Midlands actor John Marquez is best known as bungling PC Penhale in the hit TV series Doc Martin, but this month he’s turning his skills to a new comedy of ‘biblical proportions’ which premieres in Birmingham. David Johns caught up with him in rehearsals
Actor John Marquez wasn’t getting too excited when he got a part playing a bungling policeman in a new TV comedy-drama set in a quiet Cornish fishing village. His expectations weren’t much more than appearing in one or maybe two episodes. More than a decade and eight series later ITV’s hit show Doc Martin is still going strong – as is John’s character, PC Joe Penhale. In fact, the comical copper has become a viewers’ favourite over the years as a central character alongside Dr Martin Ellingham, played by Martin Clunes.
“The show has been wonderful to be a part of,” said Coventry-born John. “Although I’ve been in it a long time, it’s always fresh and exciting to film. And the great thing is that because we film it in blocks every two years, it leaves me plenty of time to do other things and play other roles whether in TV or theatre.” Doc Martin filming takes place from mid-March until the end of August in Port Issac which becomes the fictional village of Portwenn for TV. With the next block of filming due in 2019, John has had plenty of time to ‘stretch’ his acting skills in other directions – like this month, for instance, when he stars alongside Hugh Dennis and Lesley Garret in a new comedy of biblical proportions, The Messiah, at Birmingham Rep.
Billed as “the funniest and most magical nativity you’ll ever see”, The Messiah is written by Patrick Barlow, who also wrote the Olivier Award-winning West End hit, The 39 Steps. Fittingly for a Midlands’ lad whose mum originally comes from Birmingham, The Messiah is set in Birmingham and centres on a travelling theatre troupe of two actors and an opera singer who arrive in the city on camels to enact ‘the greatest story ever told’. Audiences should expect the sublime, the ridiculous and the truly angelic, says John.
“I was very fortunate to get the part,” adds John. “I got to know Patrick Barlow over the years and got a phone call. I remember going to see the original Messiah with Jim Broadbent in it. I guess you could say my humour is a bit more quirky than you normally see on TV, which is why I am looking forward so much to The Messiah.” John has been in rehearsals for the show – which premieres in Birmingham before going on tour across the UK – since early September.
Returning to the Midlands will be a special moment for John, who went to Bablake School, Coventry before leaving the city as an 18-year-old and following his older brother Martin, also an actor, to London. “I’m very lucky with being in Doc Martin – being in it doesn’t stop me going out an about as normal, going to the shops. I often think if you are in one of the big soaps it’s much more difficult because you are much more recognizable and some people can get a bit funny with you. Anyone who does know me, likes me because they like Doc Martin.”
While John is best known as PC Penhale, his career has been incredibly varied. On TV he has appeared with Ronnie Barker in Porridge, in Death in Paradise and In The Club. On stage he has performed at the National Theatre and in many West End shows as well as his ‘home’ theatres, Coventry Belgrade, Birmingham Rep and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Of his remaining ambitions he says: “I’ve done lots of good stuff in the theatre, but I would like to do a play with my brother who encouraged me to become an actor like him. That would make me very happy. I also want to do something with Harry Enfield and he has been talking about something he’s planning which would be great.” Boxout: