CV in brief:
Acts alongside Derek Jacobi in A Voyage Round My Father at the Donmar Warehouse
Co-writes and stars in Stephen And The Sexy Partridge at the Old Red Lion
Co-writes and stars in Avocado at the King’s Head theatre
Co-writes and stars in Stephen And The Sexy Partridge West End transfer at the Trafalgar Studios 2
What got you interested in acting?
I used to go to the theatre quite a bit with my family when I was growing up in London and I saw some fantastic things. I saw the first production of Arcadia in the West End with Rufus Sewell and I just thought that was the most fantastic play and it totally inspired me about what theatre could be like and I felt immediately after seeing productions like that that I wanted to be involved.
Where did you train?
At RADA. Before that I did three years at Cambridge. I did a degree in Psychology and Politics.
Why did you decide to do an unrelated degree first?
There are so many interesting things to do out there. You can go to university and drama school, but it’s hard to do it the other way round and I was very pleased that I went because I met a lot of people who were doing all kinds of things and I really enjoyed that.
What was your first acting experience?
I played a rock in the school play! They had a dry ice machine to make it a sort of smoky moor and I had to lie very still by the dry ice machine and I was quite lucky to have survived it. I was very nervous, I remember thinking it was very important, I was about the 13th rock from the left. It was in a show called the W11 Children’s Opera, which still exists. It’s a local community theatre project that Sophie Ellis Bextor used to do and Jemima Rooper. Quite a few people have gone on to do a lot of acting so there must have been something in the mist that got all the rocks totally hooked. Sophie Ellis Bextor played a very sexy grasshopper and she was very good.
What’s been your most obscure job?
At RADA I was the cow in the musical Into The Woods and I got a letter from an agent when I hadn’t got one with a much bigger role and I thought perhaps I should go into cows fulltime. That was when I got the best feedback, when I was a cow. That was kind of obscure, but fun. I loved it!
What’s Stephen And The Sexy Partridge all about?
It’s about the Christmas carol The Twelve Days Of Christmas. Stephen is an ordinary chap who has a bit to learn. He has an argument with his girlfriend which prompts him to go shopping to find her a great present and in a shop window he meets a magical partridge who starts talking to him. She’s a sort of intergalactic superhero who takes him on a guided tour through the 12 days of Christmas. He meets sexy French hens and lords a-leaping, Maris Piper Potato’s piping band and he goes to a sex call centre with calling birds who all have beaks but do dirty bird talking. It’s a very surreal take on the traditional carol.
How did the play come about?
I co-wrote it with Finnian O’Neill who I was at Cambridge with. We met when we were 18 and doing comedy at Cambridge and we’ve always been friends and written and worked together.
Were you both pleased when the show transferred from the Old Red Lion to the West End?
It has just been incredible and Trafalgar Studios is brilliant. Othello’s been on there and Public Property, so there’s so much going on. You walk into the Green Room and there is a French hen making a cup of tea with Iago which is really surreal; it’s a bit like being in Rentaghost or Labyrinth or something because the whole of the backstage is filled with these amazing creatures. It’s delightful. Coming out of the theatre in Trafalgar Square is so Christmassy, it feels a bit like being in Harry Potter when they come out of Diagon Alley and it’s filled with all these weird, curious things and suddenly you’re back to normal in King’s Cross and it’s like it never happened.
Have you written other plays?
I had a play on at the King’s Head in October which I wrote with a New York writer, Bekah Brunstetter, called Avocado. I just went to New York to do a reading of it over there. She [Bekah] is doing really well in London and incredibly well in New York. So she and I had that play on here and we’re going to have a production of it in New York next year in the spring. It’s fantastic, I’ve always wanted to work there.
Have you always wanted to both write and act?
Yes I have. I’ve produced Stephen And The Sexy Partridge as well so it’s been really interesting learning about producing something, but writing is something I’d really like to do more of and I’ve got a couple of projects I’m working on at the moment.
Best thing about being on stage?
It’s very uplifting. A play like this is really exciting and unusual. It’s so fast paced, the show’s an hour and 15 minutes long and our stage manager has over 500 cues, which in a tiny theatre is daft, and most of the cast have at least 10 costume changes, so there’s so much going on that it’s kind of like a dramatic assault course. There’s a certain amount of enjoyment in just surviving it and that’s a nice feeling because you can’t just sit back on your laurels or take yourself too seriously. But the idea is to surprise and delight the audience, so when we get gasps and shrieks then we know that we’re doing it right.
…and the worst?
I have a beak! It’s quite hard because I have to sing and dance with my beak and sometimes I get a bit asphyxiated and it’s a bit like being a rock by the dry ice machine all over again.
What actors in particular would you like to work with?
I love Emma Thompson. I met her recently and I think she’s extraordinary. I love the way she does different things within theatre and film and she does amazing charity work as well. There are two actresses I worked with at the Donmar called Joanna David and Natasha Little who have had fantastic careers doing brilliant things and they’re incredibly kind and lovely people, so I would say them.
If you weren’t an actress, what would you be?
I’d probably be an estate agent I think! I’ve just moved flats and I’ve spent a lot of time with estate agents and I’m quite intrigued by them because they’ve always got the right thing to say. If it’s a tiny bathroom then it’s really cosy and if it’s really drafty then it has a kind of Victorian charm and all this stuff! I like the idea of spending your day with different Londoners, driving around listening to Magic FM talking about where they want to live. Seeing inside people’s houses I find fascinating.
Best advice anyone has ever given you?
A friend of mine had met a big actor, one of the greats, and he had said to him “Press on”. I was having a bad day and my friend said how this chap had just said to him “Press on” and I think there’s a lot of truth in that when it comes to working in the theatre. When you’re asphyxiating in your own beak and it’s 11 O’clock on a cold Wednesday evening and you’re doing a Bollywood dance in a basement in Trafalgar Square, pressing on is really important!
What ambitions do you have?
I’d love to work in New York and I’d love to have a full length play of my own on in London. I’d like to write more comedy, I really enjoy that. I’d like to work again with the people I’m working with now, we have a really excellent team. Cal McCrystal is our director who directs the Mighty Boosh and Sasha Baron Cohen and he’s a fantastic comedy director, I’ve really enjoyed working with him.
Finally, what would you like for Christmas?
Just a happy audience would be nice!
Stephen And The Sexy Partridge played at Trafalgar Studios 2 from 30 November-2 January.