With a brand new cast taking over at The Comedy About a Bank Robbery from 27th February, we talk to the new Warren Slax
Describe the character that you’re about to take on in The Comedy About a Bank Robbery?
I play Warren Slax. He is an ‘eternally unfortunate man of 67 years old’ who is employed as a bank clerk at Minneapolis City Bank where most of the play is set. Unlike many of the other characters in the play he is an innocent. There is no hidden agenda with Warren – what you see is what you get. During the play we learn that he is having money problems and suffering from memory loss. He is totally devoted to his boss, Mr Freeboys, for whom he has worked tirelessly for thirty years, without complaint or promotion. Quite what keeps him there is anyone’s guess; but it may have something to do with his secret and unrequited love for Freeboy’s daughter, Caprice.
You have an impressive CV with a lot of work with the RSC – this is quite a different role for you, what brought it about?
Well, I have to be honest and admit that I’d never seen a Mischief show prior to auditioning for ‘TCAABR’ but I was familiar with the company and I had a sense of the style of work that they create. I’ve always been full of admiration for all that they’ve achieved, so when my agent called I jumped at the chance to come in and audition.
I don’t actually think it’s that much of a departure for me though. I’ve done a lot of comedy alongside the more serious stuff and I’m very used to working as part of an ensemble. I suppose one of the main differences is that the majority of the work I’ve done previously has very much been text driven. Mischief shows (as I’m learning very quickly) are incredibly physical so there is an entire physical language which runs alongside the text and the story is told using both.
I guess the major change for me, is the age of the character that I’m playing. I’ve spent a lot of my career playing characters who are significantly younger than I am, so it makes a change to be adding wrinkles rather than trying to cover them up. I knew that my casting was due to change soon but I didn’t expect to go from 16 to 60 without playing all the years in between!
Mischief Theatre have gone from strength to strength, what is it do you think about their particular type of humour that has made it so hugely successful?
Firstly, I think they’re tremendously courageous. Some of the stunts and set pieces in ‘TCAABR’ are incredibly daring and ambitious and so I think that part of the audience enjoyment comes out of them recognising the audacity of the stunt and enjoying the brilliance of its execution.
Secondly, I think that the Mischief brand of humour is wonderfully inclusive. The language is simple and is usually punctuated with physical action so it never risks being overly intellectual and not understood. Absolutely anybody, aged 8 – 80 could come along to a Mischief show and have a great time.
How would you describe The Comedy About a Bank Robbery in three words?
Bold. Fast. Unexpected.
What’s the most impressive piece of theatre you have seen and why?
What a question. I’ve seen many great pieces of theatre, particularly in the last few years. I adored ‘The Ferryman’ at the Gielgud and ‘Girl From The North Country’ at the Old Vic but in terms of the immediate effect it had on me and the way I felt when exiting the theatre I’m going to have to say ‘Yerma’ at the Young Vic. I went with a friend that I hadn’t seen in a while and we’d intended to have a good catch up post show but the play left us emotionally exhausted and incapable of small talk. I loved the intensity and ugly humanity of the performances from the two leads and I found the production totally unique and utterly exhilarating. Now I’m not saying that I think all theatre should be staged in a perspex box with actors whispering into radio mics – in fact that would be awful – but it certainly worked a treat for this particular production.
What initially got you into acting?
My Mum was a member of the local amateur dramatic society and I got involved when they needed kids. My first show was ‘Oliver!’ and then a few years later myself and five siblings were all in ‘The King and I.’ Mum was in the chorus, pregnant with number six! Then at secondary school I had an amazing music teacher who got me interested in singing which led to a passion for musicals. I discovered plays much later. In fact, I went to drama school having been involved in loads of musicals but only one play. I played Hamlet in Hamlet. I must have been awful!
Beach holiday or city break?
I’m a redhead – so the sun is not my friend. A city break is a far safer option.
You’re a sports fan – do you get to play any?
I’m a big sports fan – football, cricket and rugby union are my main loves – in that order. My claim to fame is that I once scored a try at Twickenham. Sadly, I don’t get to play much nowadays but I played all three to a good standard as a kid. I do like to keep fit though, in fact it’s essential for this particular play so I’m most likely to be found running or taking spin classes at Psycle London.
Is there a play / musical you’d like to see revived?
‘Me & My Girl’ – I’ve always wanted to play Bill Snibson.
What gets you through eight shows a week?
It sounds terribly dull but all the boring things: lots of water, plenty of sleep and a proper warm up. I’m also a firm believer in the transformative powers of a hot shower and a Berocca just before the half.
What advice would you give someone thinking of starting out on an acting career?
I think you need to make sure it’s all about the work. The social media generation often seem more concerned with getting verified on twitter or bagging themselves another hundred Instagram followers than they are with learning their craft and developing as artists.
I also think it’s really important to maintain a sense of perspective about your own ability. Just because you’re in work that doesn’t make you a genius. Equally, being out of work doesn’t make you a terrible actor.
I’ve heard it said that actors require a skin that’s thin enough to do the work but thick enough to do the job. I’d agree with that and would add that they also need to take the work seriously but not themselves. Always try and retain your sense of humour, keep the joy and remember why you wanted to be an actor in the first place. When I’m having a hard time I always ask myself if the 12 year old version of myself would be happy with the career that I’m having, and the answer tends to be a big fat yes.
If you could choose any role, which one would you most like to play and why?
Oh, just one? I have a list! As I said, I’ve always longed to play Bill Snibson in ‘Me & My Girl.’ I’d also like another go at Vincent Van Gogh in ‘Vincent In Brixton.’ by Nicholas Wright. I played him in a production in 2013 and enjoyed it so much that I’d love the chance to have another go. Iago in ‘Othello’, Mercutio in ‘Romeo & Juliet’ and Mozart in ‘Amadeus’ are also on my list.
What’s the best and worst thing about life in London?
The worst thing is definitely the cost. It’s absolutely criminal. I have seriously considered moving away from London on several occasions. We have to be very careful not to price working class actors out of a career in the arts. I’ve been acting almost ten years now, and I’ve been lucky enough to work more often than not – but if I hadn’t, I doubt I would still be acting today as I simply wouldn’t have been able to afford to live in London as an unemployed actor. It’s so important that acting doesn’t become a career exclusively for those with the financial support to stick out the periods between jobs.
The best thing about London is the theatre. No question. We do it better here than anywhere else in the world and we should be proud of that. There is so much variety and choice – something for everyone seven days a week. We must continue to celebrate this and support theatre makers both in London and the rest of the country.
Peter was talking to thespyinthestalls
The Comedy About a Bank Robbery
Criterion Theatre – booking until November 2018