Lovejoy's Dudley Sutton still out to offend at 83

TALKING to Dudley Sutton is never dull. The 83-year-old actor, still fondly remembered as Lovejoy's Tinker Dill, has a reputation for plain speaking, and as he prepares to take to The King's stage in John Steinbeck's Of Mice And Men, nothing has changed.

Dudley Sutton as Candy in Of Mice And Men
Dudley Sutton as Candy in Of Mice And Men

We last spoke 13 years ago, when he brought his provocatively titled Fringe show Killing Kittens to the Capital.

“Was that 13 years ago,” he bellows, with a huge laugh. “I loved Killing Kittens. This is a bit different.”

Set in America during the Great Depression, Of Mice and Men tells the story of George and Lennie, two migrant farm workers, who go in search of new beginnings, in the hope of attaining their shared dream - putting together enough money to buy a small piece of land and building a home.

Sutton plays Candy, the oldest ranch-hand and the ‘swamper,’ the man who cleans the bunkhouse. He reflects that while there are those who saying touring is a young man’s game, he’s having none of it.

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    “I was out of work and I take what comes,” he says, matter of factly.

    “A friend was out with the producer, who knows me, and asked, ‘Would Dudley go on an extended tour?’ She said, ‘Yes, if you look after him’ - I was 82 at the time, I’m now 83.

    “So I get very well looked after. I get taken everywhere by car and have a bed in the dressing room so that I can put the limited energy I have on to the stage.”

    Warming to his theme, he continues, “I’m absolutely adoring it. I haven’t had such a good time for years. I’m 30 years older than the oldest guy in the cast and 60 years older than the girl, and I sit in the wings sometimes and think, ‘This is why I started doing this 60 years ago’.”

    Being back on tour has actually given him a new lease of life, he reveals.

    “We have this silly expression ‘Dr Theatre’,” he explains. “Once you are on stage you are excercising with adrenalin. When I started this tour I worried I wouldn’t keep up phsyically. I could only walk about 200 yards at any given time. In Brighton last week, I walked a mile and half easily.

    “It just comes to you over the rehearsal period and by the time you are on stage you have your energy back. I never go to the gym. I don’t do that sort of shite.’

    Ever happy to shock... “Offend” he corrects, Sutton is no stranger to the city, “I once played Volpone at the Lyceum,’ he recalls, before remembering another visit in 2006, that left him with a sour taste in his mouth.

    “I came up to The Pleasance with a Fringe show, Pandora’s Lunchbox, which they censored - I wanted to call it Pandora’s Hairy Lunchbox but they wouldn’t have it.

    “They’ve started censoring the Fringe now. So it’s no longer a Fringe really is it? The Fringe of the Fringe is where I now belong.

    “It bloody well pissed me off because the one thing you are not supposed to do is censor, but to censor a Fringe show is ludicrous, it just shows how corporate it has become.”

    The real reward of what he does, however, is around him every day, he says.

    “Being smiled at on the Tube or shouted at by white van man or truck drivers, that’s the real reward. And the ultimate thing is when they say, ‘You have given us a lot of pleasure’.

    “It’s not a bad thing to look back over your life and know that you have done that.”

    Of Mice And Men, King’s Theatre, Leven Street, tonight-Saturday, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), £17-£30.50, 0131-529 6000