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20 Questions with ... Brian Hook

Brian Hook lives locally but has managed what most would only dream of - producing two West End shows - A Tribute to The Blues Brothers Live and Woody Sez at the Arts Theatre, London. Partnered by Louis Hartshorn, they both decided to start Hartshorn – Hook Productions when they were working at Manchester’s Palace Theatre. These two shows are on their way to the Lowry. A Tribute to The Blues Brothers arrives in Salford from 20 - 21 September and Woody Sez is coming soon. They are also about to take a show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. We caught up with Brian to find out more about his background, the Blues Brothers and his career highlights. 

Date & place of birth?
13th May 1988, in a town called Trowbridge, Wiltshire till I was 2.

Lives now in?
Between Middleton, Manchester and central London

What made you want to get involved in theatre?
I really wasn’t very good at anything else in school! I averaged a C in Drama and that was pretty good going for me - ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and a tendency to avoid work at all costs and spend my time causing mischief lead me to pick Performing Arts at Bury collage to get out of the bleak and bland. When I got to collage I found that a BTEC in Performing Arts was truly incredible - suddenly all of the written expectation put on me by school was gone, no one wanted me to sit down and behave anymore, suddenly it all became about acting. I couldn’t get enough. For the first time I was able to achieve at the top of my game and when I got a hunger for that success there was a real drive to strive at my craft both as a performer and a producer. A genuine happy accident.
What else might you have done professionally?
I have never had a backup plan. I’ve never had something so big that made me stop and think this isn’t going to work. I guess the only other thing I’d have fallen into is working on motorbikes professionally in race pits or something, I have a real love of those machines! I spend all my spare time with the missus and  my best mate cleaning and maintaining our little brood of machines. I also hold a 2nd Dan in Taekwondo and have a great love of martial arts I guess I would love to have my own school some day. Whatever happens I know ill be running companies with Lou for many years to come.

First big break?
The Blues Brothers at the Arts Theatre in London - when we first started the company there was a post-it on our wall that said “in 5 years time we will produce a West End show”. We did it twice in three years and by the age of 22 were two of the youngest producers to ever accomplish such a feat. The show meant the start of an excellent relationship with ourselves and the Blues Brothers estate back in the USA. Their support has been incredible for us and their trust in our work has meant that we are able to deliver on producing some of the best live music shows around. Being the only official tribute show in Europe for a phenomenon such as the Blues Brothers has really set the show apart. We always have and always will love the Blues Brothers films, music and work that Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi created and to be able to present our work alongside these greats is a true honour.

Career highlight so far?
Sitting in the office at the start of this year, working hard on the productions we had on the table at the time and the phone rang. It was a very excited someone telling us that the London Evening Standard had nominated our second West End show Woody Sez for the Best Musical Award and suddenly the penny dropped. The production that we had loved and grafted at alongside Mary Cosette, David Lutken and the rest of the team had been recognised on a national level. Our quaint, four-person show paralleling the high times on wall street and the hard times on mainstreet was now sitting alongside Les Miserables and Matilda: The Musical and for the first time it hit me that we had achieved something incredible with those guys and that show. It didn’t matter for a second that we didn’t win, we were the underdog in a game that isn’t cut out for underdogs but the renewed love for my work and what it means to me was unparalleled.

Favourite person you have worked with?
We have worked with some incredible people over the years - the list is huge and the memories and friendships are priceless. I have just left our rehearsals for the Edinburgh production of Alexander Wright’s Some Small Love Story - the show is directed by Coronation Street’s Noreen Kershaw and the room is literally buzzing with the most vibrant energy… she has a way of enthusing and exciting actors to the point that even watching a rehearsal for the 20th time is a thrill. I am inspired by the people like Noreen who work so hard on the intricacies of performance with their cast, she is at once demanding yet calming, endlessly creative yet extraordinarily focused she thoroughly deserves her recent BAFTA. We’re also working with composer Eric Whitacre at the moment and he is both a creative powerhouse and a thoroughly charming man.

Favourite playwright?
As an audience member it's Jim Cartwright, productions such as Two are so emotionally enthralling and so effortlessly crafted that it always makes for the most enjoyable performance. As a producer it is the new and emerging writers such as Belt Up and Flanagan Collective’s Alexander Wright inspire me to find the new Jason Robert Brown. As an actor I find work such as Kate Tempest and Daniel Beaty’s poetry a joy.

