Spotlight On… Star of The Fix, Ken Christiansen

Ken Christiansen first came to my notice when he appeared as Ray Say in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at the Union Theatre. I have also had the pleasure of watching him play Grahame in The Fix where his vocal ability was completely mind-blowing. He’s an Off West End (OFFIE) nominee off the back of his performance as Grahame, so please give a warm welcome to the incredible man himself. 

Hi Ken, thank you so much for talking to Break A Leg, so at the moment you are appearing as Grahame in The Fix at The Union Theatre, tell me about the show and your character.

The Fix is a musical which was first performed at the Donmar Warehouse in 1997. This version is set in the 1960’s and the character I play is Grahame Chandler. He is a part of the American elite, he was set for Presidential office, however he developed Polio as a child, he has a nervous stammer and he’s a deeply repressed homosexual which in the 1960’s was un-presidential and his younger brother was pushed into the spotlight. He faced the rejection with stoicism, but mostly with bitterness. When he’s asked to fix it for his Nephew to run for President, his lust for power is then rekindled and it’s what ultimately leads to his downfall.

Were you familiar with the show before you took the role?

I didn’t know it at all, other than knowing that it had been commissioned by Cameron MackIntosh for the Donmar Warehouse, I wasn’t aware of it. It is an amazing show and Grahame is a great role to play. I had worked with Michael Strassen before when I played The Reciter in Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures, so I knew that we were going to have a lot of fun and his process is honest and he works with the basic building blocks of every individual performer’s ego, where childhood fears lie, he peels away layers of constraint until everything you do has a root. As a result audiences really understand the characters, it gets stark results and worked well for this production from the moment the narrative was developed off the script.

Any favourite musical numbers for you in The Fix?

A highlight has been working with a bunch of musical theatre actors. I’d say don’t be fooled, they kick regular actors into touch with their dedication. I’m very new to the musical theatre world, I cut my teeth within classical theatre, I trained at the Drama Centre in London where musical theatre is mostly frowned upon. For years I secretly harboured a desire to sing and entertain, so to get this opportunity is a blessing. It’s a physical and vocal mountain, but the rewards are really worth it and my co-stars Fra Fee, Madalena Alberto and Lucy Williamson inspire me every night.

I love the opening of act two where Grahame gets to break the fourth wall and hold court with the audience. I sing two very different numbers: Two Guys at Harvard which is a very knock about slapstick number with a tap dance on crutches, which is fun! It then segues into a much darker song First Came Mercy, it’s a showstopper that challenges the audience to look at their views towards disability and its the tipping point for Grahame where he finally gets confined to a wheelchair and discards the crutches, so it has a powerful punch and I think to write a song that reflects a poignant moment in someone’s life is a very unusual thing to do.

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Ken as Ray Say Photo Credit: Scott Rylander

Prior to The Fix you played Ray Say in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice which was the last show at the old Union Theatre.  Was Ray a part that you had considered playing?

Yes, I had heard a lot of good things about the Director, Alastair Knights and Ray Say was a role that I really wanted to play. I have very strong memories of seeing the original production when I was a very young man and being in awe of Pete Posthlewaite who originated the role. I’m a proud northerner myself and the idea of living for your dreams is in my DNA. In fact friends joked that I just had to be pushed on stage to play Ray. There is a good deal of Ray Say in me, of course, but he is much more of a northern braggart and philanderer.

What I wanted to do with the character of Ray was to find some warmer tones in him, I mean Ray probably has several kids of his own scattered around, and the connection that he makes with LV, although it’s mostly mercenary, there is some credibility and care attached to it. The houses I personally grew up in resembled Mari’s and I can remember house parties in the 70’s and 80’s which I used to observe from behind the sofa.

You had fantastic chemistry with Charlotte Gorton who played Mari, did you feel that the relationship developed from the start or did it grow as the show progressed?

It was there from day one, we just connected with each other and we did some really solid work, I don’t think we could have had a better Mari an the whole cast were a tight ship. The thing about Little Voice was there was nothing about it that let it down, it was remarkable in every aspect and that is quite rare when you work within the constraints of fringe theatre. The audiences we had were really moved by the piece, which was down to the power of the writing as well, it’s a modern classic, which considering it’s almost twenty five years old is quite something. I loved being able to be part of the last show at the old Union Theatre and to move across the road to the new theatre and be part of The Fix is special. I’m a lucky boy!

How many times have you performed at The Union Theatre?

Four times in the past two years, so it’s really gotten under my skin, it’s an inspiring brand to be a part of. I hope to back there again, soon – watch this space!

What inspired you to become a performer?

Apparently from being  very small child I wanted to be a ballet dancer, but my father said “over my dead body” and I didn’t realise that I wanted to be one until I became obsessed with ballet about six years ago. I phoned my mother up and said I can’t stop obsessing about it and she said it was all I wanted to do but because my father was so against it I then channelled that into drama and I think it’s an accident that I ended up as an actor. I was good at it, though and people clapped so it became like a drug and I didn’t want to do anything else. I’ve been lucky enough to have made it my career and I’m very blessed.

