What would it take for someone who had built up a great reputation for solid film work to return to the theatre? Geoff Bell, the Peckham-born actor who has worked his way up in a very difficult industry playing roles as diverse as footballers, football thugs, drug importers, armed robbers, cozzers, and soldiers, is now back in fringe theatre where it all began, directing the play that first brought him to the attention of casting directors, writes Michael Holland.
The play, John Patrick Shanley’s Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, tells of two troubled souls colliding in a soulless bar. Danny, bruised from fighting his way through life and pubs relishes the battles he has fought. Roberta struggles to conquer the battle she is fighting within herself. They are not made for each other.
Over beer the dynamic flows from one to the other; Roberta stands up to his bullying, overbearing demeanour and provokes him to violence against her. She doesn’t mind. She gets straight back up and the power switches. Danny reveals a dark secret to shock but Roberta responds with a darker secret, which Danny has no social skills to deal with. His body and mind surrender and he softens.
Act II we join them in Roberta’s room after they have made love. She coerces him into being loving and romantic, which he initially finds difficult but soon gets the hang of, in his own way. Neither are comfortable with someone being nice to them but by the end they had negotiated a way to deal with their demons.
This two-hander is superbly played out by Martin Serene and Franziska Morai under the guidance of Bell who played Danny over 20 years ago.
I asked Geoff how he got involved and he told me that the two actors asked him for advice on good acting parts. ‘I told ‘em to do this play, as it was a big hit for me when I put it on in the Old Red Lion Theatre.’
Martin and Franziska then convinced Geoff to direct, which is how we got to the this point. ‘They had ten days to rehearse,’ he says. ‘And they pulled it off – I love ‘em!’
Have you enjoyed the experience? ‘It’s taken me back to my early days in fringe theatre, with all the problems you have with the staging and lighting and electrics…’ He said before adding, ‘I don’t think I’ll ever act on stage again but I will direct more plays.’
Geoff then gave little teasers about The Curse, a comedy crime series coming on our TV screens in the coming months, plus a film that he wrote and directed himself during Lockdown that has already won him an award for best first-time director in Venice Beach film festival. “It’s about the old man; a very personal subject.’
The personal, heartfelt work will also be see in Kindling, a film about a son dying of cancer: ‘It’s f**king heartbreaking, Michael,’ he said softly. ‘It’s completely different from what I’ve usually played but it’s one of the best jobs I’ve done.’
So all is good in the world of Bell, and with Danny and the Deep Blue Sea about to be another hit under his belt the future is looking good.
Omnibus Theatre, 1 Northside Clapham Common, SW4 0QW until 6th December. Times: Fri-Sat 7.30pm. Admission: £15.