Stepping out of his Corrie character’s shadow
Abigail SaltmarshHe's been desperately trying to escape evil Richard Hillman for years – and what better way of doing so could there be than Stepping Out on stage? Abigail Saltmarsh spoke to Brian Capron.Abigail Saltmarsh
Somewhat reluctantly, Brian Capron admits that it's inevitable - no matter what he does he's never going to quite shake off the dark mantle of Richard Hillman from Coronation Street.
But he's doing his best and after six years of making a name for himself in other TV shows as well as on stage, he's certainly proving his versatility as one of Britain's best-loved actors.
Suffolk-born Brian, along with Jessie Wallace - aka Kat Slater from EastEnders - arrives in Norwich to star at the Theatre Royal in Stepping Out from Tuesday, October 13.
His role as the bumbling Geoffrey could not be further from the sinister Richard Hillman yet Brian is quick to point out that the evil clutches of the Corrie murderer have been as much a help as a hindrance.
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'Although I have been trying to unpick Richard Hillman since leaving Coronation Street all that time ago, I do have a debt to him,' he said.
'These sorts of stage parts do go to high profile people and if I hadn't taken on that role I wouldn't have had the opportunity to do something like this.'
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Brian, who many will also remember for his role as Mr Hopwood in long-running children's TV series Grange Hill, starred in Coronation Street for two years.
After murdering three street residents and attempting to kill several others, he was eventually written out when his car ploughed into a canal and Hillman drowned.
'I enjoyed doing Coronation Street - it was a very strong character to play - but I took a decision with the programme. When I started there, I decided to give myself two years on it before moving on.
'There are people who enjoy working in soaps for a long time but I feel it takes away my control as an actor. In a way, I like to be a jobbing actor, moving around and doing different things,' he said.
Since leaving the ITV soap, Brian has certainly challenged himself in a number of diverse roles. As well as appearing in various television dramas, such as Where the Heart is, in which he played Ozias Harding, he stepped out into the spotlight in the fifth series of Strictly Come Dancing in 2007.
He was partnered by Karen Hardy in the BBC reality show, who was Series 4 champion with cricketer Mark Ramprakash. But after finishing in last place in the first programme, he found himself in the dance off along with Kenny Logan.
At the end, the judges voted in favour of saving Logan and Brian left the show.
'It was a shame. Unfortunately I was ill that week and Kenny Logan had the whole of Scotland voting for him!' he said.
But elsewhere, live on stage, Brian has really come into his own. He played the narrator in The Rocky Horror Show in London's West End to great acclaim, alongside Suzanne Shaw, then stepped into the role of Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls, opposite Claire Sweeney.
He also performed alongside Lesley Sharp at the National Theatre for six months in Harper Reagan, by playwright Simon Stephens.
'Doing these shows was a whole new kind of thing for me and it has been absolutely wonderful,' said Brian. 'I really have enjoyed it.'
Taking on the role of Geoffrey in Stepping Out has taken him in yet another new direction, he stressed, forcing him to learn how to tap dance and to find new physical reserves to draw from.
'It has been very challenging - the ultimate challenge really. In many ways it is still actually quite frightening,' he admitted.
'Stepping out on to that stage for the final scene is more terrifying than anything I've ever done before - Coronation Street, Strictly Come Dancing, anything!
'All the steps have to be perfect and I have had to work incredibly hard on them. Every single night I go out I'm nervous about it all over again.'
Stepping Out is a heart-warming and hilarious story that tells of an enthusiastic but not terribly talented amateur dance troupe that is invited to perform at a gala show and have to pull out all the stops to prepare for the performance of a lifetime.
And while Brian plays the loveable Geoffrey who is going through a mid-life crisis, Jessie Wallace takes on the role of Sylvia, who is struggling to balance a turbulent home-life and an inability to pick up dance moves.
'There is a lovely atmosphere on the show and it has been really nice working with Jessie. We'd met before at award ceremonies and things but didn't know each other well,' he said. 'But she is great to be on stage with and is very funny.'
He added: 'I'm looking forward to coming to Norwich with the show. It is a city I know well as I have an aunt in Great Yarmouth.'
Once the Stepping Out tour is over, Brian plans to continue with both his TV and stage work. He has recently been filming for the new series of Midsomer Murders and is keen to take up more theatre work.
But would he ever go back to Soapland?
'It's hard to say. I could obviously never go back to Coronation Street but I do like to take on a range of work,' he said.
'People do still talk to me about Richard Hillman but they also talk to me about other things now as well, which is good - it's not always about how wicked I was.
'And whatever else I think about it, taking on that role did give me tremendous opportunities. It meant I became known as one of big soap baddies and became someone who was well-known enough to do wonderful shows like this.'
Stepping Out begins at the Theatre Royal on Tuesday, October 13 and runs until Saturday, October 17. For more information or for tickets call 01603 630000 or visit www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk
Read Emma Lee's interview with Jessie Wallace in the EDP Saturday Magazine this weekend.