Charlie Stemp enjoyed his first-ever lead role at Chichester Festival Theatre three years ago in Half A Sixpence.
Now he is back for his first-ever role in a straight play, heading back to West Sussex in Rough Crossing which runs at the CFT from February 11-16.
Rachel Kavanaugh, who directed him in Half A Sixpence, will direct Charlie once again, this time in Tom Stoppard’s high-seas comedy, a piece which sees two famous but desperate playwrights stuck on an ocean liner headed for New York, feverishly trying to rehearse their latest show before reaching land and opening night.
Charlie is delighted to be returning to Chichester, clearly a significant place in his career so far.
“I was a professional in musical theatre for about three years before, but I had never been given the opportunity to play a lead before.
“Chichester was the first opportunity for me. They wanted to bring in someone new to the show, which was wonderful from my point of view. I was given an opportunity that is not usually given to people for a long time, and I was grateful.
“I knew that they were taking a risk. The pressures of being a lead are tough on somebody who has done it professionally for years. There is so much that could have gone wrong.
“I could have just frozen under the pressure, but luckily it went OK. I was just surprised that people enjoyed it. There is always that thing of having to have confidence in yourself as a performer, but having lots of people say lovely things about you was very nice!
“And then we went to London for nine or ten months where it was just as exhausting and fun and exciting, but also very different.
“London audiences are different to Chichester audiences. In Chichester, the audiences are so excited about being there, they are so thrilled and they are mostly people that love theatre and really enjoy going to the theatre. But in the West End there is always this feeling from the audience of ‘You need to impress us!’
“In some ways, you play it differently. You have to be patient. If a joke doesn’t get a laugh, it could be one of three things. Maybe it is not funny or secondly maybe they just missed it or didn’t hear it or thirdly it might be, in London, that they are just not ready to express their laughter yet.
“When that happens, you might start to think that you have got to be bigger or louder, and really that isn’t what you need to do.
“You just need to trust in what you are doing and just keep going.”
And things are different again on Broadway, as Charlie has discovered. The audiences are loud. They will give you entrance applause simply for stepping onto the stage, and they will laugh and laugh:
“It is completely different. It is like panto. They really want to be part of it and they are loud. And there is a danger that you will just get louder and louder. And you shouldn’t. You have got to just keep going!”
But now for something completely different, Charlie’s first play – and a great place to start, a piece by Tom Stoppard: “The pleasure is the incredible writing. Stoppard is such an unbelievable genius and it is great to be working with Rachel again.
“She brings out the best in me and in every one of us. She is very special and a good friend.
“It is wonderful to see the patience she has got… in me!”