Disclaimer: This interview was from three years ago, when John Patridge was starring in Chorus Line.
It’s a long way from Albert Square to the London Palladium. Currently wowing them nightly in a chorus line, John Partridge talks to Simon Gage about the show, leaving eastenders and why he’s “queer” and not “gay”.
We’re backstage at the London Palladium in the Judy Garland dressing room and John Partridge is telling me not to put my bag on the floor because mice will get in it. Oh, the glamour! John is stripped to the waist in a small pair of shorts and is looking super-buff. Well, the regime of A Chorus Line is – in his words – sweat city. He’s back in 30” jeans, something he’s not got into since he was 24, nearly 20 years ago. Famous for playing Christian Clarke, the take- no-prisoners gay man in EastEnders, John actually has a background in musical theatre, meaning that this is something of a comeback. Only this time he’s the star of the show. With the Judy Garland dressing room to prove it!
So, how’s A Chorus Line going?
It’s going good. I’ve been with the show about eight weeks so I feel that now I’m there. It’s always the way with something like this: it takes a long time for it to become part of your DNA
The reviews have been amazing. Which is always lovely, isn’t it?
You always worry until that moment. It’s won every award there is so there’s not much bad you could say. I suppose you could say it’s not stood the test of time. But it’s not dated because the issues we deal with in the show – coming out, body image – are universal and they’re stories that will be told in 30 years’ time.
For someone who has gone on these sorts of auditions, does it ring true?
Yes, it feels like a real audition. Auditions for musicals are brutal. You have to walk on stage and sing some song that you don’t really like singing and you make one mistake and it’s “Next!” I remember when I was young, one of my first auditions, I was number 543 on the list. That was for Arlene Philips. And I actually got it even though I lied about my age: I was only 15. She absolutely loved me for it. And that became our life-long thing. She was sat on this very sofa last night.
Did she choreograph Cats?
No, and she was furious with me because she wanted me to go on the Japanese tour of Starlight Express but I said, I can’t ’cause I’m going to do Cats and she was, “What are you going to do Cats for?” But Cats was my big break.
I interviewed you when you’d just started in EastEnders. Were you feeling that was a big break too?
It was a huge break for me. Until that point, I was thinking, “I don’t think I can do this anymore.” In fact, what attracted me to this role in A Chorus Line was I know what it’s like to be 17 and to come straight out of school and think, “I’m actually really good” and be getting those gigs. I also know what it’s like to be 33 and still in the same pool of people but now you’re right at the other end of that spectrum looking at the 17-year-olds, thinking, “How much longer can I do this for?” It was slightly different for me in that I always played parts in musicals, I wasn’t in the chorus line, but I was thinking, “What now? Will I ever make some sort of leap?” I was doing a show called The Drowsy Chaperone and they came and saw me and said, “We’ve got this part and we think you’d be great for it,” so I went in and it was me and Duncan James and some other guy for the part of Christian.
When you got the part of Christian were you disappointed that it was a gay part?
I got EastEnders and Emmerdale almost on the same day. The part in Emmerdale was not queer and Christian was queer and it doesn’t make any difference to me at all. What amazes me about this show is people come and see it, and they can’t believe that you can be that queer and play straight. They cannot get their head around it that it’s actually me. They’re, like, “You’re so butch!”
He said in the girliest way imaginable… Why do you use the word “queer” and not “gay”?
Because I like the word “queer”. It’s harsher. It’s got a hardness to it that I like.
So you’re an aggressive grizzly top!
It’s about the man thing. I enjoy it all. Top, bottom, sideways. Actually, that “top” and “bottom” thing is something I don’t buy into. If you’re saying you’re a top, it’s like you’re trying to say, “I’m a masculine queer.”
How did you get from EastEnders to A Chorus Line?
When I came out of EastEnders I had no intention of doing a musical. It’s really hard work and I didn’t think I was up to it. And there were lots of other offers on the table. Then they sent me a script and I was really surprised at how much book there was in the show. For those people who haven’t seen the show, my character doesn’t sing, I don’t have a big production number and most of the time it’s really just a play for me.
You’re civil-partnered, aren’t you?
I am and that’s the husband [who just brought John in a coffee] and he’s in the show.
How long have you been together?
Ten years! I know! The anniversary’s in September.
Are you monogamous?
Of course I am! I didn’t wait until I was 40 to get married to then go and sleep around behind his back. I did all that before. If you’re going to marry someone you make the commitment not to do that. It’s a serious business.