Impersonator Alistair McGowan will be summoning up the pirate in him for a New Year's Day show, writes Roz Laws.
Here’s a little tip for you. When singing, imagine you are doing it in a Welsh accent.
Go on, it really works. At least it does when demonstrated to me by impressionist Alistair McGowan, that man of a thousand voices.
“There’s only a trace of a Welsh accent when I sing, but I’m thinking Welsh in my head,” he explains.
“That means my throat is open and my mouth is a certain shape.
“It’s one of the reasons why there are so many great Welsh singers, I think. It’s not just history, it’s their genes.”
Alistair is brilliant at adopting different accents but speaks in a neutral tone as himself. He was born and brought up in Evesham, Worcestershire, and is returning to the West Midlands next month to perform.
He is bringing Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance to Birmingham Symphony Hall on New Year’s Day, when he will be playing the Pirate King in a one-off show.
As he’s better known for his impressions than his singing and love of comic opera, perhaps he might be channelling a little of pirate extraordinaire Johnny Depp?
Well, no. For a start, he’s not Welsh.
“I saw the first Pirates of the Caribbean film but it’s not my sort of thing,” confesses the 46-year-old.
“I’ve not watched the films enough to get anywhere near an impression of Depp.
“I saw Paul Nicholls doing the Pirate King in 1984 and that has always stayed with me. It’s a part I’ve always wanted to play as it seemed like such a fun role, strutting around.
“There’s so much wit to the clever words, but there’s also a lovely romance and some beautiful songs.
“I just wish I had long hair of my own that I can swing around, like Russell Brand.”
Alistair is also a director of the production, which is doing a limited tour of five venues.
“I’ve nicknamed it Two Bench Productions, because we just arrive with two benches, no costumes or set. It’s the piece stripped bare, just slightly more than a concert performance.
“I hope it helps people listen to the wonderful words and not be too distracted by other things.
“We give a nod to costume by wearing some sort of piratical scarf.”
The performers will also be joined by an orchestra and chorus. Among the cast is Alistair’s girlfriend, opera singer Charlotte Page, who plays Mabel.
The production was last at Symphony Hall in March.
Alistair says: “We loved doing it there so much that we’re coming back. It’s a huge buzz performing there, the acoustics are great and there’s something very warm about it.”
And he doesn’t even mind performing on New Year’s Day, as he’s not planning a big night out the evening before.
“I’ve never been a huge one for New Year’s Eve,” admits Alistair, who has acted in Bleak House, Skins and Mayo, as well as joining Judi Dench in Stratford-upon-Avon for the RSC’s Merry Wives of Windsor and playing Henry Higgins in Pygmalion.
“I’ve never been a drinker, I don’t drink much at all. So I shall not miss spending the evening watching other people get drunk.
“If you’re a glass half empty person, you just think it’s another year gone, so why are we celebrating that? I just prefer to ignore the whole thing and go to bed early.
“It’s nice to work on New Year’s Day as it’s one of the most depressing days of the year. It’s often a very empty and grey day, so if you’re at a loss as to what to do, come to see Pirates!”
Alistair and Charlotte are returning to the Midlands in February, playing Lichfield with their show Sincerely Noel, featuring songs and verse by Coward.
And then, next summer, Alistair is back on TV in a new ITV1 comedy quiz, You Cannot Be Serious. He will host the series, produced by Harry Hill, which will mix impressions with topical sports stories.
There’s a chance that one of his favourite sports characters, Wolverhampton Wanderers boss Mick McCarthy, will feature, especially after the manager said: “Alistair McGowan is the only one who does me better than me. He is quality.”
Alistair also says that West Brom’s Roy Hodgson has an “interesting” voice, but that he won’t be attempting to impersonate Aston Villa manager Alex McLeish.
“I couldn’t find anyone in the world I look less like,” he says of the ginger-haired Scot. “It would be very difficult to pull that off.
“I can’t wait to start filming You Cannot Be Serious. It will be a chance to do some of my favourite old characters and learn some new ones.
“Mick McCarthy is a major character in British football and has a great sense of humour.
“I did one of my best ever sketches on The Big Impression during the 2002 World Cup. I played Jack Charlton and Ray Stubbs in the studio in London talking to Mick McCarthy in Japan.
“There was a satellite delay of three seconds, so it was like the Two Ronnies sketch where he goes on Mastermind and answers the previous question.
“It was a nightmare to film, trying to remember who I was and where we were in the sketch, but it came out really well and is one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
* The Pirates of Penzance is at Symphony Hall on January 1. For tickets ring 0121 780 3333 or visit www.thsh.co.uk