So, finally, what will you miss most about The Fix when the show closes, tomorrow?

I’ll miss the kids, they’re such a great bunch in the ensemble, some of them are only 19 years old and it’s their first ever job and they’re full of hope and chutzpah and it’s a real tonic to be around them.

Huge thanks to lovely Ken for his time, break a leg for the final performances of The Fix!

Feature Photo Credit: Darren Bell.

 

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Spotlight On…The Fix Ensemble Member, Sarah-Marie Maxwell

The Fix is at The Union Theatre until Saturday 6 August – you can still book tickets here: http://www.uniontheatre.biz

Sarah-Marie Maxwell is a new young talent, two years out of Drama School and giving an outstanding performance in The Fix at The Union Theatre. I predict fantastic things for this fantastic actress’s future and I’m delighted to bring you her first ever interview!

Thank you for chatting to Break A Leg, let’s start with The Fix, what’s the experience been like for you?

The Fix has been from the very beginning, such an amazing experience for me. I always like to try and learn from my surroundings and from the cast and crew, I’m still young and learning my craft. This has been an incredible place to continue with that learning process. To be able to work with the Director, Michael Strassen has been incredible, he’s just so hands on with his approach, which is refreshing. If he changes the way you do something, you can see why he’s right and he gets the best out of people. It’s been such a pleasure working with Michael and the cast that he has put together for The Fix is phenomenal, as you’ve seen, the talent in this cast is unbelievable. I’m sad that it’s finishing this week, I’ve loved every single moment of it.

Were you familiar with the musical before you were cast in it?

No, I wasn’t, I tried to do some research which is something that I make a point of doing with every job, and I discussed it with Michael. He said there wasn’t much about the show on the internet, but not to worry because we’d do it our own way and it would be fabulous! I did have a listen to some of the songs on Spotify, but obviously Fra, Lucy and Madalena’s voices are so different to those of the performers who are on the original soundtrack. They’ve all put their own stamp on it. So, although I didn’t know a lot about it, I’ve enjoyed being part of the creative process.

So, if it goes to the West End, would you be keen to move with it?

I wouldn’t hesitate to say yes, I care about the show and one of the many reasons is due to the fact that everyone in the cast gets their moment. Michael has made sure that we all have a chance. I think that’s one of the reasons we’re all working so hard, because we are enjoying doing a show that we care about.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a West End transfer because it’s done so well at The Union Theatre.

Have you got a favourite moment or a favourite song in the show?

There is a song that the girls in the dressing room all sing along to, it’s a duet between Grahame (Ken Christiansen) and Cal (Fra Fee) called Upper Hand. I also love the character that I play, Lesley, Cal’s vocal coach, I feel that I play her differently every performance, too. She gets more and more outrageous as the show goes on!

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In rehearsals for The Fix

 

You trained at Arts Educational Schools in Chiswick, what was that experience like?

It was an amazing experience, it was tough, they strip you back to basics in your first year and then the training you receive is incredible. You also feel as though you’re in a bubble, protected and safe while you’re at drama school and then you have your safety net taken away and it’s a strange feeling. I graduated two years ago and although it was scary at first, you realise that they have prepared you well. I would recommend Arts Ed to anyone who wants to train in Musical Theatre or acting.

It’s a strict environment and they teach you your audition etiquette, help you to establish your repertoire and push you to be the best you can be. I’m thankful for the training.

I’ve had the chance to some fantastic jobs since I left, purely because of timing, I think that timing is everything in this business. The Fix has been one of the most enjoyable so far, though.

So, finally what would you say to sell The Fix to anyone who hasn’t been to see it yet?

It’s quite a raunchy show, it’s very current in regards to politics, it’s an intimate space where the audience feel drawn in and a part of the show. If you want to see some great performances in a great space, come and see us!

Thanks to Sarah-Marie for giving her first ever interview to Break A Leg. All the best with the rest of the run and fingers crossed for a West End transfer!

Photo credits: Arts Educational Schools and The Union Theatre.

Spotlight On… Star of The Fix, Lucy Williamson

The Fix is at The Union Theatre and will close on Saturday 6 August. Catch it while you can! http://www.uniontheatre.biz/

Lucy Williamson has an impressive list of credits to her name, musical theatre is certainly a genre which comes easily to her and I remember her appearance in Fame back in the 90’s. Taking on the role of Violet Chandler in The Fix has been a challenge for her, but it’s one she’s embraced and it’s led her to a nomination for an Offie award. I caught up with Lucy while she was metamorphosing into the determined Widow!

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, Lucy, do tell me all about The Fix and your character.

