Grieg, which opened last month to rave reviews.

“So it's been quite a full month,” he says, a master of the understatement.