The BWW Q&A: Will Kemp of THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
Tell us a little bit about the show and your role.
It's a classic tale of four woodland animals, their friendships, bravery, the thrill of adventure and the longing for home. Our production of this well-loved story is delightfully brought to life through speech, song, dance and puppetry. It's the first time the Royal Opera House has ever transferred anything into the West End so, combined with the fact that I was in the original production almost eleven years ago, this makes it especially close to my heart and very exciting. I play Ratty, who is a dashing, debonair, rakish, river rodent.
What's it like working on an adaptation of a story that's so well known? How much leeway do you have with developing your character?
I had read the book and was very aware of past adaptations. What's great about working with a director and choreographer like Will Tuckett is that he casts very well from the beginning, creates movement to your strengths and allows you to develop your role until it fits like a glove. I have been able to keep very true to the classic qualities of Ratty as well as use a lot of my own essences, physicality, research and ideas.
You're reprising your role - are there any major alterations for the West End audience?
We have spent a lot of time talking about this. We are joined this time by a few new cast members so this naturally brings in new energy and ideas - notably Sir Tony Robinson who plays our Narrator/Kenneth Grahame. Tony has a great impact on the verbal storytelling with new words written in by Andrew Motion. Tony is such a great communicator of information and storytelling that its clearer than it has ever been; this helps those who may be less familiar with this classic English story.
For me, I always try to find new things for Ratty. I am constantly developing new thoughts, honing body language and coming up with more reasons for doing things to further the story that make it enjoyable to perform.
How do you feel about rats in real life?
In my research of rats I found out that in Chinese astrology someone born in the year of the Rat is: quick-witted, resourceful, and something of a fashionista - not unlike my Ratty in Wind in the Willows!
I once had a Rat run up my leg while crossing the street in NYC! It got as far as my front pocket and clung there until I managed to lift my leg up high enough and shake it off. People around me were pointing and screaming.
I do seem to have played quite a few animals in my career; a swan (Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake), a horse (Equus), a wolf (Van Helsing) - I think it's because my major training has been portraying emotions, situations, and story without words; being able to connect just using your body the way that animals do.
What would be your perfect job?
I've had a good year working in films, TV and now theatre. I recently shot a TV pilot with Alicia Silverstone which is a really well written and fun role. If that gets picked up to series, that would be a pretty damn perfect job! But right now I'm loving being back in London, and spend many of my nights off during rehearsals seeing friends in plays. When I hear Rhys Ifans rehearsing in the room next door for Protest Song or see Jude Law in Henry V and how much fun the guys are having in Mojo, I think how great it would be to get to the place in your career where you can headline a great play in London or NYC. That's my ultimate goal.
The Wind in the Willows runs at the Duchess Theatre until February 2014.