An interview with Steven Arnold
"His stuff changed the whole idea of film"
Iconic. It’s said of Coronation Street, the institution for which Steven Arnold served as Ashley Peacock for almost 16 years, and it’s a fitting description of Charlie Chaplin, the focus of a musical play Arnold stars in this year stopping by Oxford at the end of June.
He is in stage mode at the moment, having already done about six plays this year. “If a TV job came along and the opportunity was there, I’d quite happily do it,” he states. But because I did TV for such a long time it’s nice to get on stage and test yourself in different ways.”
He first appeared in Corrie in 1995, as a kid really, staying until that fatal tram crash in late 2010. “You’ve got to grow with the character and make him develop into a man,” he reveals as we discuss the secret to his longevity in the soap. “You have to think about everything he’s been through and evolve. My character was quite weak at first but got a lot stronger as time went on.”
The actor’s latest challenge arrives in the form of Stuart Price’s Chaplin – The Charlie Chaplin Story, where he plays a number of other characters – including Charlie’s brother Sydney.
“I did a play last year called Concrete Boots which Stuart Price wrote and directed,” Steven says. “He’s such a talented writer and we had a great time working together. When he asked me about this I didn’t hesitate in saying yes. I wanted to work with Stu again, especially on something about Chaplin – he’s such an iconic figure isn’t he?
“His stuff changed the whole idea of film,” he claims. “What he achieved and what he brought to the screen without speaking was phenomenal.”
Those who know nothing of Chaplin’s material should be able to enter the theatre in such ignorance, understand, and be entertained by this show documenting his life, covering the relationships he had with his mother, brother and Mack Sennett at Keystone Studios.
Steven’s ambitions for the production remain simple: no overcomplicated requests for people to seek hidden meanings and aim to better themselves using the tale. “Hopefully people do come out of it having learnt something,” he says, “but it’s most important they have a good night at the theatre.”
He was yet to get into the rehearsal room when I spoke to him, but Steven’s research had begun, and didn’t seem to involve any extravagant investigative endeavours, just plain YouTube viewing and reading. “I’ve just started a book,” he says, “Chaplin got passed from pillar to post as a kid. I’ve only read the first chapter and he’s on his fifteenth home. I think living in so many different environments with different people is where all his characters came from.
“He had this belief and vision and I don’t think he wanted anyone to ever change that. Nothing was going to stop him.”
What if Steven wasn’t in a play about Chaplin, if it was a similar style production with another figure at the centre, who would he want it to be?
“I’m really into my boxing so it would have to be someone like Rocky Marciano,” he concludes after a moment’s thought, probably for some conjuring up memories of Ashley Peacock and that boxing match he was in – after all, it’s hard to forget a good old Corrie riot.
Chaplin – The Charlie Chaplin Story comes to New Theatre Oxford on 27th June.
Related Articles: War Horse comes to Oxford