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Interview: Layton Williams Talks WEST END MUSICAL DRIVE-IN

The West End leading man talks his upcoming concert

Interview: Layton Williams Talks WEST END MUSICAL DRIVE-IN

Layton Williams is no stranger to the stage, but like the rest of the theatre community, has had an enforced sabbatical since March. But soon he'll be headlining his own concert as part of the West End Musical Drive-In series on 29 August. We chatted to him about his lockdown burnout, being pushed out of his comfort zone, and his plans to go full out!

Firstly, we want to check in - how are you feeling? It's still such a tough time for everyone in the industry right now.

I had a bit of a break recently, which was really nice, because I'd been working so hard during lockdown just trying to make sure I was doing something that I was burnt out. I'm one of those people that just picks themselves up and runs with things, but then I got Zoom overload. I was recording songs for lots of different charities and it was important, but it got to the point where I was like "Can we just repeat something I've already done? I've got enough recordings in the kitty now!" I'd basically lost my voice by the end of all that!

But I'm grateful to have been busy, and actually if you'd have asked me this question three or four days ago, I was in a bit of a slump. There was nothing in my diary and I'm just not used to that, but now I'm getting new inspiration. Studios are back open, I've got a few concerts coming up...and a big announcement [today]. But I can't get too excited because you never know what's going to happen at the moment - there'll be a south-east London lockdown or something and it'll be all over!

Speaking of charity gigs, you were involved in Turn Up London recently, a brilliant online concert and fundraiser to support Black Lives Matter. What was that experience like? It was so well received!

I'll be honest - I had no idea how inspirational it would be. The BLM movement is obviously important to me, but you never know how these things are going to turn out. I had a bit of a nightmare with it too because my ear pods were playing up when I was trying to record my bit and other dramas. But then I saw it trending on Twitter all weekend and when I finally sat down to watch it, it was iconic! I didn't realise who I was in a quartet with either, and when I saw the footage of us all singing together, I was like "We sound FIRE!". Also, sorry to blow my own trumpet, but I was poppin'... I never usually listen to myself because I'm convinced I'm trash, but actually for this I was like "Go ON darlin'!".

Yes, lockdown concerts are an unusual beast because often you're performing your bit in isolation, and you have no context!

Yeah, you send your file across and you have no idea what they're going to do with it. They could have superimposed a mermaid tail on me for all I knew!

So let's talk about one of the concerts that you've got coming up - how did you first get involved with the West End Musical Drive-In?

Technically, my first headliner gig was when I did Leave a Light On - which was awesome - but this will be my first headline gig on a big stage and I am so excited!

I've worked with Shanay [Holmes, one half of the creative team] a lot before and I said to her "I can't be a headliner, I know my limits!", and she convinced me to do it anyway. It's scary to put yourself out there and see if anyone wants to come and see you. But I figured that if I was ever going to do it, now is a good time, fresh off the back of Jamie. Hopefully people know that I don't just come to play, I come to slay! It won't just be me on the mic singing a few ditties - I've got some surprise guests, and it's definitely going to be a full-on experience.

It sounds like you've had a lot of involvement in the creative process then?

Oh yeah, I've selected my set list, which will be songs from shows I've done throughout my career - and a song or two from other shows too. But it's a full production with costume changes, choreography, goody bags...I'm not messing about. It's gonna go OFF! With Shanay hosting it, and the other performers singing on the night, it's an all-black team so it's really nice to be able to showcase Black excellence.

Nothing will ever replace true live theatre, but do you think that there's a future for drive-through productions even after theatres reopen?

I think they work. I think they're fun and some people like their comforts and would actually prefer it to being around lots of people in a theatre. Drive-in cinema has been around for ages, so why wouldn't drive-in theatre stick around? I mean, SIX was going go on an entire tour, so there's obviously some demand for it.

As a theatre fan rather than performer, which show would you choose to see once theatres are back in action?

I've really wanted to see Matilda for ages, and I've heard really good things about Come From Away too. The thing is, when you're in a show you really don't want to be anywhere near the theatre - you want to just chill...or even get away from London. But hopefully I'll see those shows at some point.

You've hinted at some more concerts coming up - can you divulge any more detail?

I've got a big announcement coming [today], but I can't say more than that! We're into rehearsals, and it's a concert vibe of a show that people will know. When the creatives contacted me about doing it I thought yes, I'd love to do it. It's a bit different for me - a different vibe. It's a fab cast, a fab creative team, and it's going to be outside dot be continued!

It's interesting really that some good has come out of lockdown. It's forced us all to be more creative and do things - like the things you've described - that we wouldn't usually do.

Yes definitely, I would never have done this kind of thing if theatres hadn't closed. It's actually been really great doing so many different things. My fingers are in so many pies, I don't know what flavour they are! So now I'm like "I can do it all! Let's go!".

West End Musical Drive-In is on 29 August. Tickets can be purchased here:

From This Author - Caroline Cronin

Caroline has over seven years' experience as a theatre journalist, spanning three different publications. Now an established member of the BroadwayWorld team, Caroline specialises in musical theatre... (read more about this author)

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