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Blackadder III exposed

The Prince Regent’s butler’s story

This could be the beginning of a new career, says Neil Coomber of his theatrical debut as Edmund Blackadder in Unity Theatre’s production of the comedy, Blackadder III.

“Or the end of a short one.”

While this will be the first time Coomber has performed as an actor he is familiar with stage and comfortable with strutting the boards before an audience.

“I’ve never shied from being in front of people,” he says.

“I’ve worked in radio and I’ve played in bands.”

He enjoys playing in Blackadder III no end.

“I know the cast and crew, we all know each other.

“My son Sabian has been in a few plays and I’ve always enjoyed theatre and watching his shows. We’ve all grown up with Blackadder on TV so we almost don’t need scripts.”

While Edmund lived during the Elizabethan era in Unity’s previous production of a Blackadder series, Blackadder III is set in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a period known as the Regency.

King George III was incapacitated due to poor mental health so his son George, the Prince of Wales, acted as regent and was known as the Prince Regent, says a Blackadder Wiki page.

In this Regency era, Blackadder serves as butler to Prince George, a spoiled, foppish twit played by Brent Forge. Blackadder is now a servant while Baldrick is labelled as Blackadder’s “dogsbody”.

“I love that I can resonate with Blackadder as the middle man; not on top of the heap and not at the bottom of the heap but who tends to resent the up because he was kicked when he was down,” says Coomber.

“And I love Blackadder’s sarcasm. People say I’ve almost been typecast.”

Typecast or not, Coomber did not go to the audition in the hope he would land the title role.

“Initially I went for a small part and now I have a large part,” he says, riffing on a line from Blackadder III episode, Sense and Senility.

In that episode, Baldrick’s uncle once played “second codpiece” for the leading character of Macbeth, but only in the fight scenes.

Blackadder concludes the uncle was a “stunt codpiece” and asks his dogsbody if he ever had a “large part”.

“Depends who was playing Macbeth,” says Baldrick.

The butler’s dogsbody’s story

A consistent feature of the Baldricks throughout the show’s various series is a lack of hygiene and filthy, shaggy clothing.

By Blackadder III, Baldrick, played by Arran Dunn in the Unity production, lives in a pipe in the upstairs water closet of the palace.

In the first series of Blackadder, Baldrick was more intelligent than Edmund, but that is reversed in Blackadder III in which he is cruder and more unintelligent than earlier Baldricks.

But Baldrick isn’t stupid — despite his demeanour, says Dunn.

“He’s my hero in that he knows his place and stays in his place. He likes to have ideas but he’s on the bottom rung of a caste system. He knows that so he has cunning plans.”

That is, as an underscrogsman (apprentice dogsbody) to Blackadder, he can come up with plans (albeit, mental) but does not have the wherewithal to implement them.

Any urge to rise above his station would seem to be misplaced. “He aspires, at some stage in other episodes, to what he would do if he had lots of money. His plan was to buy the biggest turnip he could.”

In fact, by Blackadder III, Baldrick’s sole goal in life is the acquisition of turnips.

Other commentators have also pointed out Baldrick is fractionally more intelligent than Blackadder’s companions such as Lord Percy Percy or George. Baldrick’s “cunning plans” might be fairly low-brow but he is the most aware in the court of political, religious, and social events. He is, however, often mistreated more than he deserves.

Baldrick doesn’t crave his master’s mate-ship and a glimpse of his rebellion can be heard in his insults to Blackadder, says Dunn.

Prior to Blackadder III no Baldrick had called his boss anything like a “lazy, big nosed, rubber-faced bastard”.

Like Coomber, Dunn grew up with the Blackadder TV series and even while going over the script again and again in rehearsal the comedy never gets tired.

“Even though you know the series and the jokes we have to stop because we get to the point where we can’t do our lines. We have to have a breather to sort ourselves out.”

Dunn jokes he is aiming for an Oscar for best supporting actor but really that’s just a cunning plan to veil his philosophy.

“When I play a role my unspoken rule is whatever I do and how I deliver it I’m trying to support other people’s lines. My mantra is, if every actor onstage is doing what I’m trying to do we’re all going to make the best impact.”

TURNIP SURPRISE: Unity Theatre’s upcoming production of Blackadder III stars Arran Dunn (left) as the turnip-loving Baldrick and foil to Blackadder played by Neil Coomber as seen in this rehearsal picture. Baldrick does not make Turnip Surprise in this show but when asked by Edmund in Blackadder II what the surprise is, Baldrick says “there’s nothing else in it except the turnip”. Picture by Sarah Olsen