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By Open Air Theatre
Tell us a bit about your background; how you got into acting, where you trained, who inspired you?
I grew up in Nottingham and was trained as part of N.E.T (Nottinghamshire Education Theatre Company), an amazing programme funded by Nottinghamshire council. We did lots of shows; musicals, plays, dance pieces – we took a show to Poznan in Poland when I was 15 which was our twinned town. It was a trip that made me realise that this was something I could do for the rest of my life. It’s sad actually because that company’s funding has been cut over the years and I know so many people who benefitted from it: Rosalie Craig, Adam Penford (taking over as the new Artistic Director of Nottingham Playhouse), the producer John Bath, comedian Colin Hoult and loads of other brilliant professionals involved in the industry who probably wouldn’t have taken that route unless they'd gone there.
After my A levels I went to LIPA in Liverpool, which is an incredible drama school with amazing facilities. For someone like me who didn’t really know what their main strength was it was a safe place to explore and play; it was priceless.
You have quite a diverse portfolio of work, including the role of Dahh-Ren in Doctor Who – what was it like work on such an iconic show?
I didn’t want to get pigeon-holed from the beginning, and I had different skills; I didn’t want to just sing, just act, just be a physical performer. I’ve strived to try and do everything.
Acting in Doctor Who was brilliant. Dahh-Ren was such a weird and wonderful character, who was also completely blue! The episode was set in a futuristic spaceship full of the walking dead - and I got to have a really dramatic death! Interestingly I had a bald head in Doctor Who, and Tom Scutt (Designer) got really excited and asked if I’d shave my head for Herod this year…I said no! But we ended up compromising with a very effective bald cap.
Lots of changes have been made to your role this year: props, costume, make up and wigs (and a few additional flips!); what role have you had in the development of the character?
The changes to Herod have all been collaborative. He always went down well last year with the audience but I did feel like there was something missing; there’s a really ugly side of him which can sometimes be missed in interpretations of Herod. He is there for light relief because the second Act is so full on, and the audience need a chance to breathe, but underneath the uptempo number there is a sinister edge. He's unhinged, a crazed megalomaniac lunatic, and we wanted to explore in more detail these darker undertones as well as the dancing joker.
Tom Scutt came up with the idea of having a machete, which is hilarious and horrible, but also matched the fact that the ensemble have their heads on plates. We had a few hours playing around with the machete thinking how we could use it in the routine, how we could use it in a threatening way and actually realised we could completely subvert it as a dancing prop, which is somehow even weirder!
Then Timothy Sheader (Director) got me to really push myself in terms of losing my head. It’s only a 3 ½ minute song, but it like a 3 act play! In our story Herod is desperately trying to get Jesus to react and uses every bizarre tactic under the sun but Jesus remains stony faced. For people used to getting their own way, that's infuriating. I’m really glad we had a second chance to explore all of that, and give more of a three dimensional edge to Herod rather than just a traditional showman.
We were thrilled when it was announced that you would be coming back to reprise the role of Herod this summer. What drew you back to the Park?
We only did six weeks last year, which is such a short run! It’s no time at all, and so many people didn’t get to see it because it was sold out last year. The theatre is so stunning and such a nice way to spend the summer. It was really exciting that most of the ensemble were new which meant a different energy, a different vibe; so I knew we wouldn’t just be repeating the same show we did last year. Everyone from the onset wanted to push the show on and challenge themselves, so it felt great to re-explore it.
Your transformation into Herod is quite dramatic, how long does it take you to change, and what’s the process?
I’m in an unusual situation because Herod isn’t usually in the rest of the show, he’s just in Herod’s song, but in this version I do the entire first half in the ensemble doing the very challenging Drew McOnie Choreography. I come off after the Temple, which is a high energy number, covered in black spray, sweat and glitter and jump straight in the shower. I then head to the makeup room where the incredible Jess Plews (Head of Wigs, Hair and Makeup) starts work on Herod. We go from that point which is the start of the interval, through 'Gethsemane', through 'The Arrest', a total of 40 minutes. We do the bald head, makeup, lashes, glitter, latex dripping, gold spray, gold nipples…then the transformation is complete! I do Herod's song and then have about 3 minutes to get it all off to get back on for ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ at the end! I'm exhausted.