KNOWN mostly as a regular lead at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Olivier Award nominated for his visceral Coriolanus, actor Greg Hicks is heading back to Oxford to play one of the 20th century’s most celebrated poets in Frank McGuinness’s new comedy Dinner with Groucho, which replicates an imagined dinner shared by T.S. Eliot and Groucho Marks.

Hicks grew up with the idea of a career in theatre very firmly imprinted on his brain. Despite no family connections in the industry – his father was a flight engineer and part of the Lancaster Squadron 166, his mother a housewife – Greg’s future vocation was inspired by not one but two brilliant English teachers, who both ensured that he found his element.

After the War, his father had been a market trader and a nightclub owner. His financial acumen and business success meant that he wanted his son to experience the finest of education that he could afford. The young Greg was sent to public school, where his love of theatre thrived.

Both the teachers he credits for his love of acting cast Greg to play lead roles in school plays – Shylock in The Merchant of Venice and then Malvolio in Twelfth Night. His deep love of literature and the stage can be dated to performing those two seminal parts.

It was at school in his final A-level year that Greg first encountered T.S. Eliot’s writing. His poem The Wasteland had a profound effect, and he recognised the implied mortality that exists in every line of Eliot’s poetry. It would be years before he portrayed him for the first time in The Family Reunion at the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Oxford Mail: Dinner With Groucho

His new-found enthusiasm for the stage did not go down very well at home, and he still remembers his father’s obvious disappointment upon reading his final year school report which simply said ‘this boy should really become an actor’. Having told his family he had applied to read Law at university, Greg actually completed an application for drama school, and was awarded a full scholarship to Rose Bruford Academy.

Drama school was a success, and on graduating Greg selected to do an open ‘mock’ audition for the RSC. It transpired that these mock auditions weren’t practice sessions at all, and they offered him a 60-week contract on the spot.

Greg finished early at Rose Bruford to take up the offer. The night before his first day of rehearsals, he was practicing yoga in his hotel room having read that handstands could help reduce nerves. Unfortunately a disc in his neck slipped, and he was immediately taken to hospital in Stratford, where he spent the next three weeks. His dream of an acting career had to be put on hold.

Oxford Mail: Dinner With Groucho

Just over a year later he returned to the RSC to start his long association with the company, which was to make him one of our greatest Shakespearean actors today. Over the years Hicks has led the company as Lear, Titus Andronicus, Coriolanus and many other roles.

He soon followed Peter Hall to the National Theatre, and it was here that he went on to perform Greek classics such as The Oresteia and Oedipus.

This week has seen his return to Oxford to play TS Eliot again in what he describes as a ‘timeless surreal and enigmatic play’ that captures an imaginary encounter between two icons of the 20th century.

The appeal of working on this project was the opportunity to work with writer Frank McGuinness, who Hicks describes as ‘a genius’. And having the opportunity to portrait TS Eliot in the world premiere was just too good to miss.

This new play requires him to recite, perform, dance and sing.

Haile as sharp, funny, smart and delicious, delivered with breakneck speed, comic timing and subtlety, it’s the fun-filled comedy night out that we all need right now.

Dinner with Groucho is at the Oxford Playhouse until tonight Saturday, November 5. Tickets from £10.