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Bad boy gone good

GEEZERS: Derek Elroy (right) and Ian Burfield star in One Man, Two Guvnors

WITH theatre credits including The Harder They Come, Red Riding Hood and Aladdin, along with TV credits like Rev and The Bill, Derek Elroy has had a varied career. 

Currently, the British actor is demonstrating the art of dedication, starring in One Man, Two Guvnors – the production he’s been performing in since May 2011.

Elroy began as part of the ensemble when the play opened at the National Theatre in 2011, and also understudied the role of ex-con gone straight, Lloyd Boateng. He then took over the role of Lloyd when the production moved to the Theatre Royal Haymarket in the West End in March 2012.

With the play – an adaptation of the classic Italian comedy The Servant of Two Masters – still going strong, Elroy is enjoying being part of this long-running production.

“While I understudied the role of Lloyd at The National Theatre, I had the chance to play the character a few times,” Elroy recalls. “When I was asked to take over the role when the show moved to the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London's West End, I was both excited and nervous – I think the whole cast were. Excitement and nerves are never very far away in this business.  It's an understudy's dream to go on and we are always in a constant state of readiness. I was extremely proud when I was offered the role.”

He continues: “Having been in the show since its opening, the lows have been non-existent. Being in a show that has gone from strength to strength, the highs tend to be what I focus on. Even when the 2012 Olympics were on, we still maintained good houses and those good audiences have continued.”

Described as a glorious celebration of British comedy, the award-winning show from playwright Richard Bean features a mix of satire, songs and slapstick comedy. Elroy describes his character.

“Lloyd Boateng is an ex-con gone straight and a long time friend of small time gangster turned scrap metal merchant, Charlie Clench. Their friendship has brought Lloyd into contact with some unsavoury people in the criminal underworld of Brighton in 1963.  

After arriving from Jamaica in the 1950s, Lloyd spent time in a well known British prison. Since his release, he’s become the proud proprietor of a pub; 'a pub that does food’.”

Boasting a career that has seen him work across theatre, television and film, Elroy doesn’t seem to have fallen prey to the plight of some black British actors who have struggled to find roles that didn’t play to racial stereotypes. Still, Elroy is all too familiar with this issue.

“This has always been a bone of contention in our community,” he says. “Negative stereotypical roles are not exclusive to us. I guess I've been lucky with the roles I've played – from a gruffalo to a paramedic; I've even played a pantomime Dame. That said, there are some people who will always have something to say about the choice actors make. It's our duty to represent our community as truthfully as we can. Many have come before us and they had to work in appalling conditions, against greater adversity. We must now continue their work for those that come after us.”

Considering what advice he’d give to aspiring black British actors, Elroy says: “I would say choose acting because you love it. It’s not an easy job so work hard, with truth and integrity. The only limits there are will be the limits you accept or impose on yourself, whether that be here in the UK or wherever you choose to work.”

Having enjoyed a plethora of roles here in the UK, Elroy says he would like to venture across the pond within the next five years and enjoy success in the States as several black British actors have.

“In five years time, I hope to be continuing to produce great quality work. I'd also like to venture across the water to America and follow in the footsteps of actors such as Lennie James, Idris Elba and David Oyelowo and Chiwetel Ejiofor.”

He may have big plans for the future, but he already has plenty to be pleased about – not least of which, amusing The Queen.

“Professionally, I've had the chance work with some great people, but one of my proudest achievements is keeping my head – literally – after saying a line in One Man, Two Guvnors about a member of the Royal family while The Queen was in the audience. I understand she was amused.”

One Man, Two Guvnors is at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, Haymarket, London SW1 until August 31. For more information visit www.trh.co.uk

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