AS CONTRASTS go, actor Tom Owen's first job after Last of the Summer Wine finished was among the best.
Having played Tom Simmonite in the classic comedy series for 11 years, within days of the show being axed he started on a path he is still on, playing one of the most intense characters ever written.
Stafford theatre fans have a golden opportunity to see him play the title role in Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape when he comes to the Gatehouse Theatre next week.
It is a rare chance to see a potential West End play before it goes to London. At the end of this year Owen hopes to embark on a nationwide tour of the play before taking it to London's theatreland next year.
Owen's television and theatre credits are staggering, including a stint on Broadway.
He has been playing Krapp for five years now and along the way earned rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe.
But for all his vast experience the actor admits to being nonplussed when director Fiona Baddeley gave him the play to look at.
"I have been in show business for 47 years and it's certainly the toughest piece I have ever undertaken.
"I really couldn't get my head round it at all," he said.
"I needed every single resource I could possibly muster really. I'm a very instinctive actor which is fine sometimes but you can't do that with Beckett – you do have to understand him and it's not always easy. Two heads are better than one and Fiona is a great director and knows a great deal about Samuel Beckett.
"She is very patient – it was a long rehearsal process."
The play centres around the 69 year-old Krapp's birthday. He sits in his den preparing for his yearly ritual of recording his reflections on a tape-recorder. First he listens to a tape of critical decisions made on his 39th birthday. The-39 year-old Krapp has in turn listened to a tape he made when he was 27. The recordings give the audience a glimpse of fragments of Krapp's life including the moving account of the death of his mother; a visionary moment of inspiration on a night of howling wind; his failed pursuit of intellectual fame through his writing; his decision to end a significant relationship and his attempts to come to terms with the consequence of those decisions.
"Though it runs for 55 minutes, when I come off I feel as if I have been on stage for three hours," said Owen.
These days he is sufficiently comfortable in the role to try little tweaks now and then.
"Now I have done it for so long I'm learning to try different little changes - some of which work and some don't. "
With all the plans he has for it this one will definitely run and run.
"Hopefully it will be never-ending. We hope to have a full national tour at the end of the year and next year it might go into the West End."
Part two of the Gatehouse show is a question and answer with Owen.
Krapp's Last Tape will be at The Met Studio on Saturday, April 19, at 7.30pm. Tickets are £15/£12 and can be reserved at the box office on 01785 254653 or at www.staffordgatehouse theatre.co.uk.