The Fix is a musical written by John Dempsey and Dana P. Rowe, Cameron MackIntosh has the rights. It was originally performed at the Donmar Warehouse in 1997, Sam Mendes directed it and John Barrowman starred in it. I think it was possibly the wrong time for it, it was ahead of its time. I know Michael Strassen who directs this one did The Fix a couple of years ago at The Union Theatre and again very successfully, but I think the timing this time around is just brilliant for it. It’s a dark humoured political romp, with a few twists and turns that you don’t expect.

I play the part of Violet Chandler, who is mother of Calvin Chandler is pushed into the spotlight agaist his will to be the next President of the United States after Violet’s husband is found in a compromising situation.

Was she a role that you had previously considered playing?

I didn’t get to see it when Michael Strassen did it previously, I was doing something else at the time, he’d approached me and I couldn’t do it. When he was doing it this time I was very excited that he asked me to do it and I didn’t know anything about the show or the character. I didn’t want to watch anybody else do it, I preferred to put my own take on it. As soon as I realised what a great showcase of a role it was, which wasn’t until we opened and I realised how tired I am(!), obviously I know it’s a dream role and one that I am grateful for.

What’s your favourite moment in the show?

I like the number Harvard because I have to stay so insular throughout the show and that’s the one moment I’m let out of my cage. It’s a nice moment for the audience, too because it brings light relief. It gives them the opportunity to enjoy another element of the show rather than the general darkness that’s ensuing. I do also love the lift scene, it’s one of my favourite scenes because I can be bitchy but in a humourous way.

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Lucy as Violet in The Fix, with co-star Ken Christiansen. Photo credit: Darren Bell.

 

What are your dream roles?

On stage: Mama Rose, Mrs Lovett, Grizabella, Norma Desmond and I would love to play Violet in The Fix on a West End stage. On television or film, it would have to be a period drama. Something by Jane Austen or a programme like Downton Abbey. I would love the opportunity to do that.

Who inspires you as a performer?

As an actress, Dame Judi Dench. Personally, I would choose Michael Strassen as he is genuinely the most inspiring Director I have ever worked with. He pulls things our of me that I didn’t know were there. I’m inspired by everything around me and always striving to learn my craft.

Finally, what would you say to encourge potential audience members to buy a ticket and come to watch The Fix?

Fra Fee gets his chest out! Kate Parr who plays Deborah and is in the ensemble comes on in a pair of suspenders , pants and a bra. If you’re looking for something for the weekend, Bob’s your Uncle!

I’d to like to thank Lucy for her time, a fantastic lady to interview and I have my fingers crossed for that Offie!

Featured Photo credit: http://www.lucywilliamson.com

The Fix ~ Union Theatre, London

Showing until 6th August 2016

Visit: http://www.uniontheatre.biz/ to book tickets

Star rating: *****

I was already familiar with the original soundtrack to this controversial yet exceptionally current piece of musical theatre, I have also watched clips of other performers playing the main roles. However, in three years of theatre blogging, I have never seen a performance that matches the magic of Lucy Williamson’s genius portrayal of Violet Chandler.

The show centres around a family in ‘mourning’ for the loss of Reed Chandler (played by Peter Saul Blewden) who was tipped to be President. A far cry from “don’t put your daughter on the stage, Worthington” yet the similarities are also uncanny, as Violet, the power-crazed Widow decides that if she can’t be the wife of the President, you can bet your ass, she’ll be his mother! Her unwilling Son, Cal (Fra Fee), who is of questionable paternity, is pushed to centre stage with his mother and Uncle Graham (Ken Christiansen), behind him. Graham is a bitter man, crippled physically, and it seems, also mentally. Cal is dragged into the middle of a political whirlwind where he has his marriage fixed for him. Plus, to keep him pepped, his mother is insisting that they do whatever it takes, and what it takes, is drugs, thus throwing the unwitting young lad into the clutches of another woman. The other woman is a stripper called Tina (Madalena Alberto) .

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Tina and Cal find love in a dangerous place

The musical is packed with numbers that make for dramatic listening, Embrace Tomorrow which is a duet between Violet and Grahame is one of my personal favourites. I have always been moved by Spin, too, and Lucy Williamson took this pinnacle song and notched it up several more levels in comparison to the version I am used to hearing. The choreography was tight, slick and made as much impact as the score, itself.

The cast, collectively are a strong mixture of talented all-round performers. Madalena Alberto is the perfect choice for the lost, lonely and highly influential Tina, she makes for a good pairing with Fra Fee as Cal. The ensemble all possess excellent vocal ability, I was able to distinguish the harmonies clearly and they provided a heady backing for the big power-house numbers. However, it’s Christiansen and Williamson that steal the show as limelight hungry Violet and flawed Grahame. They’re a force to be reckoned with, to the point that you might suspect they have worked together extensively, before, which they haven’t! I have previously been privy to Christiansen’s acting ability, but add his singing voice to the mix and it’s a performance de force. Williamson is a Norma Desmond and Grizabella  in the making, at the very least.

It’s a dream of a show, well directed, well choreographed and a fantastic use of the new space recently taken over by the Union Theatre. Bravo!

Photo Credits: Darren Bell

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