Interview with Neil Morrissey | Oliver!
Neil Morrissey, yes he of Men Behaving Badly and Bob the Builder fame, will be spending a month on our shores in the role of Fagin as Cameron Mackintosh's Oliver! comes to the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre. Opening December 12th and running until January 12th, Lionel Bart's famed musical based on the Dickens classic features singing urchins, adorable orphans, and Christmas cheer by the bucket load and not only features Morrissey, but also I'd Do Anything runner-up and Les Miserables star Samantha Barks. We had a chat with Neil ahead of opening night, and talked about what it's like being the ringleader to a stage full of ragamuffin kids, Men Behaving Badly and what's in store for Irish audiences.
What can we expect from the show when it comes to Ireland? Is it the movie we all know and love?
Well it’s very much the musical by Lionel Bart, the movie version was slightly altered, so we have extra songs. In fact, Bill Sykes gets an extra song as well which is his big scary entrance. So there’s a little bit extra. But I think because we’re there and in your face and live, and there isn’t a song in it that you won’t know if you know the movie musical version, it’s just as vibrant and just as fun as it, if not more.
And how is life on tour treating you? You’ve been at it a long time now...
Well I started off doing the first sixteen weeks and then had a six month break and now I’m back on it ‘til the end, so I’ll have done six months by the time I finish. It’s gruelling, it’s hard work, but that’s what we do. We’re travelling players and we have minstrels and a big fat set so it’s fantastic.
And we didn’t know you could hold a tune, how did you get involved in such a large musical?
Well you know, I suppose you could call it... I’ve sung in pubs since I was able to sing and I guess the voice came a little bit later but it’s not like I’m a big trained singer, I get away with it! Fagin isn’t exactly required to be operatic, so you’ll find I’m no Pavarotti in this show. But it’s more about acting the songs and I sing in key. But you mustn’t forget of course I had three number ones with Bob the Builder. So I’m no stranger to music! And I’ve been in some musicals in the West End, Guys And Dolls, although that was Nathan Detroit who had two not exactly taxing tunes. So you know, I’ve been known to do it but don’t expect me to be Pav.
When did you first see Oliver!? What are your memories of it?
Gosh I must have seen it in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s. I think it was actually produced in ‘67 so it wouldn’t surprise me if it was around then that I saw it first when I was about 6 or 7 years old. And certainly it’s been around for all those years post then, so I guess I must have seen it 10 times in my life.
So Fagin was somewhat familiar to you before you started?
Well I’ve seen the Ron Moody film version of him, but the only time I’ve seen it on stage was when Brian Connelly was doing it in this production and I went to see that before I came back into it.
What's it like being Fagin, being in charge of all the ragamuffins?
It’s good fun! It’s true, you know, that one of the biggest dangers is trying not to tread on children but it’s great, it always is doing live theatre especially with a big crowd. We have a sixteen piece orchestra and a massive set, Cameron Mackintosh doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to his productions. So it’s a fantastic, there's the costumes, it snows on stage, there’s all kinds of things flying in and rolling in and out and it’s just... Grand.
You’re almost unrecognisable as Fagin with all the makeup that goes on, how is that process?
Well we’ve actually got it honed down now. When we started, it took the best part of an hour to get the makeup on but now we’ve got it down to about half an hour, but it’s strange enough. We found a new glue that is a lot better than the original glue that we use to stick on the face and the hair. It goes on and off quicker and it’s malleable so you don’t need so much repairs when you’re doing it. You can imagine that if you fix something with glue around your mouth, and you’re moving your mouth singing it just cracks but this new glue is great. Sorry to bore you with that technical detail!
And they say never work with animals or children, and you’ve got a whole host of them...
Yes a whole host and a dog called Bullseye! They’re very good, surprisingly professional. They range from about 7 to 12 years old and they’re amazing and amazingly talented, really brilliant. They’re looked after very well. There’s 12 guys in the scene, which means we tour with 36 guys, and we also employ 36 guys in Dublin, guys and girls to fill in the rest. They’re being coached at the moment so when we turn up there’s all the kids in the opening sequence in Food Glorious Food, and all the extra kids in Consider Yourself and all the big scenes where there’s more than 12 kids in it, these guys are around. It’s amazing how we keep finding and recruiting these fantastic kids.
