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Picture Perfect

A stage adaptation of Oscar Wilde's masterpiece of mystery and wit, The Picture Of Dorian Gray, comes to the Anthony Hopkins Theatre, Clwyd Theatr Cymru, next week.

From Monday (September 15) through to Saturday (September 20), audiences can enjoy Bill Kenwright's presentation of this amazing story which has been adapted from the book by Trevor Baxter and is directed by the internationally acclaimed Elijah Moshinsky, whose recent work includes Sleuth, A Woman Of No Importance, Much Ado About Nothing, Cyrano de Bergerac and Shadowlands.

The large cast is headed by that popular and much loved actor, Robert Powell, whose countless film. stage and Tv appearances range from his internationally acclaimed portrayal of Jesus in Franco Zeffirelli's epic, Jesus Of Nazareth, to starring opposite Jasper Carrott in TV's The Detectives.

Also in this multi-talented cast are , from BBC's Eastenders, Elizabath Power, prolific stage and screen star Simon Ward, Derren Nesbitt, whose numerous TV roles include Special Branch and Where Eagles Dare, and Clare Wilkie, who played Sandra di Marco and, more recently, Jane Asher's daughter in Crossroads. Nick waring plays Dorian Gray and the cast also includes Alex Dunbar, Gregory Cox, Gay Lambert and Graham Ingle.

Given the choice of big names, it's difficult to know who to interview but Robert Powell does have a slight edge on the rest of them and I am lucky enough to be granted my request.

I find him in a theatre in Aberdeen, enjoying the third week of a three-month long tour which opened at Windsor and will, eventually, take him, criss-cross fashion, across must of the UK.

It has always amazed me that large touring companies do not issue a number of pre-written interviews before their production hits the road instead of asking one or other of the cast to be interviewed for each different location.

I say as much to Powell as I thank him for making time to talk to me, suggesting that he must be completely fed up with talking to journalists. There is a brief silence during which I feel he agrees but is too polite to say so.

Eventually he says: `Well, in a perfect world maybe, but we have to do it everywhere we go because each town has different newspapers and they all want their bit. Anyway, it's in our interest to make sure the show gets as much publicity as possible, it's part of our job.

'Of the length of the tour he says: `Three months is about par for the course, I would say. We are up and down the country but it's not too bad. As far as actors are concerned, they don't want to spend four weeks without going home, so it's no difference where they are really. Even if a tour took in four weeks in the north somewhere, you'll always find the actors going home straight after the Saturday night's performance or first thing on Sunday morning. I know I'd rather head back to London that than spend a Sunday walking round some anonymous shopping mall!

`We're in the third week of the tour at the moment - we opened in Windsor then went to Glasgow and Aberdeen. It's quite exciting because, being a completely new play and an adaptation of the book, it's only been performed 15 times so far. It's very witty, very dark, very macabre and sinister - no, no sinister, that's the wrong word, it's more of a horror story in a way but it's supernatural.

`It's about this man who sells his soul to the devil - I'm the devil, so to speak, Lord Henry Wotton. It's quite difficult to try and sum it up in a short sentence. This young man is corrupted by Lord Henry who takes away his mental innocence. The picture of Dorian Gray takes on all the evil and turns quite nasty.

`It's a great play. I've never done any Oscar Wilde before and I'm enjoying it, it's a lovely play full of Wildean wit and we're having a lot of fun with it.

`The action, give or take a year or so, is in 1900 and it's got a very intriguing set, not so much technical but it involves the use of mirrors which is quite nice, huge ones, so there are some very interesting effects though technically it's quite simple.

`As for my part, I think it's one members of the audience have to make up their minds about. I try to be subjective, it's up to them to decide whether they think I'm evil or whatever. I suppose my character just has a different way of looking at life that would seem pretty shocking to most people.

`Audiences who've seen it so far have enjoyed it, they've been really enthusiastic, which is nice.

'I refer to Powell's hugely successful career, recalling the huge acclaim earned by his appearance in Jesus Of Nazareth -26 years ago, now. Was this one of his favourite roles?

`It opened a thousand doors for me,' he replies.

`I'd already made a name for myself in this country because I'd starred in a few films and television series. What that did as open an international door.

`I can't remember all the things I've done now, many of them have moved into myth and legend. People sometimes remind me of plays I can't remember ever having done! It would be hard to pick a favourite out of 40 years' work because there are many, some I remember for personal reasons or for the actors I worked with but I haven't got a real favourite. Everything I've done has had a different resonance to it, different memories, so I've no preference at all.

`Working isn't even the main objective of what I do, it is working with good scripts with the objective of entertaining myself as much as entertaining an audience. There's no point doing something that's going to bore me because I'd be no good in it and I'd be bored and so would everyone else.

`The thing, these days, is finding things that are novel, new to do, and with television that's incredibly difficult, which is why I don't get involved these days. What they call `new' is just re-runs, just regurgitating old ideas. We were joking about it the other day - I said how about a series about an aging country vet who's also something of an amateur detective and somebody said that's a great idea! I had to tell them I was just joking. `Television people just want repeat the last series of whatever and that is such a negative and unadventurous approach to doing anything. In theatre, there are still great scripts, great words, and that is what an actor lives on, we feed on their substance.

`No, there are no parts I'm still longing to play - well, no, it's not that there aren't any, it's just that I can't think of them. I probably will tonight, think of a part and wish somebody would offer it to me. It's probably just laziness on my part for not being ambitious enough to want to play Lear - but I did that when I was a kid, I've been there and done that.

`There are certain Shakespeare parts I'd not mind having a go at one day but every time I decide I want to do one, somebody else gets in first and then I know I'll have to wait another two years or so before I get another chance.

`I've always wanted to act, I think. That is my perception of my life from when I was very young - eight or nine or so. I was in productions at school, I was encouraged there and had some terrific mentors, that's where it all comes from. My parents, I think, were slightly bewildered by it but not negative, bless them, it brought them quite a pleasure seeing me in various plays at school. I think they would be proud to see me know but unfortunately they're no longer with me.

'Having been in the public eye for as long as he has, Powell has amassed a collection of awards, not least Best Actor awards from TV Times and Italian TV Times, the International Arts Prize at the Fiugi Film Festival, the Grand Prize at the Saint-Vincent Film Festival and a nomination as Best Actor from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, all for Jesus Of Nazareth; Best Actor at the Paris Film Festival for Harlequin and Best Actor of the 1982 Venice Film Festival for his performance in Imperative.

`They're scattered all over the house,' he says.

`My wife keeps on tidying them away because they do collect dust!'

In reply to my next question, Powell tells me he has never visited Clwyd Theatr Cymru before but he does know North Wales.

`I'm a Mancunian,' he tells. me. `Well, a Salfordian , really.'

`Oh,' I say, `you must know The Lowry. What do you think of it?'

`Actually,' comes the reply, `I'm a founder patron of it and we're thrilled with it and with it's success.'

Oops! I apologise for my lack of knowledge and for putting my foot in it, which he accepts with a laugh before adding: `It's going exactly was we foretold 10 years ago when I was doing all the fundraising for it and we were telling various chambers of commerce that it would generate further revenue, as it has done, so we're very pleased indeed with what's been achieved there.'