He is loved for his memorable roles as a suggestive tailor in the Fast Show, a wizard in Harry Potter and a crime-solving priest in Father Brown, but Mark Williams insists he has found his perfect fit as the man who can talk to the animals in Doctor Dolittle The Musical.

“It’s a joyous show,” he says in that familiar warm lilting West Midlands accent.

“Doctor Dolittle is one of those great characters. He’s a misfit with his own rules and we have great similarities. He doesn’t understand the human race and I’m with him on that!”

The show, which stars Mark as the eponymous eccentric clinician, comes to the New Theatre Oxford on Tuesday for a five-night run.

The children’s classic sees the doctor and his animal acquaintances going on an epic journey to find the Giant Pink Sea Snail which is alleged to hold the secret of life and making the world a better place.

It’s a timeless tale, faithful to Hugh Lofting’s book while also doffing its cap to the 1967 classic film starring Rex Harrison.

“Doing this is like winning the pools,” says Mark.

“It’s going wonderfully. It’s brilliant and the audiences have been great everywhere with lots of kids who really get it.

“It’s a new production. It’s not like the old film nor the 1998 Eddie Murphy version. And it’s full of idealism.

“Hugh Lofting was a fascinating bloke. The book came from letters he wrote home from the trenches in the First World War and aspire to a better world. He was badly injured in the war and wanted the world to be a more caring place. He thought that if we could learn from animals we would treat each other well.”

And, he insists, the world certainly would be a better place if we could strike up conversations with the animals.

“It’s a daft superhero skill but better than being bendy or able to fly,” he says thoughtfully.

“Imagine being able to converse with the animal kingdom... even molluscs and fish?”

 

For Mark, who also made his name in Shakespeare in Love, 101 Dalmatians and The Borrowers, it’s a dream role.

“I have always wanted to do musical theatre,” he says. “There’s a lot of good British musical theatre – not just American ‘boy meets girl’ stuff.”

And can he sing? “Well, I am a bit horse today,” he coughs. “But I have been round the block a few times and have been using my voice for the past 35 years, so yes, if you scratch me you will actually find a singer.”

While affable and cheery, the Worcestershire-born actor is softly spoken and modest, soberly considering each question. His understated intelligence shines through.

Among comedy fans, Mark is deeply loved for his iconic Fast Show roles – the faux pas dispensing Brummy with the catchphrase “I’ll get me coat”, Kenneth the men’s wear shop assistant who exclaims “Suit you sir!” and the countryman Jesse who would proudly announce what he had “mostly” been eating, wearing or doing that week. But the funnyman insists he is not a comic.

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“I’ve not done stand-up so cannot be called a comedian,” he says. “If you want to call me something, call me a character actor.”

And he started early – in a school play in Bromsgrove then taking to the stage with a passion while studying at Brasenose, Oxford. He kept good company. While here he appeared in the 1982 film Privileged alongside Hugh Grant, Imogen Stubbs and James Wilby. The movie featured the debut film score by Rachel Portman.

“I did want to be Laurence Olivier,” he chuckles. “But there was not a lot of theatre in Bromsgrove. Acting was a brilliant thing to do for a 12 year-old jester though!

He says that while people still approach him with Fast Show catch lines, he is far more likely to be recognised by fans of Father Brown or Harry Potter, in which he starred as Arthur Weasley.

 

Harry Potter must have been fun, I suggest: “I don’t do fun,” he says. “I do it for excitement. And it was most satisfying; very much so.

“I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been so satisfied. I have an immense amount of enthusiasm for it and love watching actors work.”

And, refreshingly, he insists he doesn’t mind being approached by fans. “People are very nice,” he says. “And anyway, if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime!”

His trip to Oxford will see him accompanied by Coronation Street stars Vicky Entwistle (Janice Battersby in the Street) and Brian Capron (the serial killer Richard Hillman) as well as Fascinating Aida’s Adele Anderson.

And he is looking forward to returning to his alma mater. “I regularly go back to Brasenose,” he says. “And it’s all exactly the same. I love to walk, wander, read and run.”

And, he says, he is big on food. So, to quote his comedy creation Jesse, what has he mostly been eating?

“This week I ‘ave mostly been eating lamb Desi,” he laughs. “It’s very good, especially on the bone!”

  • Doctor Dolittle the Musical is at the New Theatre Oxford from next Tuesday, January 15, to Saturday January 26. Go to atgtickets.com