Rock and Doris and Tracy-Ann

Last Thursday’s edition of The Stage includes my interview with actor and writer Tracy-Ann Oberman, whose second “Hollywood Tale” play for Radio 4’s Afternoon Drama slot airs this afternoon. Rock and Doris and Elizabeth tells the story of Rock Hudson’s public appearance in the 1980s and the revelations that he had full-blown Aids. Jonathan Hyde plays Hudson, with Frances Barber as Doris Day and Oberman as Elizabeth Taylor.

The interview is now online on The Stage website. Have a read, and either listen to the play this afternoon, or listen on catch-up later.

Tracy-Ann Oberman: Playing the diva

“I didn’t want to be in this,” admits Tracy-Ann Oberman. “I’d suggested Catherine to the producer, I thought she’d be brilliant. But I didn’t want to be in it at all, so I was a bit nervous when the producer came to me and said Radio 4 would really like me to be.”

Oberman is talking about Bette and Joan and Baby Jane, her new play for Radio 4 which documents the bitter struggles between actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford during the making of Robert Aldrich’s classic 1962 psychological movie What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?.

Davis is played by Catherine Tate, a long time friend of Oberman’s (they performed together in the second series of the BBC2 comedy sketch show Big Train), with the role of Crawford taken by Oberman herself.

The interview is taking place just after a full-scale photo shoot promoting the play and the pair have been dressed in the iconic make-up and costumes from the film.
It is quite disconcerting to discuss Davis and Crawford with a woman who, her trademark blonde locks secreted under an impressively accurate wig, looks for all the world like Blanche Hudson, albeit one tucking into a chicken salad and sipping mineral water in a photographic studio in west London.

Continue reading “Tracy-Ann Oberman: Playing the diva”

Successful mission

_This article first appeared in the February 19, 2009 issue of [The Stage](

**Jon Cassar, executive producer of hit US series _24_, tells Scott Matthewman about how the writers’ strike affected the show, how it mirrors current affairs and its future**

When it first hit the air in November 2001, Fox Broadcasting’s **24** quickly established itself, becoming known worldwide as much for its adrenaline-fuelled, split-screen real time drama as for its post-9/11 relevance.

With each series spanning a day in the improbable life of counterterrorism agent Jack Bauer, it won leading actor Kiefer Sutherland a Golden Globe.

After six successful seasons on air, when the writers’ strike hit in 2007, filming was halted. Rather than broadcast the eight episodes already shot and wait until the strike was over before continuing the series, Fox delayed broadcast of
the seventh season for a full year so that all 24 episodes could run in a continuous block. For 24’s executive producer Jon Cassar, this was a mixed blessing for the show.

“The strike was a horrible thing, especially for the business,” he says, “but we are probably the show that benefited the most from the strike, for many different reasons.”

Continue reading “Successful mission”

Paul Kasey: The man in the steel mask

Originally published in The Stage

Costume actor Paul Kasey has played a variety of monsters on Doctor Who, from Autons to Ood. As he prepares to play the Cyberleader in this year’s Christmas special, he tells Scott Matthewman how he got the job

“I do get asked by children if I can go and put my Cyberman suite on. I’ve been asked by a couple as well, which caught me completely off guard. People think I’ve got them all hanging in my bedroom.”

He’s been one of the more regular cast members on Doctor Who since it returned to the screens in 2005, but unless you were a keen-eyed viewer of documentary series Doctor Who Confidential, the chances are that you wouldn’t recognise him. Paul Kasey is one of several actors who regularly play monsters in the series, and this Christmas is performing in a number of roles as a variety of Cybermen in the Christmas Day episode, The Next Doctor.

“I can’t wait to see it,” he says. “This time as well as the Cybermen, there are Cybershades, the Cyberleader and then there’s the Cyber controller. And I’ve been all of them.”

While this episode is set during a snow-laden Victorian Christmas, it was actually shot during the summer – but the costumes were not too uncomfortable, he says. “A lot of the time we were filming outside, and you tend to be the one that’s nice and cosy, while everyone else is putting jackets on and trying to keep warm. On interiors though, depending on how small the room or the set is, with all the lights and the people and everything, then it can become quite warm. But we drink lots of water, and when they’re setting up all the different shots we get plenty of breaks.”

