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… Carly Thoms

Carly Thoms is a dream of a performer, she has recently breathed life into the role of Little Voice at The Union Theatre and previously took on the 48 Hour Challenge where she played Miss Dorothy in Thoroughly Modern Millie. I caught up with Carly, post LV, to ask all manner of nosey questions!

You’ve just finished a run at The Union Theatre playing the title role in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, can you describe your experience on this amazing show?

I have loved every minute of it. It’s such a challenging role, having to be confident with all of the impressions and the huge journey LV goes on through the play. It’s a play about grief and doing that every night was challenging but quite therapeutic. The entire cast and Alastair Knights (the director) were all fantastic to work with. It felt like a real ensemble piece and everyone gave 100% which made it so exciting.

How familiar were you with the script prior to auditioning for LV?

I had watched the film a few years back and loved it. LV’s monologue was the first monologue I ever learnt, so it was great to get the chance to work on it again! Sort of nostalgic.

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Carly played LV – a gift of a role that she did tremendous justice to!

Do you find impersonating people comes easily? Is there a knack to it?

I didn’t know I could do it if I’m honest! I knew my voice was quite versatile and that I mess around doing impressions but didnt think any of them were particularly good. I think the key to doing the impressions for me, was having the confidence to just throw myself in to them. Once you know the voice placement it’s more about just going for it!

Was LV a role you had considered playing before?

I have always thought it was a gift of a role, I feel very lucky to have had the chance to play it.

You recently played Miss Dorothy in Thoroughly Modern Millie, what are your favourite memories of that show? Any scenes that stood out for you?

It was for the 48 hour challange so it was all a bit of a blur! It was incredible to see everyone pulling together for such a good cause (Mind Charity). Miss Dorothy is such a fun role, I loved working with Will Kenning on ”Ah sweet Mystery of life”.

Is there a particular musical that it would be your dream to appear in?

I would love the chance to play Charlotte in A little Night Music. I love how witty she is and ‘every day a little death’ is just heartbreaking, I would love the challenge!

What led you into a performing career?

I went on tour with Whistle down the Wind when I was 12 and did it for 3 years… I fell in love with it and have wanted to work in the industry ever since!

Any advice for future performers?

It’s a marathon not a sprint and there’s more to life than getting a job, don’t take other parts of your life for granted when you’re chasing a job!

What’s next for you?

Back to auditioning and enjoying some family time.

 

Huge thanks to Carly for a lovely interview, I can speak personally for her performance in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice – LV was a role that was made for her talents!

Spotlight On… Glenn Adamson

Glenn Adamson has just completed a run in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at The Union Theatre. He’s also been asked back to appear in pantomime at The Mercury Theatre, but what have his career highlights been to date and how did he come to be an performer? I found out!

How have you enjoyed the role of Billy in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice and how familiar were you with the piece prior to landing the part?

I’m originally a northern boy and now live in Leeds between jobs. So I love the strong northern writing of Little Voice, and I actually think I’ve met all of these characters at some point (that’s a scary thought). I first saw the play at the West Yorkshire Playhouse a couple of years ago, I loved it so much I went back the next night. I knew then I wanted to be in this play and Billy is the obvious role (though I’d happily audition for LV) so I jumped at the chance to audition.

Have you a favourite scene or moment in the show?

I love the celebration dance off between Sadie and Mari to ‘Jackson Five’. You laugh, you cringe, but we’ve all done it at some point in our lives – when you are so happy and the only way to express it is to dance! I also look forward to that because we all give it beans with our own routine back stage, if you could see into the wings you’d see the remaining cast members throwing some serious shapes!

Has your perception of your character and indeed the story altered as the show has progressed?

The idea of Billy climbing LV’s bedroom window to speak to her, when he barely knows her, is quite a creepy notion. How would you react if a stranger starts banging on your window! I felt like a creep doing it at first, but now I’ve realised he’s just willing to do anything to get through to this girl. She’s a rare find for Billy, they are both surrounded by big characters in a world of noise and chaos, and they both are quiet and introverted. He finds his parallel in LV and he’ll stop at nothing to make her notice him. I imagine they are probably each other’s first and only friends, people are quick to give up on quiet people, they mistake shyness for rudeness or stupidity, when actually they are just observing the world and taking it all in. He’s so eager for a like minded friend and he finds her.

What led you to follow a performing career?

I was very theatrical from a young age, always playing characters and putting on performances for anyone that would watch. As I got older I became quite shy and thrived off the idea of being someone else for a small period of time. I was so confident when I was pretending to be someone else but not as Glenn. So my parents sent me to the local youth theatre and I thrived there. Glenn the actor was much more confident than Glenn the school boy. I refused to do any drama at school, I was too afraid of people seeing that side of me. I still find it much easier to get on stage in front of an audience than I would to talk to a stranger for the first time.

Any highlights so far?

I did a national tour of ‘Secret Love: The Doris Day Story’ and played Doris’ son. It was filled with soft shoe dances and amazing songs. It was a great meaty role and I was working with great actors that taught me lots about how to survive in this industry. My favourite jobs are always the ones where I’m the youngest in the cast, everyone takes you under their wings and you get adopted theatre parents for the run. I realise it’s not going to be that way forever, thus far though I’ve always been the youngest in any cast I’ve been in. Long may it continue!!

