BWW Interview: Oliver Savile On Playing Fiyero During The 10th Anniversary Of WICKED
Musical theatre actor Oliver Savile performed in tours of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Cats and Mamma Mia!, before joining the West End cast of Wicked in 2015. He's currently playing Fiyero as part of the 10th anniversary cast, which features Rachel Tucker, Suzie Mathers, Anita Dobson and Mark Curry.
What was your first theatre experience?
The first musical I saw was Blood Brothers - it came to Buxton, where I'm from, I was about nine or 10. I remember turning to my dad and saying "People can do this as a job?" Buxton Opera House quite small, but we got all the Kenwright musicals! I grew up on the side of a hill, so how I'm in this industry I really don't know.
Where did you train?
I went to a Saturday class at the REC Drama School in Buxton, run by Martin Beard, and I fell in love with it. My school did drama as well - it's horrendous that they're taking it out of the curriculum now. I actually auditioned for drama schools with an acting focus, and then my last one was for musical theatre at Mountview. I knew music moved me, but I'd done more straight plays at REC. Then as soon as I did that audition, I realised I didn't want to do three years of Brecht - I really wanted to do musical theatre.
What was your first job in theatre?
I left college about six months early to do the UK tour of Joseph. That was 12 shows a week, pretty tough, but I'm glad I did it - at the start of a career, that's a brilliant learning experience. Then I did panto, and a world tour with Mamma Mia!.
Were you happy to keep building up experience, or did you ever get frustrated waiting for that West End lead?
When I first signed with my agent Shane Collins, we discussed what I wanted to do, and I said I really wanted to play leads - he said "We'll get there". I've been so fortunate to work non-stop, and I'm glad I paid my cues, covered in Phantom and Les Mis, had those years of building up my CV and my stamina. I've also worked with incredible actors and actresses and learned so much from them.
When did you first see Wicked?
I saw it 10 years ago when it was in its first year. I knew then I wanted to do it - that was my drive through drama school, this amazing new show from America, all big and shiny and doing something completely different. Now I'm getting to do it in its 10th birthday, which is just fantastic.
How did the audition come about?
Ever since I left college I've never been in the right place at the right time for auditions. I actually auditioned for Wicked two years ago and the part wasn't available then, so they offered me first cover, and even though it's my dream show, I turned it down - I really wanted to wait and play the part. I'm glad I did, as I don't know if I'd still be in the show now, and this is such a special year.
Is it hard to bring something new to an established show?
When people asked me about my dream parts, this was always up there, and I thought I could bring something different. Actually out of all the shows I've done Wicked is the easiest one to find that balance of delivering what people love and keeping it fresh.
It can be tough to sustain that doing eight shows a week, but when they asked me stay on I said yes straightaway - I'm still finding new things every single performance. I do the opening of the show, get in my white trousers and little red waistcoat for "Dancing Through Life", and every day I get that feeling of "Oh my god, I'm still excited". I'm definitely not done with it.
What was it like having the cast change?
I've never stayed on a show for this long and had a cast change, so that's been new. It's the most tiring and yet amazing thing - you get this change of energy, with brand new leading ladies coming in. It's lovely building up a dynamic like I did with Emma [Hatton], but you can get almost get too comfortable with each other, so this is healthy.
It's also a challenge to me. Both Rachel Tucker and Suzie Mathers have done the show before and they've had god knows how many Fiyeros, so I'm trying to give them something new. It gets you back to telling the story and digging into the characters, rather than getting from A to B.
How do you find the fan response?
I've been fortunate to do a few shows with a big following, like Phantom. The audience response to Wicked is just extraordinary - throughout the show, but at the end especially. That emotional reaction and really lovely appreciation is why we do this. And the response on social media and at the stage door is fantastic too.
What's it like being part of the 10th anniversary?
I'm really excited. I can't wait to be part of it all and see what happens during the birthday performance on 27 September. Though really just the fact that it's been running for 10 years is brilliant in itself.
Not every musical has fared as well lately
It's so hard nowadays. It's expensive to come to the theatre, and if families from further afield, basically anywhere north of Watford, are making this big effort to come into the West End to see a show, they want to know what they're getting. But you do want to say "Take a leap of faith, go see something new" - it would make some of those newer musicals epic, long-running productions too.
I can't wait for Hamilton to come over. Musicals like that are really pushing boundaries. Though you don't know how it'll do over here - us in the profession know about it, but will anyone else? We just have to keep reaching out to people - social media and YouTube are great resources.
Why do you think Wicked is so enduring?
The music is incredible. We've just had a tech week with the new cast, so I got to sit and watch "Defying Gravity" and "No Good Deed" - just phenomenal. I feel so passionately about it. The score is epic, the story is epic, telling you the other side of the Oz story we all know - there are still people who haven't see it yet who'll be blown away. The choreography is amazing too - it's like nothing you've ever seen. When we were learning the dancing, they actually said "If it feels wrong, you're probably doing it right!"
What's your favourite number to perform?
"Dancing Through Life" - I love being a bit of a showman, getting to sing, dance and tell a story at the same time. I'm with the entire ensemble, and it's such a fun number. It changes the mood of the show. You've had all these well-to-do kids at private school, and suddenly this guy comes along and mixes everything up, inviting everybody to a big party.
Do you think the themes still resonate?
Absolutely. We were talking about Beauty and the Beast, with the film coming out, and how it's the same ancient story about not judging on people on how they look. That theme runs through our whole childhood, and Wicked puts another twist on it. Elphaba obviously, but everyone else puts up walls too.
Fiyero is cool, he's laid-back, everyone wants to be him, everyone wants to be with him, but that's not the real person. It's only when he meets someone who can break down his walls that he can be himself - that rings true with everyone. I love telling this story. My favourite time is when we have school groups in. You can feel the lads going "This is boring" at the start, and by the end they're all reacting so openly and honestly - shouting "Oh no", clapping, crying. It's really moving.
That's the joy of this show - there are so many characters to invest in. Each one has their vulnerability, so everyone can relate to somebody in it. It's got that core of very human drama as well as all the big production.
The production must be a major undertaking
The choreography that goes on backstage is a show in itself. There's hardly any room, with the set hanging up above, the amazing crew dashing about, the sound people pulling mics through wigs, quick changes left, right and centre... And the show must go on, whatever happens. The amount of hard work that goes on for each performance is amazing.
Do you know what you'd like to do next?
I wish I had a crystal ball - or that my agent had one! If they'll have me, I might stay with Wicked for another year. After that, I just want to do everything. I've still got my hair, so I hope I've got a bit more time doing romantic leads before I start on the dad parts!
What advice would you give to budding performers?
If you just want it, stop - you've got to need to do it. There's a lot of rejection, and you have to be able to keep at it and stay hungry. If it becomes a chore, find something else to do.
Finally, as someone who's had experience of both playing leads and covering, what do you think of the Cameron Mackintosh social media gag on understudies?
I can't believe it. If an understudy is going on, I think the theatre should announce it immediately. People go to see Wicked and think "Oh my god, that guy was amazing, let's get a programme and find his name", and then I get all these Tweets saying "Your voice was incredible" - and it wasn't me! If I'm on holiday I'll always let Twitter know and say who my cover is.
When I auditioned to understudy, it's a tough process - they're hiring people at the level of that part, so these are really talented performers. And understudying, building up that experience and recognition of what I'm able to do, I wouldn't be here without that. It's in the performers' interests to publicise them, it's in the fans' interests, as they often like discovering new talent, and the shows should recognise how much everyone in the team contributes to their success.
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton, Matt Crockett