Although he’s been playing monsters in Doctor Who for a number of years, his start in the profession was by no means out of the ordinary. “I originally trained at Laine Theatre Arts in Surrey, starting there in 1990 on a three year course, although I got awarded a scholarship so I did a fourth year. I trained in every aspect of dance, musical theatre, acting and singing.

“I was quite lucky, because at the time they allowed you to work as well as train, so I was working from my second year onwards. I did pantomime and summer seasons, but I also did trade shows with Kim Gavin, who at the time was choreographing Take That. He would come down to Laine’s and get students to do some of his fashion and trade shows as well.”

The work continued after he left college, at which point he also started auditioning for musicals. A two-year spell in Grease at the Dominion Theatre followed, and in 2000 he performed in Fosse in the West End for a year.
“Fosse was just going on a world tour, which I wanted to do and never, ever wanted to leave it. But just coming up towards finishing that initial run, I auditioned for a role in the film Blade II, although I didn’t hear anything for a while. There was about a 15 week gap before Fosse went on tour, and I auditioned for and got a job on a cruise ship for 12 weeks, which would have fit in that gap perfectly. The contract for that was in the post, and then I had a phone call from the Blade II production company saying they’d like to offer me one of the parts.”

The role in the Wesley Snipes-led vampire sequel was of a Reaper, and would signal the start of a career in prosthetics work for Kasey. He followed it up with a role in British horror film 28 Days Later, in which he played an infected human. “I sort of went back to dancing after that, but at this point it was more sort of doing the odd choreographic work and lecturing as well.

“And then I auditioned for Doctor Who. They were looking for five main creature role people who had a background in prosthetics and costume work. And when they offered me the job, I really couldn’t say no to it, because it’s become something I’ve absolutely loved since getting my first taste of it on Blade II.”

Since featuring in the first episode of the revival as an Auton, a shop window dummy that comes to life, Kasey has worked on all four series of Doctor Who as well as spin-offs Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. When it comes to developing a style of movement for each new species, the approach can vary slightly. “On Doctor Who, we have a choreographer called Ailsa Berk, and she deals with the movement of all the monsters and creatures like the Cybermen and the Ood. She gets the script and works out what’s needed with the director, then she rehearses with us. With something like Torchwood’s Weevil, I was just asked to do it. So I had to read the script and the breakdown of the creature itself, and while on set work with the director.

“But also, when I have the fittings at [costume creators] Millennium FX, you get a good sort of idea of how you want a creature to move in your own mind’s eye. And obviously, as time progresses, you can tweak it as you go along. Having the background in dance and movement is a great asset, just to have that knowledge and that physical awareness of how creatures move.”

The costumes Kasey has been given to wear all vary substantially, he says. “Some of them may have an animatronic head, you might have gloves, or they can be a full suit like the Cybermen. They’re all challenging in their own way. There are never two monsters which are exactly the same. They are comfortable – very comfortable – and any potential problems get sorted out at fittings prior to filming.

“You do have to be careful though, especially with costumes like the Slitheen or the Cybermen. In the suits we’re quite big, so you have to look after the suits, making sure you sit down carefully. When we’re up on set, a team from Millennium FX is there looking after everyone and making sure everyone’s okay. I do get very well looked after.”

Maybe it’s just as well that he has a team around him, as other people tend to shy away from the characters he plays. “What can tend to happen, and often does, is that you’ll go up on set and people can back away and not really want to speak to you. Even though they know someone’s inside, or they know who’s inside, on the outside we look completely different and they react to that. They’re not intentionally trying to alienate you, you know, but it can tend to happen.

“When I did 28 Days Later, and the sequel 28 Weeks Later [in which he also acted as a movement adviser], at lunch people wouldn’t sit with you. But when you’re covered in blood and look that gruesome, that’s completely understandable. So the only people that would tend to sit and talk to you are the people who have made the prosthetics, or the make-up artists who have made you up, because they’re quite used to it.”