What is your advice for people who wish to follow a career in performing arts?

I went straight to drama school at 18. I sometimes think that’s too young to go and train. I was so eager to be out in the industry. But at 18 its such a big change just to leave home and live alone, let alone some of the pressures of drama school and the things you have to do. I’d tell an 18 year old me, to take a year to find myself, do all the things you can’t do as an actor, like travelling the world etc. It’s so hard to play a range of other complex characters on stage when you don’t really know who you are yet! Once your out of drama school for the first two years just take whatever comes you way, you learn on the job.

Finally, a little birdie tells me you’re playing Dick Whittington this Christmas, are you excited to be performing in another pantomime and what do you enjoy most about panto?

Yes I can’t wait. I’m heading back to The Mercury Theatre in Colchester after playing Aladdin for them last year. I love it there, I’ve never known such a friendly welcoming environment. I’m just grateful they haven’t got sick of me yet. The Mercury really get it, they keep in all the stuff families love splosh scenes and ghost gags etc, but they write their actors a really strong script and a beautiful score to sing. So everyone’s happy! It’s not too cheesy but still has the family magic.

 Thanks to Glenn for chatting to Break A Leg, I can testify that he was the perfect Billy in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice and best wishes are sent to him for future projects and indeed, panto! Oh yes they are….

Feature Photo credit: Scott Rylander

Spotlight On… Actress, Charlotte Gorton

Charlotte Gorton has been working in the West End in the widest range of roles possible, but her recent casting as leopard print clad Mari Hoff in The Rise and Fall Of Little Voice at The Union Theatre may just be one of the most pivotal moments for her career. Charlotte was incredible in the role when I had the pleasure of reviewing the show, and it is my pleasure to present my exclusive interview with the Lady behind the leopard print!

Thank you so much for talking to Break A Leg, Charlotte, I loved your performance as Mari in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, how has the show been going for you and tell me about the audition process.

Thank you and thanks for having me, I am loving playing Mari, she is a dream of a part and not a part I thought I would have the chance to play. I was nervous in case I made a mess of it, 75% of the script is Mari’s dialogue and The Union Theatre is an intimate space.

I was told that the audition would consist of one call, and I watched the film version of Little Voice to give me an idea of the character. I didn’t want to bring too much of Brenda Blethyn’s performance into it, though. I dressed ‘the part’ for the audition and that earned me some funny looks on my journey to The Union Theatre. My agent called me afterwards to say that I had a second call back, but when I arrived I was greeted with “we’re so glad you’re on board!” “you’ve got the part, do you want it?”.

Before the audition I recalled an inspirational speech that the late Philip Seymour Hoffman made: (editor’s note – I have attached the Youtube link as the whole clip is worth a watch!)

Were you familiar with the script before the audition came along?

I wasn’t and the script is actually quite difficult to get hold of. I watched the film for inspiration, Jim Cartwright is a brilliant writer. I will never forget the wonderful words that he has written.

Have you a favourite scene in the show?

I love the scene with Sadie (played by Mandy Dassa) where we dance, I love it because that came out of our own rehearsals and I think it reflects the relationship between the two characters.

My favourite is also the final scene, the showdown with LV (played by Carly Thoms) we put so much into that and I knew when I auditioned with Carly that we had something. I love the change in Mari’s character from this mum who doesn’t care about her daughter and thinks she’s found love with Ray Say, to a broken woman who’s lost everything in the fire.

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Charlotte as Mari in The Rise and Fall Of Little Voice at The Union Theatre. Photo Credit: Scott Rylander.

You’re from a musical theatre background, what are your favourite memories from appearing in the musicals you have been cast in to date? Is there a favourite among them?

I love them all for different reasons, playing Clara in Memphis was a highlight because it’s always special when you’re part of an original cast. I loved Guys And Dolls, that’s my favourite musical, I’ve performed in that at various times, from amateur dramatics to Piccadilly Theatre with Ewan McGregor.

Equally, I enjoyed being part of the Mamma Mia cast, I was cover for Donna and I went on as Tanya. It’s good fun to do and the audience get up and dance at the end of every show.

You were in the cast of Viva Forever, what was it like to be part of the show?

To be part of the cast was amazing, what a journey, and it has a special place in my heart because it was my first performance after a seven year break. I had intended to take a year out and it turned into seven years. Despite the press reviews, it was a great show to be part of.

Have you got an ambition to play any particular role in the future?

Well, I never thought that I would play Mari, so I now feel that the possibilities are endless for an actress of my age. There are so many great role, Madame Thenardier in Les Miserables, Rosie in Mamma Mia, there are so many strong roles for women.  Writers are realising that there is a need for this.

I’d like to thank Charlotte for her time, it was fantastic to chat to her, wishing ‘Mari’ and the rest of the cast of The Rise and Fall Of Little Voice, you can still book tickets here: http://www.uniontheatre.biz/

A review of the show can be found here:

https://breakalegreview.com/2016/06/13/little-voice-union-theatre-southwark/

Featured Image: Becky Barrett Management

 

 

 

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