Direct from London, the acclaimed production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is coming to the Alexandra Theatre stage in Birmingham this week and I had to opportunity to have a quick chat with cast member Samuel Buttery, who is playing the role of Mr Beaver. When we spoke they were on a train on the way to Birmingham.
It sounds like you’ve had a really busy time!
It’s be so busy! I think this month we’ve been to Edinburgh, Plymouth, Canterbury, Glasgow and now Birmingham. It’s a lot!
What can the Birmingham audience expect from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe?
I think they can expect something heartfelt. It feels like a communal endeavour without being poncy and too insincere. I’m lucky in that everyone in the cast and company is really nice and we have formed really close bonds, and the play ends up being about community and togetherness and what happens when goodness can win.
It has been the subject of so many shows, TV and film adaptations – what makes this production unique?
It has actual musicians in it, Mr Tumnus plays the cello, flute and piano, so that’s quite different. The four actors that play the main roles do a brilliant job – it’s very difficult to get a childlike innocence without it becoming a parody of what kids are like. It has a bit of realness in how the children are displaced during the war and how it relates to the pandemic and how kids today may be feeling displaced.
You’re playing the role of Mr Beaver in the show. What decisions did you make regarding characterisation?
Mr Beaver is a kind hearted, intense person, and his intention is always to do the best thing, but through fear he gets over the top. I always try and think about what the aim is what he wants to do, to let goodness win.
What has been the biggest challenge of taking on a role like this?
We have to incorporate some animalistic quirks. For example, me and Mrs Beaver are in a squat the whole time, which is more of a logistic problem – doing a squat for an hour and a half, now that will kill you!
(I made a comment about leg day in the gym).
I wouldn’t go that far! I like doing my yoga, and I’ve always had strong legs, so not much preparation required. In our first venue we had four flights of stairs to climb, so that prepared us! It’s like the Elaine Stritch quote: “As the prostitute once said, ‘It’s not the work that gets you, it’s the stairs.”
As I’m speaking to you, you’re on a train. What does a day look like when you’re on tour?
We travel on a Sunday generally, so I’ll travel either back to my mom’s in Tamworth or I’ll go straight to my next venue. I’ve got a little dog who is in fact a boy but I call him Shirley, so Shirley usually comes with me on tour which is really cute. I check in, carry my bags up loads of stairs, have some modicum of groundedness, stay there for five nights, then do it all again! It’s fun!
You’re a homegrown Brummie and you’re going to be back in Birmingham next week. What’s the best thing about performing in your home city?
For me I’ve performed there when I was 16 at the Alexandra Theatre in Copacabana the Musical with Joe Lycett. Back then everything felt so big. It’s exciting to come back because it’s a place where I went to see lots of shows. There used to be a scheme when I was younger where you could get free tickets if you were 16-25 of the opening night of lots of shows. I saw loads of things including Chess at the Alexandra Theatre, so it’s a nice memory.
You’ve done so many different things in your career – you’ve been on stage, you were a contestant on the Voice, you’ve done some movies etc. What’s your favourite type of thing to do in terms of performance?
I really love doing something where I can be slightly naughty and off script. I have to be very well behaved in this! Ideally I like to write my own stuff. In Taboo I got to have bits of improvisation where I could go into the audience. There’s something about dredging up a really scary, genderless being – Leigh Bowery, the character I played in Taboo had really feathery headdresses on him, and the persona was grotesque. You get to embody a place where the audience feel fear.
Nowadays when I go out I’m generally in a dress, or have stuff on my eyes. I quite like it because when I’m in the street I can sometimes experience ridicule, but when I’m on stage I have the chance to install the fear of god into people and it’s so empowering and fun.
What’s your favourite thing to watch?
Something that’s 90 minutes long! I love Come From Away because it’s short! Let’s be serious for a moment. I love an old musical like Gypsy, or I really like something quite gutsy – queer without being stereotypical not like “It’s 1985, it was Soho, Donna Summers in on.” If someone is performing and enjoying themselves I will generally enjoy it – I like watching people do stuff live.
(We talked about the amateur drag scene and Divine (they have a tattoo of Divine), and they liked performers who they described as raw – ‘unhinged Danny La Rue with no money and problems’).
A friend of mine went to stage school and he made a comment once about being asked to pretend to be an egg frying in a pan during a workshop. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever been asked to do either during a rehearsal, at drama school or on stage itself?
I’ve done some very weird things. I didn’t go to drama school. Rolling around on the floor with five other people and not being able to make contact with each other. That was drama based – not my personal life. I did a show called Fat Bloke – a dance show about what it is to live in a fat body and how you get your power, and we had to just roll around on the floor.
Who are your inspirations?
Miriam Margolyes. She shows that you can be fat, over the top, quick and still work.
In Birmingham we have a fantastic cohort of fantastic up and coming performers who are set to go on to drama school, and you yourself appeared on stage during the Theatre experience. What’s the best advice you have for young performers who want to be on stage and screen?
Get therapy – genuinely. Be sure of who you are and realise that nothing is personal. A lot of the time people say things like “you’ve got to do this, this and this,” but I think the long and short of it is to get a good agent, work hard, be talented.
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is on stage at The Alexandra Theatre from Tuesday 8th March until Saturday 12th March 2022. Purchase your tickets here!
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