BWW Interview: Peter Polycarpou Talks MAN OF LA MANCHA at London Coliseum

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BWW Interview: Peter Polycarpou Talks MAN OF LA MANCHA at London Coliseum
Peter Polycarpou

Peter Polycarpou is a renowned stage, film and TV performer, most recently seen in Oslo at the National Theatre.

He now takes on the role of Don Quixote's squire, Sancho Panza, in Man of the Mancha at the London Coliseum.

Who or what inspired you growing up?

I have a list of performers and work as long as my arm! Of the performers I've worked with, I would say Colm Wilkinson, Alan Armstrong, Brian Cox, Roger Allan, Fiona Shaw...and others, of course, all extraordinary to work with.

I remember watching Nicholas Nickleby from the wings at the Aldwych Theatre, which was key to my admiration of Trevor Nunn as a director. It made me realise what theatre can do for people.

Theatre casts pictures of imagination, even with very little props. All you need are great character actors working together as a company under a director, like Trevor, who know the detail of how actors work.

From those across the sea, Robert DeNiro, Meryl Streep, Al Pacino and Christopher Walken are some inspirations. I'll never forget watching Scarface and The Deer Hunter growing up. Also Anthony Quinn in Zorba the Greek and Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront.

The Servant was also a significant film in my relationship with my wife. It was a backdrop to Play Without Words, which she worked on with Matthew Bourne.

So, I guess you could say there are a lot of people who have influenced and inspired me!

Why did you want to be part of Man of La Mancha?

Initially, I knew the production was going ahead and thought it was fully cast, but then they asked me to join! I really wanted to work with Kelsey Grammer. I've seen him on Broadway in La Cage aux Folles before.

Another reason was my wife worked at the ENO in various operas and I wanted to work on that stage at the Coliseum.

Regarding the show itself, I have never seen a production, but I've heard recordings on vinyl and was aware of the extraordinary novel. I thought this musical adaptation was particularly well done and wanted to be part of this revival.

I guess it excited me as a piece and I was delighted when they asked me to be Sancho Panza. It's a wonderful part. The more I play it, it's like playing the Fool in King Lear. That relationship really interested me.

For those unfamiliar with the story, who do you play and what can we expect?

Sancho Panza speaks truth through humour. He's also a squire. He is Don Quixote's right-hand man in terms of military ranking, but he's also a friend and he acts as a confidante. Sancho picks Don Quixote off the ground and is there for him whenever he needs him.

How are rehearsals going?

Well, today was a really exciting scene: we were working on one of the last scenes, when (spoilers) Don Quixote is on his death bed. Aldonza, his love interest, brings him back from a nightmare in this wonderful sequence.

We're almost finished. Lonny Price, our director, works in a very swift way. He created storyboards for everything beforehand, so he knows exactly what he wants.

It's a big stage and a big cast and he knows exactly where he wants people to be. Yet, as an actor, I am able to find my own space within that. The company he's got together is fantastic. There's a very happy feeling in the rehearsal room and we all feel like we're a part of something special.

Do you have any particular numbers in the score you're looking forward to performing?

I have a couple of songs. "I Really Like Him" is when Sancho talks about why he likes Don Quixote. He just likes being by his side. Also, "A Little Gossip" is when he is trying to convince Don Quixote that the real world still exists and to bring him out of a depression.

It's such good writing. "The Impossible Dream" really is beautiful. Danielle De Niese is singing up a storm. Nicholas Lyndhurst is also giving a fantastic rendition of the Innkeeper.

Do you approach your screen roles differently to your stage ones?

I don't approach it differently at all, despite there not being an audience in the former. I do a certain amount of preparation before the production goes on its feet and I come to it with something to bring to the table.

Why is it important to revive this show for 2019 audiences?

As a piece, I think it's not only great entertainment. At its core is a marvellous story about facing semantical problems head on.

In my view, the idea of the impossible dream is what got people to the moon and back. It gives an understanding of real hardship and trials, but to also be positive about them.

Don Quixote has this incredible standard of morals and reputation and very much wants to do things that are right in his eyes. He's got values that even in the days the novel was written were thought of as old-fashioned, but he has a moral compass which I like.

It's a play-within-a-play of sorts. They're waiting for the Spanish Inquisition to invade. It takes place at a time when people's consciousness and religion were being called into question. In that place of limbo, a marvellous story unfolds of how to defend the value of one man's life.

Don Quixote simply tells the story of what he went through. It's also got something to say about what dementia might be and whether his madness is really madness. All sorts of very interesting threads running throughout.

BWW Interview: Peter Polycarpou Talks MAN OF LA MANCHA at London ColiseumAny other upcoming projects you're allowed to tell us about?

One of the reasons why I was available for Man of La Mancha was that the West End transfer of Oslo I was in sadly fell through. There is still a possibility that it may come back later in the year though.

I'm also working on a film. I voice a character in Assassin's Creed, a video game, and they are in the processing of developing a film for that.

Also, whenever I can, I like to teach and will be doing some more workshops this year. But as soon as Man of La Mancha is over, I'll be going on holiday for a break!

Any advice for aspiring performers...perhaps how "to dream the impossible dream"?

That's such a tough question to answer because every artist has a different path. The ways that you are able to find work vary, as do the different periods of ease and difficulty which come with that process.

If you prepare and train by going to some sort of college or school to get a qualification, you know you have a high chance of agents coming to your showcases and you might get some work from that, but then the work really starts when you leave college.

Perseverance and resilience are the keywords here. If you get a job coming straight out of drama college, that job may last two years - if you're lucky - and after that, you may have three to six months out of work.

It's how you deal with those periods that sustains you. In terms of other work I've done between acting jobs, I've been a waiter, I've sold shoe pads, some factory work, and I was even a grill chef for a bit!

Keep learning. Always try to go and see stuff - films, plays etc. Watch other actors, read plays and texts, listen to musicals. Form an opinion about how you feel about someone's work. What's convincing you about it? Try to learn from that. There are some very special artists working today. We're such a lucky country to have the people we have working in the West End.

And I'm not London-centric by any means. We have fantastic people and theatres in Chichester, Leeds, Manchester, Bradford, Plymouth...all over the country. There is such a wealth of talent out there that aspiring actors can learn from.

So, perseverance and resilience are key, as is learning to build your craft by watching others. I'm 40 years into an acting career and I still don't feel like I know enough. I always try to be open-minded about learning something new.

Of the characters you've played, who would you go on a road trip with?

That's an interesting question. It would probably be someone like Rahim, an Iraqi museum curator I played a while ago based on a true person.

He was such an interesting and wonderful man and he would probably be so knowledgeable about his country. His museum was wrecked by ISIS and he tried to build it up from scratch. He strikes me as someone who would be a great person to have long conversations with on a road trip.

Why should people come to Man of La Mancha?

It's a show that's not done nearly enough - a fab story with great melodies. It's a great company and we're singing with a 30-piece orchestra, all being looked after by a marvellous musical director, David White.

As an aside, we don't talk enough about the work MDs do. It's a shame that the Oliviers and other award ceremonies don't recognise that. An MD is so key to how a production sounds.

Mitch Leigh, the guy who wrote the music, used to write jingles - catchy melodies, little earworms, instantly recognisable tunes. I've heard it said that if you can whistle a tune coming out of the theatre, the composer is doing something right. Man of La Mancha is one of those shows.

Man of La Mancha at London Coliseum from 26 April to 8 June

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