First thing you saw on stage that made an impact on you?
The first thing I saw that truly blew me away was Manchester actor, playwright and all round lovely chap Ben Faulks at the Edinburgh Fringe with his one man production of Jonathan Pram, it was before I had seriously began to work at acting and way before any work on any production. His conviction of performance and the silences between his words still resonates with me today. He taught me the importance of stillness in theatre and that total conviction in ones performance can transcend the stage. He took home a well earned Fringe First and remains a close friend. I have craved creating and producing work of true calibre ever since.

And the last?
In a funny way I really enjoyed Phantom of The Opera! Although I entirely appreciate the immensity of the production the thing that struck me was the roar of the 2000 people in the audience at the end. I never get bored of the audience’s enjoyment, I guess that’s why shows like Blues Brothers and Woody Sez appeal to me. They are both completely different in content and execution but the roar of the crowd at the end of each makes me utterly moved.

What's the best advice you have ever received?
I was told once by Lennie James to always treat myself as a business - it’s a little gem of a rule. Also Louis’ dad once said to us both ‘rule everything with kindness’. That advice was sent in a text entirely unprovoked at one of the most bleak days in our young careers; the Edinburgh Box office had liquidated, thousands of pounds were at stake and we had to step up to the plate and make the whole debacle work and turn a profit. Those words were the founding moments of mine and Louis’ partnership.

And the worst?
‘Get a real job’. Honestly, screw that, it’s the worst advice anyone has ever given me and 5 years on they still do! From the outside world it must be so very difficult to understand, there is no living for the weekend, there is no long term financial planning or career strategy. I just want to keep doing what I am doing at the top of my game. If I had a ‘real’ job, working in a proper office, working under someone else… it would kill me. The thought of it sends my blood cold.

Is there anything you have produced/created that you long to perform in?
I would have absolutely loved to have taken a role in Some Small Love Story. The script, the score, the journey of the characters, the simplicity of the production and the scope to deliver on those beautiful lines makes my heart soar but it is not to be. Besides the fact that I never work on my own productions I have the singing voice of a donkey.

What's your favourite book?
Ham On Rye by Charles Buckowski, a book I picked up from my next door neighbour when I was growing up. In all my teenage angst I could really relate to it. Either that or Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books, I remember getting such a vivid sense of awe from her descriptions. I get that feeling and a sense of peace back whenever I pick up those books.

Favourite holiday destination?
I am not a holiday kind of person. It’s been 6 or so years since I have been on a holiday that was a true vacation, I’m a workaholic and I never switch off. I keep threatening to go to Australia to visit family but the thought of such a long flight and then taking three weeks out scares me to death: three weeks is a lifetime in production.

Why did you want to get involved with The Blues Brothers?
I remember watching the film for the first time, before I had seen any of their work on SNL or their touring gigs and the bit where John Belushi falls down the stairs in the desk made me laugh myself sick. I don’t think I have EVER laughed so hard. Then as I grew up and I learnt to appreciate the music and the in-jokes and the soul of the whole thing, I was completely enamoured by the Blues Brothers. Now years later I have this honour of presenting the work and doing right by the estate; to work directly with Judy, Dan and the guys is a huge thrill.

Summarise the appeal of the show in five words
The Blues Brothers are legendary.

What is your favourite song/scene and why?
There is nothing that makes you dance like such a fool as "Shake A Tail Feather." In fact, if you want to get your money’s worth out of the show take a look at the back of the auditorium on this number and the front of house staff, the ice cream sellers, the tech staff in the box, myself and Louis will be dancing like no one is watching, that alone is worth £18.50, I have been known to give myself whiplash throwing shapes to that tune. There is nothing that makes my hair stand on end like the first guitar riff of "Soul Man" … even saying the words make me grin from ear to ear.

What is different about this show compared with the other Blue Brothers shows?

There isn’t another official Blues Brothers production outside of the USA and believe me, the input of the estate is crucial. This is it. If you want the closest thing to the Blues Brothers then it’s playing its northern premiere in September for two nights only at the Lowry. We are a tribute band straight off the back of another year at the largest arts festival on the planet and apparently, we’re pretty good at it!

What have you got lined up next?
We’ve got Some Small Love Story lined up for a tour in the Spring, hopefully landing in the West End, then we are in developed negotiations to bring our West End production of Woody Sez on a tour next year to The Lowry. And then we have something utterly extraordinary lined up for late 2013, utterly astounding in size and scale and a creative team that boggles the mind. However it will be a few months yet before we unveil that beaut to the world.


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