WHEN Dom Joly was first offered a role in The Rocky Horror Show he turned it down flat.

The comic behind Trigger Happy TV says: “Musical theatre is not a good fit for me… in fact it’s my biggest anxiety. I said no it’s not my area but they explained a bit more and I thought actually playing the Narrator sounds made for me.”

Dom Joly as the Narrator. Picture by David Freeman

Of course it’s not the first time Dom has faced a terrifying prospect and survived. Following his success at creating comedy with a hidden camera, he has indulged his passion for travel by making TV programmes and writing books about visiting the sort of places most people avoid – like totalitarian North Korea, nuclear-ravaged Chernobyl and war-torn Syria.

He insists: “Generally the world is less dangerous than people say. I’ll come back from, say, Iran, and people will say ‘Oh you’re brave’ and I say ‘What are you talking about? I went skiing and everyone was lovely’. Normally, people are so chuffed that someone has ignored all the advice that they really welcome you.

“I’ve had pretty much good experiences everywhere, except maybe in the Congo. That was pretty terrible. For my book, Scary Monsters and Super Creeps, I went there looking for a lake monster called mokele mbembe and I kayaked down a river on my own, got to a village near the lake and negotiated a guide. But then everything went crazy, the whole village got drunk – absolutely hammered – a spear came through my tent, the guide was tied to a tree and people were waving machetes around.

“I was in real trouble, I was three days from the nearest town, on my own. I got out during the night, just got in my canoe and slipped away. I never got anywhere near the monster lake but I got out alive.

“The thing is when things go wrong, there’s part of you thinking this is amazing, if I get out it’s going to be a great part of the book.”

It might seem a surprising attitude – until you realise that Dom was born in Beirut and grew up in war-torn Lebanon.

“I alternated between living in a war zone and a posh boarding school in England,” he explains. “Because the war was going on in Lebanon you couldn’t really go out and explore whereas at school there were less people shooting at me…

“Lebanon is the most amazing country on Earth. It’s so small but you can go skiing within an hour or to the beach in an hour. Growing up, there were periods when it was fine and then periods where you’re in the basement because you’re being shelled.

“That’s war I suppose…but my ‘what I did in the holidays’ essay was usually the most interesting.”

He’s visited 95 countries (“not that I’m counting”) and is heading to Yemen soon as part of his job as ambassador for Save The Children, having recently returned from the frontline in Eastern Ukraine.

In the meantime he has to face the fancy dress and audience participation of The Rocky Horror Show, which tells the story of a newly engaged couple getting caught in a storm and coming to the home of a mad transvestite scientist, Dr Frank-N-Furter, unveiling his new Frankenstein-style creation – an artificially made, fully grown, physically perfect muscle man named Rocky Horror.

Dom says, although he shied away from the show initially he’s loving it. “It’s like going into a casino for the first time and hitting the jackpot,” he says. “I’m loving it but I’m hooked for life now and yet I know it won’t get to be this good again.

“The cast are on stage, the audience are shouting and singing along and I’m in the middle trying to keep it all going. I’ve done the show 50 times and I still couldn’t tell you what the story’s about. It’s mad but everyone has a fantastic time.”

The Rocky Horror Show will be at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, from Monday (4 March) until Saturday 9 March.

A dual-fronted three-piece, Soeur claim to make “pop songs drenched in grunge-heavy noise, with math-rock seeping through the seams”.

However you describe it, the Bristol outfit have started getting noticed and moving in from the fringes of the UK rock scene.

Anya Pulver, Tina Maynard and former Maybeshewill drummer James Collins have already sold out bars and clubs across their native South West and now they’re heading out across the rest of the nation to promote latest track, Fight.

They will play at the Boileroom in Guildford on Thursday (7 March). Other upcoming gigs at the venue include Art Brut on Sunday (3 March), Kizzie (9 March), Rosie Lowe (10 March) and The Orb’s 30th anniversary tour across two nights (16-17 March).

Knaphill & St Johns Operatic Group (KASJOG) is transporting audiences to ‘Gay Paree’ for their next show, Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow.

The wealthy widow of the title is considering remarrying and the Pontevedrian ambassador in Paris is mightily concerned that she will choose a Frenchman for a husband as the result of losing her ‘20 millions’ would mean bankruptcy for Pontevedro!

‘les grisettes de Paris’ – the cabaret dancers from Maxim’s nightclub

The ambassador must find her a fellow citizen – and fast. Could the dashing Count Danilo fit the bill, as they already have romantic history but won’t own up to their feelings for each other?

Lehar’s operetta is filled with humour as well as very well known songs like Vilia, The Merry Widow Waltzand You’ll Find Me at Maxim’s.

