Did you have to learn to play an instrument for the role, or were you asked which instruments you would like to play and they fitted it round you?
Sarah Travis, who is one of the true geniuses of theatre, knows well that I am one of those boring people who plays a lot of instruments and so it wasn’t a question of which one I wanted to play, she would just say perhaps you could play some guitar here, or maybe you could play the flute here. Often it’s by design, there’s a moment in the show where I play a double bass and the only reason I do it is because Alex had to get to the front of the stage to sing his line and there was no-one else to play it. I didn’t expect to get to play as much as I do. I get to play the flute which wasn’t an instrument I expected Joe to play but I think it is nice that Joe gets to play his own theme tune at the beginning of both acts.
Which character that you have played do you like the best?
I don‘t think anyone can argue that Judas Iscariot is one of the very best characters ever in a musical theatre piece and I know that because it is the part that everyone always asks me about most. Anyone who has ever been able to sing a top D wants to be able to sing Judas and even when I was doing it I remember hearing people singing it in the wings so it is one of those iconic parts and I was 24 when I got that part. It was my first ever musical and I knew nothing about musicals and had never been part of that world. It was astonishing to me that people would ask me what I was doing and when I told them I was playing Judas the look on their face was one of awe, which made me realise it was a part you really need to respect. Andrew’s score is remarkable but it is a very challenging role and it is horrendously difficult to sing eight shows a week but it is brilliant in every single way. It was a monster that I was incredibly fortunate to play.
What is your favourite ever musical number?
Well there are several. The duet between Anita and Maria in West Side Story is a masterpiece. West Side Story is one of those musicals which if you haven’t seen or heard it your life is incomplete! I think “Gethsemene” from Jesus Christ Superstar is an extraordinary song. Standing in the wings every night watching Josie Walker sing “If This is What We Are Fighting For” (The Beautiful Game) was amazing. It is a shame that musical was not given the recognition it deserved. “I Am What I Am” from La Cages au Folles…. It’s very hard to give only one…!
Do you get nervous before a performance?
No. Nervous is the wrong word. Obviously before things like press night you get big nerves but not nervous before each show. Full of adrenalin yes, otherwise I would be incredibly concerned. As actors you learn to feed off that to charge you to perform to your best ability. It focuses you.
Do you have any lucky rituals before a performance, or audition?
I do have very set routines. It’s not quite as bad as OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) but never watch me butter a piece of toast! (laughs) I will never walk on stage without having showered before the half. Ever. And I always brush my teeth before going on. Even when I did a previous show and had to be caked in mud I would still shower to make sure I was clean underneath it! Also the shower gets your vocal chords warmed up. Oh, and I always have two skinny lattes as well!
Where would you like to be in 5 years time?
That’s a hell of a question! I would like to be still doing what I am doing. Listen. What we do for a living is so unbelievably privileged and to be playing a lead role in any West End show… you just have to watch half a minute of something like X Factor or Any Dream Will Do to know how many people in this country have the dream of being on stage and doing this for a living. The fact that I have been doing this for 15 years and am still doing it and still loving it, I think I have achieved my ambition as far as shows go. Judas was one of the only parts I ever wanted to play. I am now playing Joe Gillis … as far as I am concerned if there was a tragedy tomorrow and I could never do this again I have done it and will always be eternally grateful for the opportunities that have come my way. I would like to maybe get myself on telly a bit. I have done a little bit of it – and film as well – but I have always been too busy on stage. I’d like to do that but I remember when I was filming a Lynda La Plante Trial and Retribution – I had a great part and loved doing it – but it was a very different experience from performing in front of a live audience. But maybe I should go away and do that for a while and double my money of course (laughs) and come back and do this. At the end of the day you have got to be wise about it and say that we live in a televisual society and people want to see people they recognise on stage.
With the advent of the TV reality casting shows things are merging now between TV and stage…
It’s great. I think there has been a lot of derision aimed towards these programmes by some of the theatre hoardes, but I think they are utterly wrong. I don’t think theatre should be kept for people who enjoy theatre, I think that is why theatre was dying on its arse because there are not enough of us out there. I am passionate about theatre. I think live performance is the ultimate and I don’t want to press a rewind button everytime I see something – I want to experience it live. I think these programmes have given an awareness to theatre in the last three or so years. And it’s not a new concept. Marti Webb came from New Faces and did Tell Me On A Sunday. People do want to see people they recognise, from TV or indeed recording artists such as David Essex who then did Evita. It is not a new idea, it’s just because we are being a bit overrun with X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent etc, that’s boring. But I still think that for people to come and see Joseph, which is a show Andrew wrote all those years ago, and to have a passion and be interested in it, and for a new generation of kids to want to be involved in theatre then it is absolutely not only important, but essential that this regeneration happens. And if some of us have to work a bit harder to get jobs then, so be it. As long as theatre survives that is the important thing because if everyone is sitting at home on a Saturday night watching television instead of going to the theatre then I am afraid it is a very sorry world!
How would you like to spend your perfect day off?
In Somerset where I am from originally going for a long walk with my loved ones and being outside.
Who would make you starstruck if you met them?
Everyone! I am like a little kid when I meet famous people! I once went to a read through of the We Will Rock You script, a kind of rehearsal reading, and Robert de Niro was there, I was completely starstruck and couldn’t speak properly. I get starstruck seeing anyone – particularly sports people. I once met Tony Adams who captained Arsenal. I am a huge Arsenal fan and I literally made a sound that went… (Ben makes a strangled sound that would be lost in translation!) . Even people I have worked with in the past if they are doing great stuff. I saw Hannah Waddingham recently who is a great friend of mine cos we did a duet together every night for a year together in The Beautiful Game. But I saw her recently and she has done so well I was completely… oh my god… it’s Hannah! But I think you should be lost for words when you see someone you completely respect and admire!
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