Being encased in a costume also brings a degree of anonymity. “When I was the Weevil in Torchwood and we first started filming, I’d be there with my head on, which had to be glued down and all painted in. So none of the cast members had actually seen me and didn’t really know what I looked like. What tends to happen is that you go in the dinner queue and no-one really knows who you are, which is quite funny.” A positive aspect to the anonymity is the prospect of repeat work on Doctor Who. “Once you’ve been seen, and possibly killed, on Doctor Who, then you can’t really come back. If something was to come along and someone was to say, ‘We’d like you to play this part,’ and it wasn’t a creature, then I’d be all up for it. But it’s not like I’m desperate to get out and be me, if you see what I mean. I’m definitely in my element and loving it. It’s great fun.”

Outside of the Doctor Who stable, Kasey can also be seen (albeit in costume again) as a Minotaur in the current film Inkheart, starring Brendan Fraser and Helen Mirren. 2009 will see him perform in BBC3’s supernatural drama Being Human, but he remains tight-lipped about his precise role. “I’m playing a creature, a very good one,” is all he can say at the moment.

While a full series of Doctor Who is not on the cards for transmission in 2009, a number of specials are due to be filmed before production starts on the fifth series later in the year. For Kasey, “Doctor Who starts up again just after Christmas. I’ve been asked to do the first recording block, which starts in January. There are three or four specials being filmed and then they go straight into the fifth series, so there’s not much of a rest for me.”

Along with the rest of the country, it seems, Kasey has also been caught up in the speculation about which actor will succeed David Tennant in the role. “I get asked all the time who it’s going to be, and I don’t know. Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant are completely different as actors, and in terms of how they bring the Doctor alive, but each is as fantastic as the other, really. I’m sure whoever comes in to play the Doctor after David will bring something as exciting and special as David and Christopher have.

“But it’s very exciting, isn’t it? And it’s making the news as well, which just goes to prove how big Doctor Who is. It came back, and just exploded! I know I’m part of it and everything but Saturday nights just aren’t the same now without watching a series of Doctor Who. It’s become such a big part of people’s lives and what they watch. Each episode in so completely special in its own way, and just as exciting as the last.”

Lee Mead

Originally published in the December 20, 2007 issue of [The Stage](

The winner of BBC1’s Any Dream Will Do, Lee Mead, took to the stage as Joseph – of Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat fame – in July. He talks to Scott Matthewman about becoming the West End’s leading man

“I was quite naive,” admits Lee Mead of his decision to surrender a West End chorus job in the risky move to participate in the BBC’s Any Dream Will Do. “I knew there was going to be a TV programme, but I thought there would be just a few cameras, maybe like a BBC2 thing. But it ended up being massive.”

Mead was very much the odd one out in the final line-up of 12 hopefuls vying for the title role in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. While auditioning for the series, he was also performing in Phantom of the Opera, covering the role of Raoul.

The Stage, Dcember 20, 2007I was always up front and honest,” says Mead. “They knew from the beginning I was auditioning for the programme. I never expected to get to the last 12, but then I had to make a decision. They said, ‘Okay, but if you choose to be in the last 12, there’s no job for you’, even if I’d got knocked out in the first week.”

The offer of a place in the finals was one Mead discussed with family and his agent before accepting. “Initially, we were all wary, wondering if it would be good for me or not. I think with anything you do in life, whether it’s career related or not, you have to follow your gut.”

Mead left Southend’s Whitehall School of Performing Arts without graduating, and I suggest this may have toughened his resolve. The experience did, he agrees, give him a lot more drive. “I wouldn’t say it worked against me, but I thought I had more to prove and I had to work much harder. I didn’t walk straight into the West End, I started off at the bottom of the industry and worked my way up.”

While some of the less experienced contestants may have gained more experience from the intensive time in the BBC spotlight, Mead believes he still gained much from the project. “I learnt a lot about myself as a person. It was a strong test of character. You’re so exposed with so many people watching live, and in front of Andrew [Lloyd Webber] as well. I don’t think I’d have been strong enough to audition for that kind of process if I was younger. I have so much admiration for the younger guys like Lewis [Bradley] and the others. Initially, I wondered how the public would take somebody who had already been working professionally, but during the audition process there were hundreds of other guys who were working in musicals, in the chorus or covering leads, so I knew that wasn’t going to be an issue.”