KASJOG’s The Merry Widow will be at the Rhoda McGaw Theatre, Woking, from Wednesday (6 March) until Saturday 9 March, including a Saturday matinee. For tickets contact: 01483 473657 or visit www.kasjog.org.uk

The iconic character of Beverley Moss in Abigail’s Party is a classic. The party host, she is a monster who inflicts her ‘sophisticated’ tastes onto all the guests while trying to score points against her equally grim estate agent husband.

Created on stage and on TV by Alison Steadman, she’s the main reason Mike Leigh’s satire on the 1970s middle classes is still remembered both fondly and with horror – and she’s impossible to change.

Jodie Prenger – winner of the Beeb’s I’d Do Anything – is the latest actress to get her teeth into the role and says she’ll be staying very much in the character Steadman made so famous.

LET’S PARTY – Jodie Prenger, as Beverly, with Rose Keegan (Susan), Dan Casey (Lawrence), Vicky Binns (Angela) and Calum Callaghan (Tony)
Picture by Manuel Harlan

“That role is just so iconic in the way it was performed and created,” she explains. “So much came out of improvisation. It’s hard to deliver it in a totally different way. It wouldn’t make sense to change it –you’d look like a wally.”

Director Sarah Esdaile agrees, saying: “The fundamental challenge for me is, in a way, escaping from the voice of Alison Steadman, who everyone has in their heads as Beverly.

“I met Alison and she told me ‘I was part of the process of creating that character, so I’m intrinsically in it. There’s no point trying to escape me.’ That was so liberating, to realise you don’t have to run away from that.”

The play is intrinsically of its time – it premiered in 1977 – with the music of Demis Roussos and Tom Jones, ice and lemon and Beaujolais all cropping up at regular intervals.

It’s based on a party when three sets of neighbours come together for a pleasant evening which turns into the complete opposite because they’ve all got so much going on individually that they’re not dealing with privately.

“It’s uncomfortable and deliciously dark,” says Jodie. “It’s full of that thing where you don’t really want to watch, but you can’t look away.

“It’s about all the primary things that we’re worried about and will always be worried about until the end of time – aspiration and hunger and thirst and confinement and hope. It’s full of these wonderful sayings and it’s very accessible.

“It’s quite extraordinary that it’s got this power that has just been going for decades, isn’t it?”

Sarah says it’s still relevant because the themes are universal, explaining: “It takes place, socially and politically, at a really interesting turning point in the history of this country. It’s just before Margaret Thatcher came into power and there was rise in people’s obsession with consumerism, belongings and position. It deals with aspiration and disappointment.”

Leigh’s original was created using lots of improvisation by the actors and, although there’s now a set script, Sarah was keen to maintain the tradition.

“It’s about using improvisation in the right circumstances,” she says. “We set up scenarios that will really enrich the work that the actors bring to the stage.

“Often improvisation can be slightly naval gazing and ultimately there’s no evidence of the work. In this case, the subtle dynamics, the differences and the shifts that that work achieves, you’ll be able to smell it on stage.”

Being on stage is important, according to Jodie, even though most people remember Abigail’s Party as a TV classic.

“There is something magical about going to the theatre,” she says. “You’re sat amongst hundreds of people and you never know what’s going to happen. Switching on the TV, you know what you’re going to get. With theatre anything can happen.” Abigail’s Party will be at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, from Monday (25 Feb) until Saturday 2 March.

An illustrious pairing is heading to Guildford next week when Simon Callow and Jane Asher star in Noël Coward’s A Song at Twilight the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre from Monday (25 Feb) to Saturday 1 March.

IN REHEARSAL – Simon Callow and Jane Asher

Amadeus and Four Weddings actor Callow will play world famous author Sir Hugo Latymer, who is growing old, rude and haughty.  In the private suite of a lakeside hotel where he lives, he is attended to by Hilde (Asher) – his long-suffering wife and former secretary – and Felix, a handsome young waiter.

Here he nervously awaits the arrival of an old flame, actress Carlotta Gray, with whom he enjoyed a two-year love affair more than 40 years ago.  What can she possibly want now?

Revenge for his uncharitable characterisation of her in his recent autobiography? Or money, to compensate for a second-rate acting career in the States?  As it happens, Carlotta is writing her own memoir, and she wants something much more significant than cash…

IF THE thought of a Powerpoint presentation sends a shiver down your spine, think again. Comic Dave Gorman is back on the road and is bringing his laptop and projector screen with him.

The man behind TV shows like Modern Life Is Goodish, Are You Dave Gorman? and Googlewhack Adventure has a new show called With Great PowerPoint Comes Great ResponsibilityPoint and he’s bringing it to G Live, Guildford, on Wednesday 27 February.

