Chris New: Taking Each Opportunity as it Comes

Is Chris New the luckiest actor around? Just three years out of RADA, he has already appeared in the West End opposite Alan Cumming, acted with both the National Theatre and the RSC, made several appearances on the BBC, and a turn each at the Old Vic and the Royal Exchange Theatres. Now, he is about the appear again in the West End in Prick Up Your Ears opposite Matt Lucas. It's almost enough to make you jealous.

Photos by Catherine Ashmore

Luckily, he is a nice guy, with a wicked sense of humour and enough humility to realise his good fortune. You can only admire the way he has seized the opportunities which have been presented to him and ran with them.

His current project, a new play by Simon Bent inspired by the John Lahr biography of Joe Orton, is a study of the relationship between the playwright Orton, on the cusp of success and fame, and his lover Kenneth Halliwell, about to be left in his shadow.

In 1987 Prick Up Your Ears was made into a film by Alan Bennett and John Lahr directed by Stephen Frears. It starred Gary Oldman and Alfred Molina with supporting roles played by Vanessa Redgrave, Frances Barber, Julie Walters and Wallace Shawn. But this is the first time the story has been told on stage.

Chris New's flatmate had the idea that Chris should play Joe Orton in a stage version opposite Matt Lucas as Kenneth Halliwell. The idea might have ended there if not for a chance meeting between Chris and Matt Lucas in a restaurant where he pitched the idea to him. To his surprise, Lucas was interested. “Matt and I had a meeting with the producer, Sonia Friedman, about the idea,” New says. “She just leapt on it. She absolutely loved it.” Friedman commissioned Simon Bent to write the script.


Bent has spent the last year combing through Orton's diaries and family archives while interviewing family and friends of Orton and Halliwell. Chris has also got into the research. “We've all spent a lot of time talking to friends of his [Orton] and I've met Leonie, who is his sister, and who now runs the estate,” he says. “I've tried to get below the legend to try to see what he was really like. Also to see how he changed. It's very simple to think he was just one person. He has to have had a journey. Most people know who Joe Orton is, but very few people know what he was really like.”

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