Norwich: Robin of Sherwood star Michael Praed talks High Society

Michael Praed in High Society at Norwich Theatre Royal in July

Michael Praed in High Society at Norwich Theatre Royal in July - Credit: Archant

Michael Praed has, says my wife, the sexiest voice... ever. She’s stopped buzzing around the kitchen and sat down to listen to my taped chat with the star of High Society, coming to the Norwich Theatre Royal from July 1-6.

Michael Praed as Robin of Sherwood

Michael Praed as Robin of Sherwood - Credit: EDP Library

Asked if he has any particular favourite roles, he’s currently recounting a charming tale of one that saw him almost bite off more than he could chew. If happened after a producer rang him up, asking if Praed would watch a matinee of a play he was producing and give him a call afterwards.

Sophie Bould and Michael Praed star in High Society at Norwich Theatre Royal

Sophie Bould and Michael Praed star in High Society at Norwich Theatre Royal - Credit: Archant

“It was a three-act Noel Coward play, Design for Living, Rachel Weisz was in it and was fantastic. So I called him and he said ‘what did you think of the part of Otto’. I thought it was absolutely brilliant and he said ‘well I want to take over in that part’. I said ‘you’re kidding, that’s fantastic, thank you very much’. He said ‘in four days’.

“He said ‘to make it slightly more complicated, you won’t have a director because the director is on Broadway doing another production. So what do you say’? I was much younger then and said okay. The smartest thing I did was check into a hotel because I realised the one thing I need is peace and quiet. I sat down with this play and thought ‘alright, if I learn an act a day then it’s going to give me, including today, a day to rehearse this thing’.

“Well, on the second day I was halfway through the second act and whatever it was, I can’t remember. I do remember I’d woken up and thought to myself ‘okay, I’ve got to have some breakfast, a shower, a shave; which of these things should I do first’.

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“I looked at the time and it was something like 9.30am and I was walking up and down thinking ‘Christ, I can’t make up my what to do first’. I walked up and down and then looked at the clock again and, I swear to you this is true, it was 10.30am. I had no idea of the time and sat down on the bed, and thought ‘Michael, you’re on the cusp here because you’ve just been walking up and down for an hour talking to yourself about what do I do first. If anyone watched this they’d think you were a madman’.

“I thought ‘have I just gone mad’. I rang the producer up and said ‘I can’t do it, I can’t do it, its too much, I can’t do it, I don’t know how to do it, this is crazy’. He said ‘no, you really can do it’. I tried to get out of it and he wouldn’t let me the b*****. The actor’s nightmare is going on stage not really knowing your lines and there was I, willingly committing myself to this thing. But I did it, I don’t know how and I will never attempt anything like it again.

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“The ones that stick out in my mind are the ones where you’re completely out of your comfort zone. That was one... the sense of relief you can imagine.”

Praed’s perhaps still best known for playing the title role in the 1980s TV show Robin of Sherwood, which is where my wife’s love affair with him began. A gritty fusion of history, 20th century fiction and pagan myth, he’s tremendously proud of the cult show.

“It’s very difficult to know why something’s successful... one of the reasons is I think it was superbly well cast, the stories for the kind of show it was were great, the direction was wonderful, the lighting exemplary and the music from Clannad added another little twist to it,” he says.

“They didn’t just churn them out, we had some time. It was all shot on location and I can’t remember how many days it took to shoot an episode but I think it was more than a week which was quite unusual by today’s standards anyway.”

High Society sees wealthy socialite Tracy Lord planning a lavish summer wedding when her ex-husband Dexter Haven (Praed) turns up to try to win her back. A further twist arrives in the form of charming reporter Mike Connor who falls instantly for Tracy and she for him. As the wedding draws closer we’re left guessing which groom the bride will choose.

Adapted from the hit 1956 film starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra, it boasts a super Cole Porter score including True Love, You’re Sensational and the unforgettable Well, Did You Evah!

“I’d never seen the musical. I saw the movie when it had its English terrestrial premiere somewhere in the 70s. I remember it very clearly because my mother saw that it was on and was very excited because she’d seen it as a girl and it made a huge impression on her,” says Praed.

“It may sound a little quaint this, but there are few things I can think of that are more charming than what I’m about to tell you which is my mother invited all her friends over to watch the film. They got dressed up for it, just to watch a film; but this has to be taken in the context of, certainly in our household, colour television was still a glorious novelty and to watch a big Hollywood film in colour on television was an event.

“I remember thinking this is preposterous, them getting dressed up to watch this film. For them, the term movie star was imbued with a difference it has today. There was all the mystique, aura, mystery and glamour about, in this instance, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Grace Kelly. My mother’s generation were of the generation where they (the stars) were part of a Hollywood studio system that really took care of their talent so horrible stories never made the papers.

“I remember watching it and really liking the movie, but I’d always been a fan of that style of songwriting - the Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter style of songwriting.

“The music is wonderful. There are many composers but very few iconic ones, the ones I’ve mentioned just now are and Cole Porter most assuredly is and he gets an extra tick in the brilliance or genius (box) because he’s his own lyricist and there are very few of those around as well.

“Dexter is a great role. Ostensibly it’s a love story but told in a different and lovely way. I can guarantee audiences are going to walk in feeling one thing and walk out feeling better, it is one of those kinds of shows.”

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