Fellow finalist Bradley is now covering Mead in Joseph. Aside from scheduled appearances in 2008 while the star goes on holiday, Bradley had his first taste of the West End stage when Mead contracted bronchitis and missed several performances.

“Anyone that knows me knows I don’t like going off,” he says. “But I can’t be foolish. For me, I know that being off wasn’t through not looking after myself or living a mad lifestyle. From my very first audition back in February, through the live shows, the rehearsals, Children in Need, the album and all the pressures of the PR campaign, I’ve been working ten-hour days for pretty much the last six months. Obviously I picked up this bug, but luckily it cleared up quickly. To a degree, of course, I want to be on every show, because the fans are coming to see the show as well as myself.”

As a former understudy himself, can Mead recognise the opportunities that the lead’s illness can bring to the covering actor.

“For a lot of lead people, you can get a bit insecure and think, oh, someone’s playing my role, or playing the part I’ve been cast in. It comes down to yourself and if you’re confident in who you are. How someone else is going to play that role will be completely different to how I play it. It doesn’t worry me, but,” he smiles, “I have missed being on there.”

The role is one that he seemed destined for, it having been his first musical in more ways than one.

“It was the first I saw, when I was ten or 11, and it really touched me. I did the touring production with Bill Kenwright in 2004, and that was my first musical role. I was playing Brother Levi and Pharaoh, but I always wanted to play Joseph even then.” Now, of course, the same show brings him his first West End leading role.

Outside of the theatre, his debut album, which recently went gold, defied expectations in not being a disc of show tunes. “That was for various reasons, really. I love musical theatre, it will always be part of my life and it’s what I’ve always done. But I wanted to show that there’s more to me. Doing a musical theatre album would have been the obvious decision, and I may do one at some point. But it’s nice to show another side.”
There are discussions for TV and film projects – “It’s all meetings and things at the moment” – but a second album, and possible tour after Joseph, seem likely.

One question that has hung around the big TV talent contests, of course, is their value to the West End. Mead is adamant that, while he can see both sides of the argument, he believes the shows have opened up options for people within the industry, allowing trained professionals to rise through the ranks. “It’s worked twice now [with himself and Connie Fisher in The Sound of Music], so they must be doing something right.

“It’s also bringing a whole new audience to theatre, which I believe is a good thing. But what you hope is that they’ll go on to think, oh, I’ll go and see Phantom now, when they didn’t think they liked any musicals before.” He cites friends of his father as an example. “They had never seen a show in their life, but they came to see Joseph and now they’re booking up to see other shows in the West End. That is really good.”

With news of a third BBC/ Lloyd Webber collaboration on the cards, Mead admits he’s as curious as anybody to find out which musical will be featured next. “It’s important that it’s done well again. Touch wood, it’s worked so far. And while parts of the show were commercial, I think it was done in a good way and they were very careful.”

Mead has committed to Joseph until at least October 2008, part of the reason being, he says: “It’s the first time I’ve been working centrally like this. Apart from Phantom, of course, but I left halfway through. I love the role, it’s one I’ve always wanted to play and it felt natural to extend for a bit longer. We’re virtually sold out for a year as well – so many people who wanted to get tickets couldn’t, so I thought it’s nice for the fans to be able to book and see the show.”

Beyond that, Mead is careful to keep his options open. In terms of future West End roles, he says: “I’ve been lucky enough to cover the role of Chris in Miss Saigon, and I’d like to play that one day again and make the role my own. I’ve always wanted to do an original musical, which is something I’ve never had the opportunity to do.

“It’ll be interesting to see what happens over the next year and a half to two years. It depends on what role I’m suitable for, and if I’m wanted.”

Showpeople: Daniel Boys

_This interview first appeared in **The Stage**, September 27, 2007, as promotion for **I Love You Because** at the Landor Theatre. [Read my review](

Daniel Boys, who came sixth in the BBC’s talent hunt Any Dream Will Do? will be playing the role of Austin Bennet in the musical I Love You Because, a genderswapped version of Pride and Prejudice

**How would you describe the musical to those who don’t know it?**

To me, it’s a bit like Sex and the City and Friends in musical form. It’s a modern day tale about love and finding the one. I’m really enjoying the rehearsals. It’s a very good show, and I think it’s going to be a great production.

