BWW Interviews: Jonathan Ansell About A TALE OF TWO CITIES
Hello Jonathan, and welcome to BWW:UK! Tell us a bit about your character, Charles Darnay.
It's a wonderful character. He's from aristocracy, but he's got an incredible naivete. He just muddles through life in this weird haze, and has huge conviction in the decisions he's making, standing up to the traditions of France. It's a great character. I don't think he understands what he's caused and what he's done. Somehow other people allow him to get away with it. Someone else pays the ultimate sacrifice.
It's great, the script is so strong and beautifully written that it's easy to understand what's going on with it. I personally love the music that's there to complement all of that. It's written impeccably, and, for me, it sits so naturally on my voice. It's a lovely scenario all round for me as a performer and a character. It's wonderful stuff. There's a real diversity of repertoire - it's kind of G&S meets Les Mis meets West Side Story. There's a wonderful, accessible style of music, which I think is difficult for a new musical - sometimes people are alienated from it until they get to know the core. The story running through it enables you to go on the journey the first time you see it.
We're piecing that together now through the rehearsal process with Paul [Paul Nicholas], who's an amazing director. It's really exciting to learn from such an eminent performer himself.
And Paul played Carton when it was first performed.
It's amazing. It must feel strange for him. It's great just to be in the presence of Paul and to work with him.
I hear you'll just have two baby grands as your band, and that's it...
Yes! And on stage as well, so the audience will get to see the music being created. They're deliberately not trying to compete with the grand musical tapestry that many musicals go with, with full orchestrations. In the Charing Cross Theatre, you'd struggle to get that in there!
Yes! It's a nice theatre, but if I recall it's small and quite narrow...
Exactly. If we did have more musicians it wouldn't be possible. It's been deliberately decided with this that it's all about the writing - it doesn't have to be embellished with full orchestrations. A combination of the melodies and the chordal progressions tells the story enough. In some ways, it's a controversial decision, but it's wonderful in its simplicity.
And you have a very small cast - 16 people. A lot of West End shows do rely on big casts and bands, but this is a contrast.
It is. Obviously it's a great story, a massive bestseller, and it's a story many people are aware of. The script is close to the book, and the story is wonderfully depicted in a compressed stage scenario. But now I personally look at 16 and think, "How are we going to get 16 on stage at the Charing Cross Theatre?" It's both! If we had a larger company, I don't think it would read at all there. The dream is for the show to progress to larger venues, and at that point potentially there'd be some additions, but maybe it doesn't need it.
I think sometimes shows go the other way and feel it needs all that razzmatazz. I think a lot of commercial theatre is now jukebox, where it's about massive production numbers. True theatre is about the wonderful writing behind it and depicting it through minimal characters, I guess; you don't need to have the lavish, huge, dance ensemble medleys. It's wonderful in some things, but sometimes it's nice to strip that right away.
I did Lark Rise to Candleford, the NT adaptation, on a regional tour, and that was incredibly stripped back. We had no orchestra, we had actor-musicians on stage with a few instruments, and the naivete and simplicity of that read really well against that story. I think sometimes it can be hugely successful not to throw everything at it. With something new, it's hard to think what will work. It's difficult to gauge in a rehearsal room. Time will tell.
Are you excited? You seem to be bubbling with it!
Oh, I'm really, really excited! I've had some amazing times with recording albums and performing concerts, so I still incorporate that in my career. But I love theatre, and something that's so credible, so well-constructed, to have my hands on a character that's amazing, it's so gratifying. To audition for Paul and then be offered the role was a huge honour. To have the interaction with the team behind it is brilliant. I'm totally excited about it, and really forward to playing the role. It's going to be a great challenge.
You used an interesting word there - "credible". And you probably know what I'm going to say now - bearing in mind where you started your career, do you still find there's a little bit of snobbery?
There's always snobbery in the industry. It's a difficult industry, but it's important to be able to pay the mortgage! But this feels really proper, and real, and serious, in a good way. I enjoy all of that, and this is something I'm looking forward to for all of those reasons.
A Tale Of Two Cities opens at the Charing Cross Theatre on Thursday April 5.