Blackadder clown joins the circus
MUCH-LOVED actor Tony Robinson has become something of a national institution thanks to his starring role as Baldrick in the Blackadder series and presenting the long-running archaeology programme, Time Team. Now he is joining the circus. The former Wanst
MUCH-LOVED actor Tony Robinson has become something of a national institution thanks to his starring role as Baldrick in the Blackadder series and presenting the long-running archaeology programme, Time Team. Now he is joining the circus.
The former Wanstead High School student returns to TV sitcom for the first time in years when he stars in new BBC comedy series Big Top, alongside Amanda Holden, John Thomson and Sophie Thompson.
The first episode is on Wednesday (Dec 2).
Tony plays Erasmus, the sound technician and accounts manager, who is cynical, manipulative and callous.
It really irritates him that he's stuck with a bunch of what he thinks are talentless idiots. He derives some satisfaction, though, by playing the wrong sound effects and music cues for the acts they are performing.
Tony takes up the story: "The owner of Circus Maestro has gone to prison and so his daughter has taken control. There are very few acts in the circus.
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"There's Geoff, who is the worst clown ever, and his wife Helen, who's very much put-upon and would actually be a much better clown than he is if she were ever allowed to be. Erasmus and Geoff loathe each other.
"The circus is such a claustrophobic environment, from the cramped caravans that everyone lives in, to the nature of performing in the ring. When you hate another character as much as ours do, there is nowhere else to go.
"The one good act is the acrobat, Boyco, who is besotted by Lizzie, the ringmistress. Lizzie wants to be good at every act there is, but has no skills whatsoever."
Tony says he was lured back into the world of situation comedy because he has known producers Marcus Mortimer and John Stroud "since the year dot". He adds: "Marcus was, I think, the floor manager on the first Blackadder series and John directed Who Dares Wins, which was a Channel 4 series that I did years ago. We've been mates ever since.
"When they said that they had a new comedy series idea that they were pitching to the BBC and asked if there was any chance I could help them by coming along and doing a rehearsed reading, I thought, why not?"
Tony admits that Erasmus isn't the most glamorous character: "Let's be honest, I'm the only one who wears a really s*** costume! I look like someone who, if your car had rusted in the front garden, would come and say that they wouldn't give you any money for it but they're prepared to come and take it away for you.
"I wear a gold sleeper for the first time in 25 years - I had to open my pierced ear hole again!"
Tony adds: "It's going to be a series unlike any sitcom that you've seen for years and years because it is so genuine. We employed a team of circus artistes and experts, so whilst you are doing this comedy you'll see a pair of stilt legs in the background or a fire-eater or some acrobats warming up, all set between the two tops - the Big Top and the Little Top, which is behind-the-scenes. And there's lots of colour!"
So how did Tony feel being in front of a studio audience again - something he hasn't done since playing Baldrick in Blackadder?
"It was a bit of a culture shock! The real challenge is that they're fine when you're doing something for the first or second time, but there are lots of complex pick-ups and costume changes.
"The recording of each half-hour show takes two-and-a-half hours, so you have to find different ways of keeping the audience fizzing along and fully engaged during those down times. We have to get them into the mentality of helping us to make the show rather than just observing."
He continues: "It was very hard work. We were all surprised. The six of us have done a lot of comedy over the years - start at 10.30am and hopefully knock off at about 3.30pm, you kind of know your lines anyway. But on this it's like dancing: all your attention has to be so acute and on the ball. It's very satisfying but it's not a holiday!"
He adds: "I'm terribly uncoordinated, but if I were to do a circus act, I'd love to work with seals. I remember seeing the seals balancing the balls on their noses when I was little and how they generated applause by clapping their flippers together. I wouldn't take them out of their environment. I'd probably go over to Alaska and join the circus over there."
He concludes: "Big Top offers something that the whole family can watch together - but boy, is it edgy! There's a glorious cynicism to Big Top!