**The Landor itself is an intimate venue – does that make it easier or harder for you as a musical theatre performer?**

I’m really looking forward to the challenge, because I think it’s going to be harder. Any slight facial expression or any small movement that you do is something the whole audience can pick up on. That’s much harder, but like I said, I’m looking forward to it.

**You’re known to a wider audience for your participation in the BBC’s Any Dream Will Do? What lessons have you learned from the experience?**

Personally, I learned that it’s good to be who you are and not try to be someone you’re not. I was penalised for being too nice, but that’s who I am. As a performer, it taught me a lot. I can look back now I’m out of it and think, ‘Oh gosh, I shouldn’t have done that’. Like the way I put my hands out when I’m singing, without realising I’m doing it. So for me, it was a lesson in learning to watch myself and critique myself.

**Do you still keep in touch with your fellow finalists?**

Yes I do. Not all of them, but Lee Mead, Lewis Bradley, Johndeep More and Ben Ellis. They’re the four I’m in regular contact with.

**You’ve acquired quite a large fan base from your time on TV which has stayed loyal to you in the months since. Is that translating into ticket sales?**

Apparently it is. I have a fan group that call themselves the Kittens, and apparently lots of them are coming to the theatre. They ring the box office a lot, and lots of them are coming from all over the UK to come and see me. It’s just so nice. It’s all very surreal, and I still can’t quite get my head around that. But it’s very nice to have that level of support from the public.

Lucas Grabeel: Musical youth

This article originally appeared in the September 6, 2007 issue of **The Stage**

**As one of the stars of dazzling Disney success story, High School Musical, Lucas Grabeel is finally enjoying the Hollywood high life. In The Stage’s second instalment examining the growing musical franchise, he talks to Scott Matthewman about his shaky start in LA and how he got his break**

“The greatest part about working on High School Musical,” Lucas Grabeel says with a grin, “was the first couple of days.”

He clearly says this not to imply it was all downhill from there, rather that director and choreographer Kenny Ortega’s mode of working appealed to him from the outset.

“Normally, when you show up to rehearsals on the first day, the choreographer has got every step ready to go, written down in their notebook before they’ve even seen anyone do the dance. They’d choreograph all of it themselves.”

Instead, Grabeel, 22, and co-star Ashley Tisdale, who were to put on a deliberately exaggerated, uptempo pastiche version of the romantic leads’ big ballad, What I’ve Been Looking For, found themselves with an unusual request from their director.
Continue reading “Lucas Grabeel: Musical youth”

Top of the class

This article originally appeared in the September 6, 2007 issue of **The Stage**

_Rob Gilby, managing director of Disney Channel UK, reveals how the company is responding to the enthusiastic High School Musical audience in Britain_

Our marketing of the films has been driven by the sense of ownership the kids have. They’re demanding it on their desktop, on their mobile phone, as a CD and T-shirt. The ultimate example in the UK is more than 300 amateur productions that have been licensed to schools and amateur groups, where they can not only own a piece of the fun, they can be in it. I wish something like that was around when I was a kid.

High School Musical has really woken the audience to what the Disney Channel has been doing for a number of years with our live action comedy series and our original movies. The funny thing is that High School Musical was the 61st made for TV movie Disney Channel has done.

Our competitors are only just getting into the TV movie market now, but we’ve been doing it for a long time. And all our live action comedies are rating so well, we’re having the best summer we’ve ever had. British kids relate to the humour, the circumstances the kids on screen are put in, the way it captures their values and their lifestyle.

But kids in the UK do get a fantastic choice. There are 25 children’s channels, and a very strong public service broadcaster in the BBC, and that means there’s an opportunity to ask if we’re providing a diversity of choice. We take our responsibility really seriously.

