I saw The Sound of Music movie a million years ago. It’s one of those iconic shows that makes an impression on you. You don’t forget the images for some reason so I was always aware of it as a show. My wife played one of the children in the West End in the Sixties, in one of the very earliest productions, so the music has been around the house on occasions, and I’m very familiar with pretty much all of the tunes.
I hadn’t seen it on stage ever, including this production, so I came to this with no preconceived ideas as to what I wanted to do. The Really Useful Group asked me whether I would consider it at the very beginning of this production, but at the time I was doing Casualty. For a couple of weeks, my agent and I were trying to work out whether it was physically possible to make it work, but we just decided that there was no way I could manage both. The question came up again in the spring and I really loved the idea. I was attracted to the role of Captain Von Trapp and I knew that it was a good role for me. It fits, as it were.
I haven’t done a musical before but I love music. I’m passionate about classical music, and as a boy I sang a bit in choirs. Other than going to church and singing hymns and a few evenings at home around a piano, I haven’t really been an active participant in music since then. I’ve certainly never considered myself a singer. I have had a few lessons, but I did those as a vocal exercise really. Singing lessons are never a bad thing for an actor.
For this, I’ve gone back to a vocal coach to remind myself, and to learn a number of things. I’ll continue with a vocal coach all the way through the run because singing is something I want to continue to develop. Hopefully, the next show will be less daunting, and maybe I can take on something that’s more of a singing role. Captain Von Trapp only sings a bit, and mainly on one level so it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he could barely sing. It’s not an integral part of the character.
I have directed shows for theatre and there’s no question that it helps me with a new role. All the work that you do over the years sets you in good stead for the next job. I love the exploration of a character, and even in a show like this, which has been running for a while, they allow me explore and ask questions. Actually, we have invented quite a number of new approaches to various sequences which has been very rewarding, and I think some of the company have enjoyed revisiting the text as well.
I have a military background myself. My father was in the air force so that was part of my childhood. I think I have some of the qualities that are in Captain Von Trapp, and also those that were in Harry Harper, my Casualty character, as well. Harry started as more of a pencil sketch. They created the outline of a character, but frankly, he had no history when I came to him. I came to the role as a mature actor and I brought that with me, so Harry suddenly became an older consultant with lots of experience. You can’t deny your physical essence and what you bring to a role, particularly in television. I felt that Casualty was in need of an old-fashioned disciplinarian, because at that point, most of the doctors were a bit more modern and trendy. I wanted to play an old-fashioned kind of consultant. There are hundreds of thousands in the NHS.
I have had a very intense six years or so with Casualty, and then going on tour with Sleuth. That was a tough play. Having done that, I liked the idea of coming to the West End and doing a musical. I also wanted to do something that was really fun because I have worked really hard over the last few years. Casualty is a 12-hour day and six days a week on call. I did that for six years and then I was on tour with Agatha Christie’s The Unexpected Guest, and then I came off that and went back to Casualty, and after that I went on to Sleuth, and now I’ve come straight on to do this. Since the turn of the century, I really haven’t had a day out of work, so it was a conscious choice to come to London and spend some time in the capital, which I really have not had a chance to do, and also do a lovely show in the evenings that will bring joy to my heart to do.
The Sound of Music is currently booking until 28 February 2009 at the London Palladium.