BWW Interview: Jasper Britton Talks THE BEAUTIFUL GAME

BWW Interview: Jasper Britton Talks THE BEAUTIFUL GAME
Jasper Britton

National Youth Music Theatre's season is well underway at The Other Palace. With casts and creatives featuring young people, NYMT's work develops up and coming talent on stage and off.

The latest show to open is The Beautiful Game, which also stars veteran actor Jasper Britton. Talking to us during rehearsals, Jasper reveals his tips for learning lines, what his day job is, and how his own start in acting is intertwined with the start of NYMT.

What are your earliest memories of theatre?

Well my dad was an actor, so I always used to go to his first nights and spent a lot of my childhood in the West End.

The one that really got me was a musical called No, No, Nanette at Drury Lane. He used to give me his scripts to draw on the back of, and I took that script into a History lesson one day. And I was so bored that I started to read it.

I got a few pages in to the first number "Too Many Rings Around Rosie", and it suddenly occurred to me, "Wait...somebody sends you this script and then you go somewhere and practise it, until it's ready for everybody in the world to come see it".

That was the moment I thought, "Right, I'm going to do that with my life!" Age seven, I was.

So that passion came from reading it on the page. How did translating that to performing it on stage come about? Was that through NYMT?

Well interestingly, it was with Jeremy James Taylor, but it wasn't NYMT as we know it today. It was a school play.

Jeremy went to Durham University with my music teacher and my English teacher. And they decided to combine their considerable skills towards making a show. (It's a mad idea really, I can only imagine they got very drunk in the pub one night and decided to do it!)

And we were asked to audition for a show that hadn't even been written. So they had an idea for a story and called us in to audition, and then they cast all of us in it and actually wrote it for us and around us over nine months. And it was called The Ballad of Salomon Pavey, and I played the evil choirmaster.

Wow! And how old were you at the time?

I was only about 12. It was an amazing experience, and as a kid I loved every second of it. We used to rehearse every Friday afternoon and that was the day I absolutely lived for. And after nine months it was ready, and we did it in a marquee on a lawn at the school.

Then Jeremy announced that he had decided to take it to the Edinburgh Fringe. So in the summer holidays, we all went off to Edinburgh which was another extraordinary experience. And we won a Fringe First.

So NYMT came about naturally after that. I think Jeremy realised that there was so much raw talent out there and he decided to find it.

BWW Interview: Jasper Britton Talks THE BEAUTIFUL GAMEDid you continue with NYMT after that, to train with them?

No! We were all dropped like hot cakes!

No, I'm just kidding. Part of the mission of NYMT was to move on, to find new talent and new blood. So we did our bit and Jeremy went off and created that experience for even more kids.

And you know, that experience really was like training. Jeremy truly treated us like professionals. Obviously we weren't at the time, but he applied professional standards, which he expected us to respect and uphold to the best degree that we were able.

And you know, it's taken what...40 odd years for me to return! And it was worth the wait.

Because you're now reuniting to work on The Beautiful Game. How did your involvement come about?

Well I got an email from the other Jeremy (Jeremy Walker, the Artistic Director) just saying, "We've got this part that's right for you and wondered if you'd like to do it?"

And I read the first eight pages and from just that I said, "Absolutely! Bring it on!"

Can you tell us a bit about this show? Why was your initial reaction was so strong?

So it's a musical, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton. And it's set in 1969 in Belfast and involves an Under 21 football team, which is run by my character Father O'Donnell. So it's a Catholic team and we have one Protestant player, who obviously gets it in the neck at various points.

On first reading, I was surprised because I thought it was incredibly mature and grown up, for what I thought it was going to be. And it gets very serious indeed. So I really admire it as a piece.

I think this production is being remounted, so I think most of the kids will be familiar with it or have done it before. But I'm fresh to it, so that's a little bit nerve-wracking for me! They'll all know what they're doing and I'll turn up trying to remember my lines, where to stand and generally not make too much of a fool of myself!

But I'm learning it: every day I sit and read through. So two more pages down this morning, we're getting there!

What advice would you give for learning lines? Do you find that works best for you, sitting down a bit each day?

I mean that's good prep, certainly.

But for me, I need to be in a rehearsal room: I need to know why I say what I say, and to whom I'm saying it. So they tend really only to stick properly when I've attached it in my mind to an action or a person or a move.

I think there's a lot to be gained from learning your lines as late into the process as possible...that's my story anyway and I'm sticking to it! Because it's my belief that a lot of the creative work that anybody does takes place in the subconscious. There's so much to be learned from a script that you don't immediately see. And the challenge is to have faith in it and to take a risk.

So if you just learn it 'parrot fashion', you don't have the words in front of your face any more. And I've often found that things pop out that really surprise me. So when we get to Press Night, I still haven't really bedded it in. And we haven't started rehearsals just yet, so I've got a way to go with exploring and playing with it and finding this character.

BWW Interview: Jasper Britton Talks THE BEAUTIFUL GAMEWhat does it mean to you be working alongside these kids and NYMT?

The thing which I love about NYMT is that it encourages diversity in theatre. It aims to give kids of all backgrounds a chance to break in.

Because in my opinion, theatre is sort of becoming a bit of a rich boys and girls' game. You know, even for hoary, old, seasoned pros like me, it's hard to earn a living. Hence why you're catching me on my 'day job'.

So you have a day job away from acting too?

Yes. I've just been into Frimley Park Hospital, and the Pathology department send out samples for analysis to all the hospitals that have the right experts and machines across London.

And they have NHS drivers but they don't have enough, because it's such an epic thing. So I work for a company that's contracted to the NHS to do this kind of work. So it's me on my motorcycle today.

So in this industry, you need support. And if you're from a family who for whatever reasons don't have a lot of money, it can be very difficult (if not impossible) to get a foothold in the arts.

And I think one of the great things is that possibility that NYMT offers to kids up and down the country that support, both financially and professionally.

What did that experience mean to you personally at that young age then?

It teaches you so many things, like it did for me. The discipline of having to do a show and be there for all your fellow people on stage and be there for the audience...it's a big thing to do, even for a grown up!

But it also gives kids something beyond the training. Having the chance to get up on stage and shout and sing and dance at such an early stage. That gives you a voice. It gives you a confidence in yourself: how you carry yourself in the world, walk into a room, interact with other people.

So for me back then, it was hard work but I loved every second of it.

National Youth Music Theatre presents A Little Princess, The Beautiful Game and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow at The Other Palace, 9-25 Augus

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