An Interview With Joseph Marcell Ahead of The School For Scandal

An Interview With Joseph Marcell Ahead of The School For Scandal

Joseph Marcell was most recently seen in Chiwetel Ejiofor’s debut feature film, The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind. TV credits include Mammoth and I Hate You, both for the BBC and he is soon be seen in Candice Carty-William’s Queenie on Channel 4. His prolific stage credits include Hamlet at the Young Vic with Cush Jumbo, Kathy Burke’s Lady Windermere’s Fan, extensive work with Shakespeare’s Globe including the titular role in Bill Buckhurst’s King Lear and Derek Walcott’s Omeros, as well as seasons at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Joseph plays Sir Peter Tearle in The School for Scandal at York Theatre Royal from 23-27 April.

Tell us about your character Sir Peter Teazle in The School for Scandal and how he fits into the plot.
Sir Peter Teazle is an aristocratic, wealthy and well respected Lord . He decided to marry . A country girl was chosen after a fairly long courtship. The difference in their ages and outlook has become a constant issue. Lady Teazle has become a full member of the WITS, a set of gossip mongers. Sir Peter is at his wits’ end. This School for Scandal is the bane of his life, and the cause of the endless bickering. However, he love and cares for Lady Teazle.

Would you agree with the description of Sheridan’s play as ‘one of the greatest comedies ever written’?
Yes I would agree. The language, settings, characters and themes are amusing. And at the time of the play’s first production that aspect of comedy had not been enjoyed by a British audience.

What’s different about this staging of The School for Scandal to previous productions?
We are set in 1950s. Although we are not in wigs and frock coats , the sentiment of those times as best as we can imagine is fully respected. The characters are of a time gone by and, we are totally respectful to the language, because without that there is no play: The School for Scandal.

An Interview With Joseph Marcell Ahead of The School For Scandal

“Gossip and scandal to me is not the actual story”

Will today’s audiences be scandalised by The School for Scandal?
I am not too sure of that. But I am certain that within the world of the play a modern audience would empathise. Gossip and scandal to me is not the actual story, it’s the embellishments that happen in the retelling of the tale. We, a modern audience really do understand the importance of ‘fact-checking’.

What’s the best bit of gossip you’ve heard about yourself?
About myself? That I am an American actor. That I am married to an American woman from California and a British woman from Berkshire at the same time.

How did a young actor born in St Lucia and living in London get cast in an American TV comedy The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? Didn’t Patrick Stewart have something to do with it?
Ah, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Well, I was touring the Universities of Southern California with an organisation called ACTER (Alliance for Creative Theatre Education and Research) which was created by Sir Patrick Stewart and Professor Homer Swander of UC Santa Barbara, under the auspices of The Royal Shakespeare Company. We were playing in Los Angeles in 1987 in a five-person production of Measure for Measure directed by Patrick Stewart. I played Angelo and three other roles. This flagship company was created for actors who had played leading roles in the plays of William Shakespeare and our presence in Los Angeles, especially under The RSC banner, was a theatrical event. Anybody who was anybody came to the theatre over those days. Then, in 1990 Brandon Tarticoff (NBC) and Quincy Jones decided to produce the show The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. They needed an English Butler and one of Afro-Caribbean heritage. Someone remembered me as Angelo in Measure for Measure. Searched and located me, and then made me an offer which I would have been foolish to refuse. So yes, Sir Patrick Stewart created the space for me. And for that, I am very grateful.

Do you still get recognised for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and keep in touch with Will Smith and the cast?
Yes I am very much recognised. From America to Zimbabwe. Wherever in the world I visit. We do all keep in touch and have a biannual lunch in Malibu, California. These reunions are fun.

How much of a culture shock was it when you and your family moved from St Lucia in the Caribbean to Peckham in London in the mid-1950s?
My father had been resident for a year before the family joined him. We arrived via Genoa, Italy to Waterloo London in November. The fog and the cold temperature was a shock but the denuded trees with no leaves was astonishing. The paraffin heaters took a long time to get used to. Having to play cricket in the rain was boring.

You trained as an electrical engineer so how did the acting start?
Purely by accident. There was a theatrical event in London at that time called The World Theatre Season, created by a man called Michael Saint Dennis. I went to a play by The American Negro Theatre. I believe the play was called Black New World. They were later to become the lauded Negro Ensemble. That was it for me. I found my road to Damascus. I said goodbye to electrical engineering.

An Interview With Joseph Marcell Ahead of The School For Scandal

“A lot of fun”

Your TV break came in Empire Road, a contemporary soap with an almost completely black cast, on the BBC in 1978 – how difficult has it been getting diverse roles?
In my opinion, I believe it is more difficult in these times. The loss of the repertory theatres and the advent of streaming has not been helpful. There’s nowhere to learn and practice the craftsmanship required.

The last time you were appearing at York Theatre Royal in Alone in Berlin the theatre was closed mid-run because of the covid epidemic. How much of a disappointment was that?
A great disappointment. The role of Inspector Esherick a detective in 1930s Berlin was a dream of a role for a non-white actor. The director James Dacre had the imagination to cast me in that role. Very brave of him too. Such a talented director. In one move the diversity aspect was vanquished, for a while. And yes, the Covid pandemic did cut us off in our prime. Thankfully we have all survived and are in good health. Yet, Alone in Berlin was a tremendous production and should have had a much longer life.

You’ll next be seen on TV in Queenie, a Channel 4 adaptation of Candice Carly-Williams bestseller. Who do you play?
In Queenie I play Grand Pa Wilfred. Of ‘The Windrush Generation‘, he’s a lovely man who has embraced the situation in which he finds himself. One of the unsung heroes of the Caribbean migration to the United Kingdom.

When that’s on screen, you’ll be touring with The School for Scandal to a dozen or more venues – do you enjoy touring?
Touring is a challenge wherever you visit. One has to plan well and be prepared for the unexpected. Though it’s a lot of fun. I’m not sure that I will be able to watch the live transmission though. But I will catch Queenie most definitely recorded or on iPlayer.

The School for Scandal is at York Theatre Royal from 23-27 April. For enquiries call the box office on 01904 623568 or visit

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