Director braced for briefs encounter with audience

Rod Dixon
Rod Dixon
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Best known these days as a director, Rod Dixon is pulling on a pair of Y fronts to get back in to acting. Nick Ahad hears about his preparation.

Rod Dixon is scared.

Later this month the director will take to the stage of the City Varieties in a pair of Y-fronts and will engage in banter with the audience as they arrive for his company’s production of Sex n Docks n Rock n Roll – but that isn’t what Dixon is afeared of. In fact, standing in his pants, having a bit of a laugh with the audience is something he’s actually looking forward to.

No, what makes him scared is the prospect of acting at all.

“I love it once I’m up there, on stage, but the older I get, the more I think ‘what am I doing here?’,” laughs Dixon. “A big part of that is knowing that other actors are relying on you to give you them the correct cue and getting your lines right and all. It’s terrifying.”

Fortunately for him he has a lot to fall back on. The artistic director of Leeds-based Red Ladder theatre company, these days he might be better known for his directing work, but for many years he was on stage as a performer with the widely acclaimed Kneehigh Theatre company.

While working with the company as a performer, Dixon was offered the chance to direct shows of his own, first on a freelance basis and then with a theatre school on a permanent contract.

“As I’d been working as an actor, it meant a salary for the first time in my life, so I took it,” he says.

The decision meant that his career took a certain path and while he didn’t leave acting behind entirely – he has performed bits and pieces over the years – directing was certainly the first thing on his CV.

A political activist, when the job of artistic director of Red Ladder – one of the leading radical theatre companies in Britain – came up, Dixon jumped at it. He has since directed the majority of the company’s shows, including Big Society! a musical written by Boff Whalley and starring Phill Jupitus, staged at Leeds City Varieties last year.

Later this month he’ll be taking to that stage himself to appear in a revival of Whalley’s “anarchist pantomime” Sex n Docks n Rock n Roll, an absolute riot of a show that’s full of “earworm” songs that audiences who saw the show when it was first staged in 2010 might well still remember.

Dixon will be stepping into the part of Ronnie McDermott, an armchair revolutionary who leads a rag tag bunch of Liverpudlians holed up during a 1960s dock workers’ strike. For the politically engaged Dixon, it’s a perfect role.

“Dean (Nolan) who played Ronnie the last time is now playing Harold Steptoe in Kneehigh’s production of Steptoe and Son, so we needed another actor – and as there isn’t much money to stage the show and I already know it, it made sense for me to step,” says Dixon.

“It’s been really good for me to go back into a rehearsal room as an actor and be reminded of just what hard work it is. I always had respect for what actors do, but doing this has sort of refreshed me in terms of how you work with actors and how much work they are doing in the rehearsal room.”

The part of the show Dixon is particularly looking forward to is the opening when he, in his pants, chats with the audience riffing on whatever subjects they might present him with. While the show is highly entertaining, audiences can expect to have their political brains engaged when Dixon takes to the stage in this opening sequence.

“I can’t wait,” he says.

Boff Whalley’s anarchist musicals

Boff Whalley, former member of anarchist pop band Chumbawamba, has been making a name for himself as a writer of fun musicals full of catchy tunes for the past few years.

His play Armley – The Musical was presented as part of the I Love West Leeds Festival, which inlcuded songs about asbestos-filled factories and his musical Big Society! took a musical swipe at right wing politics and politicians and was a sell out hit at City Varieties last year.

Sex n Docks n Rock n Roll is at Leeds City Varieties, Jan 21 to 26. Tickets on 0113 2430808. www.cityvarieties.co.uk