And you have a partner on stage, the powerhouse that is Samantha Barks, the soon to be movie star..
Yes she’s amazing, and a fantastic voice. But we actually have two, because we have Cat who comes and covers for Sam and they’re both brilliant. But yes Sam is going to launched into the hollywood stratosphere quite soon and deservedly so. She’s a wonderful and hugely attractive girl.
So it’s probably our last chance to see her on stage before she becomes this big star...
Well you know with Cameron, there’s always the opportunity to come and do a big role on the West End. And Cameron is the Spielberg of the stage business, you very rarely turn down an offer from Cameron. It’s always gonna be good if comes looking for you to be in something.
You’ll be in the role until February now, how do you keep it fresh every night?
Well that’s acting. The great thing about theatre as opposed to television is that you have this big story arc, right from the moment you walk out, and you play that to its fullness every night as opposed to having to do bits and pieces here and there, which in some ways can be more challenging because you have to keep your eye on the first time you put your character on celluloid. But in this you can have some variation depending on if the audience have a variation in their reaction to you as well. It’s just about getting out there and going in with the same energy and keeping yourself clear and calm on the actual job and the arc of the character. That’s what the job is, it’s difficult to stay fresh every night doing the same thing over and over, but it’s those little developments that keep your eye on the ball. Plus you never know what kids are gonna do, or members of the audience!
Do you have a favourite moment in the show, either to be in or to watch?
I think my favourite moment is the curtain call ‘cause I know I’m only 25 minutes from a pint! There are loads of fantastic moments, there are so many amazing songs and I’m not actually on stage for Consider Yourself but it’s such a brilliant number. I’m always toe-tapping and singing along backstage. There’s great little moments with Corney and I love it when Boy For Sale is being sung and the whole set is so beautiful with snow falling. It’s just delightful. And there’s so many great characters, the funeral people... You’ll love it, it has everything. I mean, Where Is Love, a little boy in the spotlight with a beautiful voice. And then there’s whole big dance numbers.
I can’t let you go without talking about Men Behaving Badly. It’s been 14 years since it finished, do you still get recognised as Tony?
Yes, people call me Tony Morrissey and I tell them know, you’re getting me confused with the bloke on the telly. But it’s amazing, it must have made such an impact for people to still be talking about it today. And of course this year, and I didn’t even know this but there’s a 20th anniversary boxset for sale, so it’s 20 years since it started, way back with Harry Enfield the first year.
You’re working with our very own Robert Sheehan now on BBC’s Me And Mrs. Jones, has he prepared you for life in Dublin?
Ah yes, Robbie he’s a top man! I’ve been to Dublin a good few times but you’re right I should give him a call and see if he’s about. I’ve got a feeling he’s in Los Angeles at the moment, I think he may be doing some filming in London in November, but I think he’s out in LA. There’s a lot of interest in him out there and why wouldn’t there be, he’s a very talented and gorgeous looking boy isn’t he?!
So are you spending Christmas here?
We’re spending Christmas and New Year in Dublin. We’ve got four days off and I thought, I’m not gonna waste them travelling, so family are coming over and we’re all looking forward to it. We’ll have a full house with a full turkey and all the trimmings, and perhaps a bit of midnight mass as well and see what happens from there! I’m very near St. Stephens Green so there’ll be a lot going on between Christmas and New Year.
What’s next for you once you hang up Fagin’s rags?
I’m gonna hang up the rags of Fagin, I have a movie coming out in February called Run For Your Wife, which is a comedy with Danny Dyer, and I think they want to film the sequel next year as well. Hopefully there’ll be some more Me And Mrs. Jones, and whatever else comes up. There’s always something to spoil my season ticket to Crystal Palace!
Oliver! runs at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre from December 12th to January 12th. Tickets from €20 available now from the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre Box Office and www.bordgaisenergytheatre.ie
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Friday 30th November 2012 | Theatre
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