Entertainment & Arts

Director Frank Oz makes his theatre debut in London

Andy Nyman, director Frank Oz and Scott Bakula
Image caption Oz (centre), pictured with Andy Nyman (l) and Scott Bakula (r), helped to create The Muppets and voiced Yoda in Star Wars

Film-maker Frank Oz is preparing to make his debut as a theatre director on the London stage with the play Terrible Advice.

"I wanted to be theatre director, I never wanted to be a movie director," says Oz.

An odd admission from a man who has enjoyed a long and diverse career in film and television, starting as a puppeteer with The Muppet Show and Sesame Street.

He also worked on fantasies like Star Wars and The Dark Crystal and comedies like Bowfinger and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

Yet, at the age of 67, Franz Oz is making his first foray into the world of theatre, directing Terrible Advice, a play by Canadian actor and writer Saul Rubinek.

Oz has assembled an eclectic cast for the four-hander being shown at the Menier Chocolate Factory in Southwark, south London.

Andy Nyman comes fresh from the West End hit Ghost Stories, Caroline Quentin is best known for starring in TV shows like Men Behaving Badly and Jonathan Creek, while British Comedy Award winner and Pulling actress Sharon Horgan also features.

The US star power comes from actor Scott Bakula, better known as Dr Sam Beckett from cult 90s TV show Quantum Leap and Captain Jonathan Archer in Star Trek: Enterprise.

"This is the first real play I've directed but and I've always been looking for something to do," explains Oz.

"I've been asked before now but I felt the time wasn't right or it was too big for me to handle."

It was Nyman, says Oz, who brought the script to him following their work together on the 2007 British farce Death At A Funeral.

The play, set in California, focuses on the friendship between Stanley and Jake and the sum of years of bad advice about relationships - a subject many people can relate to.

"Ain't that the truth," says Oz. "We all sometimes give advice which might not be appropriate for the person we're giving it to."

'Absolutely terrified'

A brief interruption caused by Bakula arriving at the rehearsal studio and the ensuing banter between the actors and director illustrates what appears to be a good-natured creative relationship.

As Nyman and Bakula talk in the background, Oz playfully berates the pair: "Hey, I'm doing an interview right now and you've just taken up about 18 seconds of my time. Can you try and be a bit more professional over there?"

The London stage has enjoyed a good year bolstered by plays such as Danny Boyle's Frankenstein and David Tennant and Catherine Tate in Much Ado About Nothing.

Image caption Writer Saul Rubinek appeared in True Romance and played Daphne's fiance Donny in Frasier

However, there remains a need to shift tickets, even in a modest theatre like the 180-seat Menier.

Oz says: "My job is to think about the characters and the story and help the actors bring it alive, that's my job and I can't think about the other stuff."

But Nyman - who recently enjoyed his own huge success in the West End with his show Ghost Stories - admits that he is "absolutely terrified".

"It's unbelievably exciting and frightening," he says. "It's not like it's the London premiere where you already know it worked in New York.

"No-one, apart from the six of us, has ever seen this material so you've absolutely no idea what the reaction will be."

Oz, whose main job has been movie-making, adds: "The main difference for me is knowing that at the end of the rehearsal period when the show starts, I disappear," he says.

"I have no control and it's up to the actors, In movies, it's the actors who disappear and I stay and control the edit and make it work."

Both Bakula and Nyman are effusive in their praise for the boss. "It's been a blast to work with him," says Bakula.

"It's interesting to work with a film director on his first play because he does think filmically and sometimes we have to shake him out of that and say, 'No we can't fix this later, we have to fix it now.'"

It is surely a turning point in an actor's career when he is starts giving theatre direction tips to a veteran like Frank Oz.

"Yeah, I have to stop doing that. I just write them down and email them now," jokes Nyman.

Bakula is no stranger to the theatre, having made his Broadway debut as baseball player Joe DiMaggio in Marilyn: An American Fable in 1983.

"That's my first love," he says. "I spent 10 years in New York at the beginning of my career before I moved to LA."

Last year, he starred in the musical Dancing in the Dark at the Old Globe in San Diego but, like Oz, Terrible Advice is his first UK stage job.

"The time commitment had always been an issue for me, but this is perfect. I've had a chance to see some great theatre and, except for meeting Nyman, it's been a really solid experience," quips Bakula.

Terrible Advice runs from 22 September until 12 November.

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