The Stage Interviews Joe Stilgoe

When musician Joe Stilgoe performed at a concert with Maria Friedman, she was so impressed with his audience interaction that she decided to create an acting role for him in her next show. He's now set to make his theatre debut in her upcoming production of High Society at the Old Vic, starring as a piano-playing entertainer.

How are rehearsals going?

It's incredible. It's amazing. I've never had this much fun either with my clothes on or for money. Maria Friedman - there's something she brings to the whole process, sort of like an alchemist: just getting the best out of everyone and the situation. And what they've done with the show...the piece has been rewritten almost. it sounds like a new musical.

I've got a helping hand. Everyone needs something to rely on, whether it's an accent or a particular prop, and to have the piano there is a soft landing for me in my first role.

It must also help that you have experiences in a cabaret style of performance?

There's something about an intimate room, because people are basically sitting on your lap. When you're two feet away from a performer, the worst thing is to see the bead of sweat dripping down their face, their shaking hands and their struggle to get over the intimacy of it all. It should just be a lovely drawing room - sort of like Noel Coward sitting at the piano, knocking out a few ballads. And that's what Maria wanted me to bring the Old Vic - to make a 900-seat venue seem like a house party.

For a first professional theatre role, four months is a long run - are you nervous?

I bet it won't seem like a long run once we start in August - we'll want to carry on forever. But the nice thing is that we have the certainty of knowing when it starts and when it finishes, whereas in the West End you could start something expecting it to run for two years, and it doesn't. Or vice versa.

How was it making your first transition from music to acting?

I think both help the other really. Getting more confident with acting has improved my performances over the years actually, when I've realised that I can't just go on stage, sit down and play music or sing. You've got to really sell the song. And I love [a bit of] banter with the audience, so I suppose that's always been part of what I've done. I suppose I'm more comfortable on stage because I know that often I can go and play the piano, rather than just say a line and have nothing but my own body and mouth to use,

What was the biggest challenge with this part?

I suppose there's always that insecurity that you're suddenly performing with this awards-dripping-out-of-their-ears cast, and you turn up and you think, God, I hope I'm okay. I hope I can share the same stage and not look like a complete fraud. But it's nice that I can find my comfort zone, which is playing a song. The transition wasn't as difficult as I was expecting, because I have done a few things recently where I have had to act a little. So the worlds are colliding a bit more these days.

Joe Stilgoe's album New Songs for Old Souls is released on April 27, with an album launch event to be held at the Old Vic on June 14