BWW Interviews: Simon Bailey On MARRY ME A LITTLE, I CAN'T SING! And Future Plans
It's a hot and humid day in London just before Simon Bailey ends his run in the two-hander Sondheim revue Marry Me A Little (it closed yesterday, 10th August).
"It's been great," he says. "I didn't know what to expect with this, but the response has been incredible. Everyone's just very, very happy. It's a short run, two weeks, but it's done what we intended it to do."
Staged at the increasingly impressive St James Theatre ("I've wanted to do something here since they opened - they do great stuff, and it keeps getting better and better"), the show was unorthodox on a couple of levels. First, it used a typically cabaret-style space and seating arrangement, and yet still managed to draw the audience in.
"Everyone was excited to see how it would work," he says. "A lot of people are used to watching the one-offs in there, which they do brilliantly, and it takes time to adjust to the fact they're watching a show. A friend of mine said it was like they were flies on the wall in the apartment. I think that's a really good way of describing it. The intimacy is a different experience, but a nice one, I love it."
Second, it didn't rely on the typical Marry Me A Little storyline of two strangers living in an apartment block one floor apart - instead, using a non-linear structure, including flashback and the projection of each person's individual thoughts, it told the story of a doomed relationship.
"Hannah Chissick [the director] is so good," he enthuses. "She came in on the second day of rehearsals and said she had an idea. Laura [co-star Laura Pitt-Pulford] and I are great friends and had an instant chemistry, so we worked with that.
"So the show is about a break-up and dealing with that, and for me that was great - in doing that, she's made a cohesive story. Even though there's no dialogue, you still understand what's happening at every single point.
"Sondheim flips the mirror on your life, and everyone gets something they can relate to, because it's just so honest, and that's what's brilliant about his work. I wasn't brought up on Sondheim, I didn't go to drama school, so my first real experience of him was when I did Passion at the Donmar, and I loved it then, and love it more now. Every time I do it, I appreciate it much more - the storytelling is masterful and takes you exactly where he wants you to go."
After such a successful run, it seems almost cruel to introduce the topic of I Can't Sing!, in which Bailey starred as television presenter Liam O'Deary.
"It was genuinely one of the best experiences I've ever had, and I look back on it incredibly fondly," he's quick to observe. "A show like that was always going to take a little bit of time to get off the ground, and I thought we were doing that. It was the most fun I've ever had on and off-stage. We just had a ball. The response we got was incredible, and it's a shame that it didn't have much more of a life, because I think it was brilliant."
One of the interesting things about the reviews for that show was the almost-universal praise for the performers while the material was criticised.
"I found that really confusing," Bailey admits. "You know Harry Hill is going to be off-the-wall and wacky, that's his brand of comedy. When things get silly, surely you should have expected that? I thought it was hilarious, well-paced, and I have never heard such constant laughter. People can have their own opinions, of course they can, that's part of what we do - but for me, I thought it was hysterical and I'd do it again in a heartbeat."
The end of the run, however, was not such a happy experience. The cast were given a fortnight's notice at the end of a Saturday show, triggering many debates about whether performers' contracts should be rather more protective of them.
"None of us expected it. I think it was a very quick decision, and one they had to make for whatever reason. There's always going to be a negative reaction from actors [about the short notice period] - in any other profession, people would say it was an outrage and it would be front-page news, but because it's a show, people say, 'It happens all the time, it's fine.' I hope that does get resolved.
"But mostly it was just sadness. We were just starting to hit our stride, and it was getting slicker and funnier."
I Can't Sing! was one of the three big West End musicals that closed in the spring after a truncated run.
"That's frightening, I think, for theatre, because it means people aren't taking a risk and they don't want to go and see new shows," says Bailey. "That's a worry. That's the future. The shows that are running are brilliant. I've done them. They're fantastic, but people need to start trusting new material, because there's some great writing out there, and it just needs to be seen."
Bailey is tight-lipped about what he's going on to next, but he's clearly looking forward to it, which is reassuring.
"I'm doing something that will be announced fairly soon, with brilliant people," he says.
And are there any additional plans for any solo work, following his 2012 album 'Looking Up'?
"I'm still writing, and I've spoken to [musical director] Tom Deering - we're planning to do something when we have time," he says.
"I've still not done a cabaret for the album, but it's something I'm thinking about. I'll have a chat with these guys here at the St James and see if they'll let a reprobate like me in..."
Photo: Roy Tan