Hi Bertie, and welcome to BWW:UK. Matilda was wonderfully successful in Stratford - you must all be very excited to move into the West End now.
Yes, it's very exciting. Everybody has their fingers crossed. This is a really special time of the year, the run-up to Christmas, especially in London. It reminds me of when I was settling into Stratford in my houseboat...
Wait. Your houseboat?
Yes! We get a bit of money for digs, so rather than rent a flat... There were some lovely cottages on the street by the theatre, but then you're right there at work. So I spent the run cycling to the theatre to my mobile home and back!
Tell me about how you go about characterising someone like Miss Trunchbull. After all, she's evil, and, you know, a woman, and you're not...
I actually really enjoy playing characters who are apparently different from me, and yes, playing a woman is obviously different! The key is the process of working out what makes them tick. With Miss Trunchbull you have to think: "What kind of woman hates children and then chooses to work with them?" Then you don't have to try very hard to imagine her motives, and work out why she is so bitter, jealous, and eaten up by dark emotion. You initially see her as a dark, evil ogress, and then you start to see her as a bully, just like any other. People's character is their behaviour - we're all capable of good and evil.
As you're saying that, I can't help but be reminded of your role in Parade...
Yes, that interested me similarly. It's an opportunity to unlock ideas about the human condition; you recognise character aspects because they are common to us all. On the surface, what happens in Parade is perpetrated by people with prejudice; but Leo, who's supposed to be our hero, is not uncomplicated; he's not without his own shades of grey. I try to make characters believable and recognisable.
Matilda is one of the best-loved books for children of recent times - had you read it yourself as a child?
I hadn't! I think I was eleven when it was published, so I was just edging out of the age range to read Dahl, although I'd read other books of his and loved them. I read Matilda when the show came on to my radar, as well as some of Dahl's autobiographical stuff. So much of his work is clearly about childhood, the relationship between child and adult, and how adults behave.
One of the maxims of theatre is never to work with children or animals - did you ever worry about taking this job?
Being an actor is like being a child. You have to have an active imagination, and be in the room in a childlike way. Children find that easy. And we also get treated like children - things are organised around us so we're free to do what we do and have a sense of wonderment about it. Working with the children on Matilda has been a joy. They don't do this professionally - their sense of discovery is instinctive, and the challenge for us adults is to keep that going in ourselves when we're doing it for the fiftieth or the hundredth time. To my delight and amazement it hasn't gone stale - we discover it freshly every time. The children are really good actors - they re-live, they don't re-hash, which is a danger for every actor ever - it can become automatic.
You were also attached to the workshop of the Bridget Jones musical.
Yes, that was great fun. I was very fortunate to do that. The challenge of adaptations appeals to me - how do you step out of the shadow of something that's so popular? Why do the musical when the book is so loved? The Bridget Jones musical definitely has legs, and I'm sure it will make that leap to be a success on stage.
I came to musical theatre from straight acting, and a lot of my friends have a real prejudice about musical theatre, one I probably shared. Some of my friends haven't seen me in a musical, and I'm sure they think what I do is a dull version of what I actually do! But I think musicals can be more than what people imagine. That'll be the case with Matilda. It's such a clever thing to stage. Parents would have read this when they were young, and will want to share it with their children because they have such a fondness for the source. Seeing it staged is a great joy, and I hope they'll enjoy imagining it with us.
Matilda's first performance at the Cambridge Theatre is October 25
Photo: Rich Hardcastle