As well as the fantastic programming we’re making on a global basis, we’re making local shows, including a short form show called As the Bell Rings, which has been rating very well. We’re doing our part to contribute towards that, and other players are doing their bit, too. But there is a perception that the industry is facing a number of challenges. The recent changes on junk food advertising haven’t affected us because we’re a subscription service, carried on Sky, Virgin and Tiscali. And while Freeview is the fastest growing service, once people sample the range of channels available they’re saying, ‘I want a little bit more’, and moving to platforms that give them our kids’ channels. We moved to the basic pay TV packages last spring, and that brought us to a much larger audience too.

High School Musical 3 will be going into cinemas first, which is the biggest compliment we could get. The first TV movie was big, and the second one is even bigger, and now they want to make a motion picture release. I’m really happy. It’s still going to be a Disney movie, we’re still going to act as partners. The schedule it’ll be appearing on the channel won’t be on the same timescale, but it’s fantastic news for the cast, the producers and for Disney as a whole.

Last night I was talking to Lucas Grabeel, and he’s really excited because as well as these movies and the others he’s made with us, he’s got other ideas he wants to pitch to us. He’s actually enjoying the ability to explore several parts of his skill set across different parts of the company. And the company is terribly supportive in asking him, ‘How else can we work with you?’. It’s a throwback to the old Hollywood model, I guess.

High School Musical proves there are opportunities for the audience to engage with our programming through many different media. Last week, we started selling shows through iTunes. It won’t undermine the channel, it complements it. Giving people a choice of where, when and how they access our programming is an important part of our brand. If they want it on their iPod, we’re going to give it to them.

_Rob Gilby was talking to Scott Matthewman_

A new chapter

This interview originally appeared in the April 5, 2007 issue of The Stage

Executive producer of Doctor Who Julie Gardner tells Scott Matthewman about the changes being made to the show, in front of and behind the camera, including a welcome move to larger production studios

Julie Gardner spends a lot of time on Doctor Who in her role as executive producer. “It’s pretty much a full, one-year job just to get each series to air. I look at rushes when we’re filming every day, I’ll read every single draft of every script and do a lot of meetings with the writers.”

Although that may be enough for most people, Gardner has other roles to fill, too. As well as executive producing Doctor Who spin-offs Torchwood and CBBC’s Sarah Jane Adventures, she is controller of drama for BBC Wales and, since last year, controller of drama commissioning at the BBC. “It’s quite a big workload,” she admits wryly, “but I think everyone working in the industry who really loves their job, as I completely do, works incredibly hard.

“What I no longer do is personally executive produce indie shows. I was the executive producer of Life on Mars, alongside John Yorke. I don’t do that in such a hands-on way for individual projects. So that’s what gives me the time. But I’m a bit obsessive – I mean, what else would I do?”

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Seventh heaven: BBC7 and Doctor Who

An interview with producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Gary Russell of Big Finish, makers of audio dramas revolving around cult sci-fi shows such as Doctor Who, Sapphire and Steel and the Tomorrow People. Written for The Stage, September 2005, this version (which originally appeared on The Stage website, from where it is still available) is an extended version of the one which appeared in print the same week.

While one can hardly have failed to notice the return to Saturday nights of TV series Doctor Who, what few may realise is that – TV programmes aside – the Doctor has been far from inactive. Since 1999 audio drama production company Big Finish has been selling full-scale dramas starring several of the original series Doctors, from Peter Davison onwards, to legions of fans.

“We tried to recapture the essence of Doctor Who 1981–1989, because those were our three Doctors,” says the dramas’ co-producer, Gary Russell. “What makes Doctor Who work on audio is that it’s a programme that’s always pushed the imagination, but within that it still had the confines of BBC television budgets, which let’s face it in the Eighties were ridiculously tight. You had a BBC that generally flooded everything with light – the idea of mood and atmosphere wasn’t a prerequisite for any drama, let alone Doctor Who. On audio, you have the ability to tell the good stories – and I’ve always thought the series has those – but without the same constraint. So many people say, ‘On audio you can have ten thousand Daleks swarming over the hill,’ but it’s not about that. If anything, on audio it’s about two people in a dark room being scared. There’s no visual stimulus at all, so everything has got to come out in the story and the acting. That’s far more challenging and far more exciting.”

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