Dave Gorman

LUCY Porter has inherited dodgy knees and global warming from her parents, but can she leave a better legacy for her children?

Find out in a new stand-up show from the comic who has appeared on QI, Room 101 and Live at the Apollo as well as News Quiz and The Now Show on Radio 4.

It’s called Lucy Porter, Pass It On and she’s bringing it to G Live, Guildford, on Thursday 21 February.

NOT content with being the biggest UK band of recent years, Gary Barlow, Mark Owen, Howard Donald and a certain Robbie Williams are now extremely proud theatre producers.

Joined by David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers, the boys from Take That are at the helm of a new musical called The Band that will be in Woking next week.

MATES – Producers of The Band are Howard Donald, Gary Barlow, Mark Owen and Robbie Williams. Picture by Jay Brooks

“The key to its success is familiarity,” says Howard. “It strikes a chord with people’s lives by being a reflection for anyone who has ever been a fan or a supporter, or anyone who has had a group of friends and known love, friendship and loss.

“The only let down is that the music is crap,” he jokes, referring to the Take That hits that provide The Band’s soundtrack.

To be clear, the show is not about Take That. Instead The Band tells the story of a group of 16 year-old girls for whom in 1992, ‘the band’, a non-specified five-strong group, is everything. Twenty-five years on, the 40-something women reunite in an attempt to fulfill their dream of meeting their heroes.

Take That’s main songwriter Gary has his own idea why their show seems to chime with audiences. “I think that friendship really resonates with people,” he says, adding: “Friendship is at the heart of Take That. It has kept our work strong, we’ve been a gang.

The Band is about the relationships really, not the music. You don’t need to be an avid fan, but Tim [Firth, who wrote the show] has so cleverly woven our music into a parallel universe. Whenever I see it I leave happy.”

Mark agrees, adding: “It brought me back to when I was a teenager knocking about with my mates and the dreams that I had then. It made me contact old friends after I saw it.

“People slip from us as we get busy with life, but the show made me reminisce. It was like a pause button.”

As well as producing, the Take That boys were mentors to the young performers who collectively play the title role, AJ Bentley, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T Johns, Yazdan Qafouri and Sario Solomon.

Howard says: “I never envisaged being a pop star let alone a producer – I was on a YTS training scheme to be a vehicle painter and panel beater when I joined Take That, but luckily we had the right people behind us.

“The lads of The Band are really down to earth, which is how we formed our friendship, how we grew up as a group and how we can now regroup.”

Mark agrees, adding: “I’ve enjoyed the mentoring more than anything. You feel like a father to his son and we had sit-down talks about looking after each other and about going out into the world. It’s been a real pleasure. Their energy is really positive and so they inspire us. It really does work both ways.”

In the show, the older women look back at their younger selves and Gary doesn’t stop to think when asked what advice he’d give his 16-year-old self.

“I’d say grab it and enjoy this moment right now,” he says. “It sounds so corny but this young cast are at such an amazing time in their lives, but they may have some tough years ahead. It’s so important to enjoy the here and now.”

The Band will be at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, from Tuesday 19 February until Saturday 23 February.

AN ALL-STAR cast will bring Yasmina Reza’s award-winning comedy Art to the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford from Monday 18 February to Saturday 23 February.

Taking to the stage will be BAFTA-nominated Nigel Havers, Olivier Award-winning Denis Lawson and British Comedy Award-winning Stephen Tompkinson.

Art stars Stephen Tompkinson, Nigel Havers and Denis Lawson

Art tells the tale of Serge who spends an extortionate amount of money on an all-white modernist painting, leaving his close friends Marc and Yvan baffled. But do their violent reactions to this provocative canvas mirror more dangerous antagonisms towards each other?

Art opened in 1996 and took both the West End and Broadway by storm, winning every major theatre award including the Olivier, Tony and Molière.

There are not one but two comedy shows at G Live’s Bellerby Studio in Guildford next week.

BBC New Comedy Award winner Paul Foot brings his new show Image Conscious to the venue on Thursday (14 Feb), following Alfie Brown who will be performing his new show on Wednesday (13 Feb).

Foot, who has appeared on Never Mind The Buzzcocks, Would I Lie To You and Radio 4’s Infinite Monkey Cage, will be asking questions like ‘Have you ever considered the unique predicament of the soft-shell crab?’ and ‘What about the many, many problems that occur when organising a suburban orgy?’

Brown’s new show is about identity politics, trying to be a good father in a horrible world and being responsibly horny in the wake of wide-spread male sex crimes. He provides no answers, only questions.