Hi Gareth, welcome to BWW:UK! First of all, how are rehearsals going?
Rehearsals are going really well. Presently we've just started running the piece in full and we're all just getting used to the tracks and patterns of our respective characters. The process has been a lot of fun, with Derek Bond, our brilliant director, spending a good amount of time on discovering what really happened to Floyd Collins. We've been through family trees, photos, cine films and even learned from many diagrams and descriptions exactly how and where Floyd was trapped, in order to stage the cave area as true as we possibly can. It's been a hell of a task, staging a piece where the lead character spends 75% of the show on stage and not moving much, and also incorporating the world above him but I think they've done a great job. It's abstract, yet period, it's jutty yet lends itself to smoothness and when the lighting is incorporated should look visually quite stunning.
The music is very complex - it's definitely the hardest show musically that I've done. Rhythmically it's very tough so the counts will always been ticking over in my head somewhere! The Dream sequence towards the end of the show involves a particularly difficult cannon section that Glenn [Glenn Carter], Robyn [Robyn North] and I have spent a lot of time on, one mistake and it's blown! But thankfully the music has become second nature now and the counts and panic have slowly slipped away!
Tell us about your character.
I play Homer Collins, Floyd's younger brother. Homer is a bit of a rebel, hotheaded and in a very confused state at the time of Floyd's accident. He's quite lonely, even though he has a strong relationship with Floyd, the bond isn't as strong as that of Floyd and Nellie's and he's got that middle child angst. He dreams of leaving Kentucky, of wearing suits and driving fast cars. He is very determined but with his background in farming and caving doesn't really have the "out" he needs yet. Homer is definitely at a very important junction in his life, and with the pressures of the Floyd situation, his tempestuous relationship with his father, his animosity toward the "outlanders" and the guilt and helplessness he feels he gets gradually sucked into the media circus that has ensued and finds the exit plan he's always dreamed of - with quite explosive consequences.
Floyd Collins isn't hugely well-known over here, either as a story or as a show - why do you think that is?
Floyd Collins is probably known over here by musical theatre purists, obviously as a performer I pride myself on knowing as much as I can but I'd never even heard of Floyd Collins, and it wasn't that long ago that I listened to Adam Guettel's brilliant Light In The Piazza". In terms of the story it's steeped in American Folklore, it was the biggest headline across the whole of the US at the time, the only comparison really is the Chilean miners rescue which covered our news headlines a while ago. Many songs have been written about it and I'm sure most Kentuckians know the Floyd Collins story. When I got the audition I did in fact recognise the name and couldn't think why, I was listening to my iPod and a favourite band of mine, the Kentucky-born "Black Stone Cherry" came on with their song called the "The Ghost of Floyd Collins" which talks about mammoth cave and the accident. Research through rock music - perfect.
You're better known in the West End for your roles in the larger mega-musicals - what's it like adjusting to the smaller cast and space?
I've done some of the larger scale shows in the last few years, most recently a two-year stint in Wicked, and this is such a different experience. I was craving process when I left and when Floyd Collins came through I knew it'd be the perfect solution.
The only show I can compare it to is Gone With The Wind which was directed by Sir Trevor Nunn. We had a ten-week process on that show and it was the biggest learning curve of my career. Floyd Collins is in many ways very similar. Both directors enabled the actors to find their own way, create paths through scenes organically and helped layer characters with mere suggestions of questions, planting the occasional thought in your head without ever dictating, which in turn helps an actor to create something that they feel they own, and when you feel like that it's very easy to energise your performances because you are displaying something you're very proud of. I was proud of my performance in Gone With the Wind and I'll be just as proud, if not more, of Floyd Collins.
I love working in smaller spaces. In 2,200-seat venues you have to rely on a lot of other factors like sound, costume and lighting to make sure that you really hit home; in smaller venues there's no hiding! When the audience is so close you have the chance to make a very personal connection which is always exciting, the dynamic can change drastically every performance so it keeps you on your toes. I like the feeling of an audience being sucked in; in venues like The Vault you can really feel it and I think our audiences are in for a little caving rollercoaster ride.
What's next for you after Floyd Collins?
I have no firm plans after Floyd Collins. There are a few things going on that hopefully might come through. Apart from that, I'm always working on music and I'm currently working on some stand-up material and teaching my dog to sing!