BWW Interview: Jack Shalloo On THE LITTLE MATCHGIRL AND OTHER HAPPIER TALES
Singer and actor Jack Shalloo's work include Madness musical Our House, Departure Lounge and Hamlet the Musical, and he released album London Soul in 2011. He's currently appearing in The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales at Shakespeare's Globe, co-adapted by Joel Horwood and Emma Rice. It begins previews on 24 November.
What was your first theatre experience?
I think it was Oliver! at the London Palladium that I saw first. My mum was always into musicals, going to the theatre and concerts, so she took me along to things fairly early on - I think I was seven or eight. Oliver! was certainly the one I remember leaving from with a real buzz and joy that I hadn't felt before - perhaps because it had people speaking the way I spoke it, it connected with me more deeply than, say, Cats (which I secretly loved too!).
How did you get into acting?
I went to a club/part-time school that my mum sourced, as she'd heard me singing along to Aladdin and thought I sounded nice (she's not a pushy parent, I promise!). Plus I was hyper and she could see that needed...utilising.
Where did you train?
CPA in Romford, Essex, where I grew up. It was a musical theatre course that pushed me to work on acting, singing and dancing. I wasn't a great dancer - I'm still not - but it really helped free my body up as an actor and get me moving well. That's something that's served me so well and I'm very grateful for.
What was your first paid acting job?
Oliver! at the Palladium. I was nine or ten, and I played Spider. It was certainly a job that ignited the performer in me early on, and I haven't looked back since. As I said I loved watching it, so being in something I'd seen and loved was life-changing.
How do you juggle singing and acting?
I don't really. I often use them both together, but acting is my priority. Even when I released my album London Soul it was never because I wanted to be "just" a singer - I did it because I wanted to and it was fun. I think if you want to sing fulltime you have to take time out for that.
Have you sometimes had to prioritise one over the other?
I think sometimes I try to prioritise straight acting over musical theatre, as there can be a danger of you being typecast, so you have to be sensible and say no sometimes. But the goal for me is to do good work in whatever medium that may be.
Do you prefer being part of the birth of new work, like Groundhog Day, or coming into established shows?
Always new work. Creating. I've done very little of going into established shows, so I can't comment too much on it, but for me it's always been about finding cool projects where I can help create and collaborate on new things. That's what excites me the most.
Tell us about the structure of The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales and the roles you play
We follow the story of the Little Matchgirl, but through other stories and fables we know. She gets to watch a troupe of storytellers light up the stage and entertain her each time she strikes a match as we (the audience) slowly watch her story unfold around it. I play lots of roles, from a battered Mole to Slow Ralph the Toad, but ultimately I'm a storyteller.
Are you singing, doing puppetry etc. as well as acting?
It's all-singing, all-dancing, puppets, accents, fighting, rhyming. It's very tiring, but lots and lots of fun.
Any particular challenges or new skills you've had to learn?
Puppetry is a real skill and hard to get right. Dancing is always tough (for me!), but the whole show is a challenge as it requires real focus, especially in the dark - well, candlelight.
Were you familiar with the stories beforehand?
Yes, definitely. They are all beautiful stories that still have a big impact on me as an adult now, and I believe are all pretty timeless.
Does the show put a fresh twist on them?
It's an Emma Rice show, so of course! They stay true to the originals, but have our own stamp on them definitely.
Is it closer to theatre, panto, vaudeville...?
Theatre I guess. It has a bit of everything. It's a classy show with beautiful words and music, but it's also really fun and the audience certainly needs to be up for it.
How do you cater to both young and older audiences?
I think that's what Emma does best. She has a great eye for what children will believe/follow/understand/enjoy, but balances that with hitting adults with real truths and helping them connect with their inner child too. It's a very moving piece and what makes the children gasp will probably make the adults cry.
Which Christmas shows did you enjoy growing up?
I always loved panto, especially at venues like Stratford East, Hackney Empire or Lyric Hammersmith. Traditional stories with a modern twist.
Do you remember what thrilled you as a kid?
Things that I understood but also challenged me and left me with questions for Mum and Dad after. Things that got me talking, interested, excited. Music. If there was music it made me feel alive and it made me feel things I didn't quite understand, but loved that one day I would.
Any ambitions for the future?
Just to keep doing good work. Progression is important to me. I would like to do more screen stuff. I'd love to work with Matthew Dunster - I thought Imogen at the Globe was fantastic. I'd like to do some work in America. Who knows; it's a tough game, but you've just got to keep going.
Finally, what do you think audiences coming to The Little Matchgirl... can expect?
The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales at Shakespeare's Globe 24 November-22 January, 2017
Picture credit: Steve Tanner