Alistair McGowan to play Jimmy Savile in new theatre production

The impressionist and actor is the lead in Jonathan Maitland's play An Audience with Jimmy Savile, which explores how Savile was able to commit systematic sexual abuse during his BBC career

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Comedian and impressionist Alistair McGowan will tackle some rather more heavyweight material when he takes on the role of Jimmy Savile in a new theatre production.

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McGowan will play the late BBC presenter in Jonathan Maitland’s An Audience with Jimmy Savile, which draws on real-life interviews, transcripts and TV shows to explore how Savile, who died in 2011, was able to sexually abuse scores of people, some as young as eight-years-old, over the course of his career.

Maitlind admitted “it will be strange to see someone doing [Savile] for the first time“ but said audiences were “ready” and that McGowan’s combination of serious theatre and comedy experience made him perfect for the role.

“To have someone who is a fine actor but can also do the entertaining bit is great,” said Maitland. “But obviously the play is very much about the dark, nasty side. Alistair is terrific at that.”

Maitland, a journalist who has reported for ITV’s Tonight programme, said there was “a real public interest question” that made the scandal a valid topic for dramatisation.

“It is one of the biggest stories of the last five years,” he told the Guardian. “It has changed everything; it has changed the way we look at abuse, it has changed the way we prosecute it, it has changed attitudes towards it, the way we treat the survivors of it… What person would not want to explore what kicked it off?”

“There is a real public interest question,” he added. “What everyone wants to know – how on earth did this happen?”

Maitland described the content of the play as “semi-reportage”, saying “Almost everything Savile says in the play he said in interviews or I’m satisfied he would have said it like that.”

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An Audience with Jimmy Savile will form part of a new season of plays at award-winning north London fringe theatre The Park, where Maitland’s first play Dead Sheep is currently running.