Julian Curry gives a vintage performance in his entertaining and educational one-man show about wine. JOHN STIMPFIG meets the actor.
Like a lot of Thespians, Julian Curry enjoys a glass or two of good wine, but unlike many of his fellow actors, he has taken his knowledge and passion for wine a stage further – literally. For not only has Julian studied wine at diploma level, he has also written and performed a one-man show all about his favourite tipple. The result is Hic! Or the Entire History of Wine (Abridged) – an hilarious and touching homage to wine.
‘A friend suggested it to me some years ago and though I thought it was an excellent idea, I didn’t do much about it. Nevertheless, I did begin to squirrel away things that might be funny, interesting or poetical,’ says Julian. Slowly but surely the jokes, quotations and structure came together and he finally launched the 50-minute entertainment last May in Cape Cod. He has since performed it widely. However, he clearly recalls his first show, before an audience of one – actor turned writer, Trevor Bowen. ‘I’d never been so nervous,’ he says, but Bowen loved it and encouraged Julian to bring it to the stage. The show is an absolute gem; a judicious blend of vinous whimsy, education, history, anecdote and hilarity. What’s more, it doesn’t matter whether you are a wine lover or not because it appeals to everyone, except possibly the neo-prohibitionists. ‘Thankfully it’s been very well received wherever I’ve played it,’ says Julian, who is taking it back to the US later this year. Julian has a wide range of screen and stage credits and is currently in George Bernard Shaw’s epic Back to Methuselah with the RSC at the Barbican. He is, perhaps, best known as the upper-crust barrister, Claude Erskine-Brown, in the TV series Rumpole of the Bailey. ‘I think old E-B was a bit of a wine snob. The sort who would make pretentious remarks about which side of the slope the grapes were harvested on. It was a lovely part to play,’ says Julian. He himself is quite the opposite. ‘Although I’m a sucker for burgundy, I’ve got a very Catholic taste, which I got from studying at the Wine & Spirit Education Trust in the late 1980s. I’d always loved wine, but I wanted to know why certain wines tasted different. So, I took all the courses, including the two-year diploma, and enjoyed every minute,’ he enthuses, although he admits that: ‘At the time, laymen weren’t allowed to take the trust’s exams so I had to pretend to be working for a wine merchant friend of mine.’
Meanwhile, Julian has visited many of the world’s great wine regions, sometimes on location for a film or on a theatre tour, but mostly off his own bat. He has even led walking wine tours to Provence, Bordeaux, the Pyrenees, Rioja and Navarra.
‘I think my love of wine came from my father who used to bring back barrels from Bordeaux just after the war. However, on the very first occasion, customs kept the wine for analysis and when they finally released it, it had all turned to vinegar. Funnily enough, I wrote to Decanter about this a few years ago and it appeared in the Worst Wine Moments series, winning me a magnum of Roederer!’ One of Julian’s happiest wine moments was visiting Château d’Yquem. ‘My nephew, Chris Foss, who now lectures on winemaking at Plumpton College, was doing his apprenticeship there, so naturally we invited ourselves to stay. And I can still remember the taste of those wines as we went from barrel to barrel in the chai…’ Now, of course, he doesn’t get to drink much Yquem (does anyone?), but his show allows him to combine his two great passions – wine and the stage – and he delights in this. ‘What could possibly be better?’ he asks.