'The Commitments has a special resonance in Ireland' says Corrie star turned journalist Nigel Pivaro as Roddy Doyle musical comes to Dublin and Belfast
Ahead of The Commitments opening in Belfast, actor and journalist Nigel Pivaro tells Gail Bell he is relishing being back in live theatre playing Da in the hit show based on Roddy Doyle's novel
AS Roddy Doyle's The Commitments struts soulfully back on stage in Dublin and Belfast this month, Manchester-born actor Nigel Pivaro is feeling the pressure of pleasing a 'home' crowd.
"Obviously, there is an emotional attachment to The Commitments from fans throughout Ireland and I think playing both Dublin and Belfast will give the show a special resonance – along with bringing a certain amount of pressure," confides the actor-turned-journalist who plays Da in the new touring production of the hit musical about a group of misfit musicians in a Dublin soul band.
He is chatting from Truro – "a lovely part of the world, but a six hour drive from London" – yet can't wait to sink a pint in The Crown when the show opens at the Grand Opera House on February 20 following its run in Dublin's Olympia Theatre.
"I've played Belfast several times and the last time I was there was for a visit to the Linen Hall Library for research for my dissertation for my Master's degree [International Relations]," says the actor, best known for his long-running role as bad boy Terry Duckworth in Coronation Street.
"I'm an old movie buff and I first caught a glimpse of The Crown when it was recreated for the 1940s film, Out Man Out, with James Mason and great Irish actors like Joseph Tomelty.
"When I paid a visit during the 1980s, I was amazed to see it was exactly the same as it appeared in the film and, on subsequent visits, it was still the same. Please tell me it still hasn't changed because I plan to be crossing the road from the Grand Opera House for a pint or two."
The Commitments marks a return to live theatre for the first time in nearly 20 years for Pivaro whose proudest theatrical moment was winning an Edinburgh Fringe First Award in 1987 for Rib Davis's prison play, No Further Cause for Concern.
And, while slightly apprehensive ahead of The Commitments tour opening last September, he says he has since grown into his character, becoming "slightly more adventurous" with "curmudgeonly" Da – father of aspiring Irish music manager, Jimmy Rabbitte (played by James Killeen).
"I was absolutely thrilled to mark my return to the stage with this production," says the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art alumnus who made his debut in Corrie in 1983 as the wayward son of Vera and Jack Duckworth.
"The Commitments is an iconic story with iconic characters and iconic music, so what's not to love?
"At the start, you are concerned with just hitting all the marks and remembering the lines, but the more shows I have done, the more I have eased into the character and become slightly more adventurous – while still staying within the remit of the drama, of course.
"While before I might have stayed in my comfort zone, I'll maybe have Da peep out from behind his newspaper a bit more and react to whatever is going on around him with a certain expression of disapproval or whatever – the body language has definitely become more relaxed.
"There's a lot of friction between Jimmy and my character, but I like the fact that Da is this kind of curmudgeon character – he goes on his own journey and doesn't stay a curmudgeon for ever."
Now happily juggling two careers – he enrolled in university and retrained as a journalist at the age of 39 – Pivaro says the switch from acting came about when he found himself becoming disenchanted with the business.
"It wasn't that I didn't believe in myself as an actor; I think I just fell out of love with the business," he mulls. "I also thought, 'Bloomin' heck', I have been quite a busy actor for nearly 20 years, but when I totted up all the gaps between jobs, it amounted to a couple of years – and I was one of the more successful ones.
"At the time, I didn't feel an enthusiasm for acting any more, but when 15 or 16 years later a new set of circumstances come into being, I get an extra scratch at it – and now I'm scratching it and enjoying it very much."
Acting is a "hard gig", he maintains – "you are mostly by the phone when you're looking for work", while the "lovely thing about journalism, which I ended up doing, is the fact that if you don't have a gig, you can go out and find one.
"What is current? What needs a light shone upon it? What is important to people? I love digging those things out in investigative journalism about subjects that matter."
He has done so successfully, first working on the Manchester Evening News and Tameside Reporter before going freelance and having articles published in daily newspapers across Britain as well as in the Catholic Herald and respected German title, Die Zeit.
Pivaro has also written and presented several documentary films for the BBC Inside Out series, including Regeneration Game (2007), which was shortlisted for a Royal Television Society award and challenged housing programmes which forced residents out of gentrified neighbourhoods.
A commonality with both careers, he believes, is a "genuine interest" in people, while there are also similar pressures – and the same validation when you get it right.
"Acting is definitely not an escape from the real world," he argues, "as you're always thinking, 'What's the audience going to be like tonight in this new city?' – and even getting there can be exhausting. Then, when you do arrive, even if you're knackered, you have to be ready to put in your best performance for people coming to see the show."
He probably doesn't make it any easier on himself either, when travelling from theatre to theatre: being a fan of maps, he eschews all modern GPS navigation systems and likes to plot his route the old fashioned way.
"I'd rather look at a map and plan my journey that way," proclaims the actor before going out to fill up his car with petrol again and make his lunch for the interval between performances at the Hall for Cornwall in Truro.
"And I do love an interesting drive. If I spot something, I'll write it on the map, like 'Nice 13th century pub here' or 'Good café there'. It makes touring even more appealing."
When he does get back to base, Pivaro switches off by watching his favourite old movies, catching up with his girlfriend and generally "vegging out" – while thinking of his next big scoop.
"The Commitments performances are full-on, but when the tour ends [in Newcastle's Theatre Royal in July] I hope to be back picking up the pieces of a few more investigations," he teases.
"Food management is one of the topics I'm interested in... I'm not without inspiration in that department."
For now, though, the drama is all on stage and he is relishing the music - tunes like Try A Little Tenderness, In The Midnight Hour and Mustang Sally - "I get to sing a few bars of Elvis rather than the old Motown and Stax classics, which is probably just as well" – while looking disapprovingly over his newspaper and afterwards having the odd pint in a rather famous pub across the road.
The Commitments is on stage at the Grand Opera House from February 20-25. goh.co.uk