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20 Questions With...Daniel Evans

Actor Daniel Evans, who opens this week opposite Derek Jacobi in The Tempest at the Sheffield Crucible, explains why he loves singing, Shakespeare, Christopher Shinn, Joe Allen's & Whatsonstage.com.

By • West End


In his brief career to date, Welsh actor Daniel Evans has made a big name for himself amongst British stage aficionados.

After an early season with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, he went on to star in major productions at the National (including the title roles in Peter Pan and Candide), the Royal Court (Cleansed, 4.48 Psychosis, Other People, Where Do We Live) and the Donmar Warehouse (Merrily We Roll Along).

It was for the Donmar's UK premiere production of Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along that Evans won the greatest notice, winning both the Laurence Olivier and Whatsonstage.com Awards for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance.

His other stage credits have included Ghosts, The Merchant of Venice and Cardiff East, while amongst his film and television roles are Daniel Deronda, Tomorrow La Scala, Being Dom Joly, Dead Air, Deep Sleep, Love in a Cold Climate, Great Expectations and The Barber of Siberia.

This week, Evans is reunited with director Michael Grandage, who directed him in Merrily We Roll Along, at the Sheffield Crucible where he stars as Ariel to Derek Jacobi's Prospero in Shakespeare's The Tempest.


Date & place of birth
Born 31 July 1973 in Treherbert, Rhondda Valley, Wales.

Trained at...
Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Lives now in...
In London's East End, off Brick Lane in Shoreditch.

First big break
I was lucky because my first job was at the RSC and I had two nice parts to play. But my first major role was playing Peter Pan at the National, with Ian McKellen as Captain Hook. Playing a title role like that on the Olivier stage - well, to call it a step up is an understatement. It throws you into a different league. There's a lot of responsibility with the title role; you really help to carry the production and, once people see that you can do that, they're willing to let you do it again. That production was also how I met John Caird, who directed me again in the title role of Candide.

Career highlights to date
Three come to mind: winning both the Olivier and the Whatsonstage.com Awards for Merrily We Roll Along; working with the RSC in Stratford, which was a really glorious time for me early in my career; and singing in front of 16,000 people at Bryn Terfel's open air festival in Wales. I'm ashamed to admit it now, but when I left drama school, I was quite snobby about musicals - I considered them second rate. But Trevor Nunn and John Caird encouraged me. I had singing lessons for Candide and discovered that I was a tenor.

Do awards make a difference to you/your career?
They really do make a difference. Immediately after Merrily, I flew to New York to do a workshop for an American musical. I got invited to the opening nights of Follies and The Producers and kept being introduced as 'Daniel Evans, who's just won the Olivier'. It was kind of sickening but also kind of wonderful. There's a huge prestige with winning awards and they do give you a point of recognition. It also gives you more confidence as a performer. Every morning I look at my Olivier statuette and sometimes I still can't believe I actually won it.

Favourite productions you've ever worked on
Christopher Shinn's Where Do We Live, directed by ichard Wilson earlier this year at the Royal Court Upstairs. It's a wonderful play and we all had such a ball doing it. The whole experience of doing Sarah Kane's 4.48 Psychosis has been quite important. We've done it once a year for the past three years and we hope to continue again next year. I also loved my year at the National Theatre as part of the Ensemble there, and The Tempest is proving to be a favourite, too.

Favourite co-stars
Samantha Spiro, from Merrily We Roll Along - she nominated me when you interviewed her and the feeling's mutual. Toby Dantzic, a young actor I worked with on Where Do We Live. He was wonderful to argue with in our big scene together. Also Madeleine Potter and Jo McInnes from 4.48 Psychosis. In that play, we never get to look at or speak to one another and yet we feel like such a unit. The material is so profound it propels us together. We also all three shared a dressing room.

Favourite directors
Without a doubt, Richard Wilson. I've been fortunate to work with some great directors - Michael Grandage, James McDonald, Peter Gill, Trevor Nunn, Dominic Cooke - but for some reason, Richard's process and his philosophy about acting suits me best. He's such a generous man.

Favourite playwrights
Christopher Shinn. I played the same character in both Other People and Where Do We Live so I feel a close affinity to his writing and I consider him a friend. But I also believe that no one writes like Chris at the moment. His characters, their dialogue, the rhythm of their speech is all so real, and his plays are very ambitious and intelligent. They're subtle plays about things that seem little but are actually earthquakes. Within the microcosm of his own New York community, he explores and explodes attitudes and comments about the world at large. There's lots of sadness in his work. Shakespeare is also a favourite of mine, that's my favourite thing to do.

What roles would you most like to play still?
Edgar in King Lear, Edmund in Long Day's Journey into Night, Konstantin in The Seagull, Chris Keller in All My Sons and, eventually, Hamlet.

What's the best thing you've seen on stage recently?
I was recently in New York and saw Edward Albee's The Goat. It was wild, a really dark black comedy. I also enjoyed Urinetown on Broadway.

What advice would you give the government to secure the future of British theatre?
Bring ticket prices down. Most people can't afford a night out in the West End or, if they can, they'll save up for the big-budget musical and not see anything else.

If you could swap places with one person (living or dead), who would it be?
My sister, who's in the middle of doing a degree at Oxford. Having never experienced university life, I have this very romantic view of what it must be like.

Favourite holiday destinations
New York City and Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

Favourite books
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Favourite after-show haunts
In London, Joe Allen's. The food's so good and the staff are always nice. I don't know about Sheffield yet.

Favourite websites
Whatsonstage.com - that's the truth! I get my newsletters and ticket offers on email. I saw The York Realist on a Whatsonstage.com offer and it was great. I don't think I go to many other websites regularly. Oh, except the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com) - I use that quite a lot.

If you hadn't become an actor, what would you have done professionally?
Either a preacher or a teacher, both of which have similarities with acting. With all three, you have to get up in front of an audience and speak. I must have a need to communicate.

Why did you want to accept your part in this particular production of The Tempest?
Ariel is a part I've been waiting to play for a long time - this is the fifth time I've been asked but, before, the timing was never right. The time was right for me with this production, and I wanted to work with Michael Grandage - working with him on a play is so different to a musical, though equally thrilling - and with Derek Jacobi. It's like being in a MasterClass, I could listen all day to Sir Derek speaking Shakespeare. It's also been a dream of mine to do Shakespeare here at the Crucible. The space is magnificent, such a big stage but so intimate at the same time.

How, if at all, do you think regional audiences differ from London audiences?
Whatever the production, outside of London, you find that lots of the audience won't have seen the play before so they don't have any preconceptions. You're introducing them to the work and the characters, and that can be very refreshing.

What's your favourite line from The Tempest?
"Ariel, chick, that is thy charge, then to the elements be free and fare thou well."

What's the funniest thing that's happened in rehearsals for The Tempest?
Seeing my costume designs for the first time was quite funny. I'm topless a lot of the time and, in the drawings, Ariel has a six-pack. I joined the gym and have been going every day since.

What are your plans for the future?
There's talk of coming down to London with The Tempest. And I've just acquired an agent in New York - I would love to do another play there. Theatre's my first love. Although I've had some good experiences in film and television, I love the experience of creating a company that you get in theatre.


The Tempest opens at the Sheffield Crucible on 2 October and continues to 19 October 2002 (following previews from 25 September).


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