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Fresh Prince of Bel-Air actor Joseph Marcell bringing classic comedy The School for Scandal to Cambridge Arts Theatre





Known to many as Geoffrey the unflappable butler in ’90s cult TV favourite The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, acclaimed actor Joseph Marcell is appearing in a new production of the classic comedy The School for Scandal, which is heading to Cambridge.

Written in 1777 by Richard B Sheridan, this touring version of The School for Scandal – described as “one of the greatest comedies ever written” – is set in the 1950s and stars Joseph as Sir Peter Teazle, a role previously tackled by the likes of Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir Ralph Richardson.

The School for Scandal. Picture: Robling Photography
The School for Scandal. Picture: Robling Photography

It also stars Garmon Rhys as Charles Surface, Ayesha Griffiths as Maria and Emily-Jane McNeil as Lady Sneerwell.

“So far so good,” says Joseph in his distinctive and warmly familiar tones, referring to the tour, which when we spoke had stopped off in Derby.

“This is our third venue; we started off in Keswick, we were in Eastbourne last week, and now this week we’re in Derby.”

The School for Scandal. Picture: Robling Photography
The School for Scandal. Picture: Robling Photography
The School for Scandal. Picture: Robling Photography
The School for Scandal. Picture: Robling Photography

Is The School for Scandal a play that Joseph, an experienced Shakespearean actor, had wanted to do for a while?

“Not necessarily, no!” he replies. “It is a play that I know a little of, I’ve seen productions over the years – back in the ’70s and’ 80s – but it’s not something that I ever thought I’d be in, I must say!

“It’s an interesting period… but so far it’s been challenging and a lot of fun.”

On the character he portrays, Joseph, who has nothing but praise for the rest of the cast, hailing them as “cracking young actors”, says: “Sir Peter Teazle in various parts of the play is described as a lord; he’s very wealthy, he’s very well-connected…

“I suppose in a sense you could say he was kind of Victorian, in the way that he’s very certain about life and about the things he believes in.

“And he makes a point of informing the audience of that – that he’s never been mistaken in his life, that kind of man.

“But as an actor playing such a character… for me as a non-white actor, it’s wonderfully challenging and incredibly exhilarating to play it. I am enjoying it.

“I haven’t acted in a play for about two-and-a-half years; the last play I was in was Hamlet at the Young Vic with Cush Jumbo.

“So it’s a learning curve for me in many ways. Sir Peter is fun to play; he does get his comeuppance in the sense that he discovers that perhaps he’s not been entirely certain of certain things in his life, but it has a happy ending.”

The School for Scandal. Picture: Robling Photography
The School for Scandal. Picture: Robling Photography
The School for Scandal. Picture: Robling Photography
The School for Scandal. Picture: Robling Photography

Joseph adds: “We live in the age of social media, and it’s really about fact-checking – one of the problems with Sir Peter is that he never fact-checked, so he ended up believing everything that he heard about his wife.

“It’s no different from the way we live now, except of course we should fact-check everything that we read and everything that we hear.”

Sounds like the play is quite a departure from Hamlet. “Yes, it’s quite a difference,” agrees Joseph, who says that one day he would love to act in a production of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida.

“For one thing, the language I suppose could be described as ‘archaic’, but it’s the fundamental of the language that we speak.

“So it requires you paying attention to it and giving it the respect it deserves.”

Joseph played the unforgettable character of Geoffrey in six series of the hugely popular American sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which of course launched the career of Hollywood star Will Smith.

He recently appeared in Chiwetel Ejiofor’s debut feature film, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, while Joseph’s other TV credits include comedies Mammoth and I Hate You, both for the BBC.

He is soon be seen in Candice Carty-Williams’ Queenie on Channel 4, as well as in a new Hellboy film, alongside Jefferson White of Yellowstone fame.

Despite his regular forays into comedy over the years, both on stage and screen, Joseph is also known for his work with Shakespeare’s Globe, including the title role in Bill Buckhurst’s King Lear, and for appearing in other ‘serious’ dramas such as Derek Walcott’s Omeros.

“I’m an actor and I’ve been lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to play a lot of different things,” he observes.

“Back in my youth, when I was a younger actor, I was the first non-white actor to play Othello in London back in 1984, with Michael Boyd directing.

“But yes, I try to be as versatile as I can be; I try to challenge myself, and the older I get, I find that it’s important to be challenged.”

Although he admits there are moments, professionally speaking, when he thinks “Oh my God, why have I agreed to do this?!”, Joseph says that he would do “nothing else” adding “this is my love”.

The School for Scandal. Picture: Robling Photography
The School for Scandal. Picture: Robling Photography

I couldn’t let the very affable Joseph go without discussing The Fresh Prince, a show he still regards with great affection, describing it as “inescapable”.

He adds: “No matter how much I try, I can’t forget that I’ve done it and that I’m in it. It has been a boon, really, and I have a lot of people to thank for that.”

Joseph reveals that the cast get back together for reunions “every couple of years”.

“We meet in Malibu in California,” he explains, “we’d like to meet more often but Will, as you know, is very busy and we try to do it as often as is possible.

“It’s hard but it’s a lot of fun; when we do get together, it’s pure magic. We had a reunion a couple of years ago and it was the first time we’d stepped on the set of the show for, what, 30 years – and that was quite something.”

The School for Scandal is on at the Cambridge Arts Theatre from Tuesday, 9 April, until Saturday, 13 April. Tickets, priced £20-£40, are available at cambridgeartstheatre.com.



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