My dears! Yes, as I’m sure you’ve seen my mask has been taken off – and my little ginger face has finally been revealed. Press nights involving latex, sweaty showpants, and changing in the back of taxis are over…for now. West End Producer (or WEP to his friends) is taking a little break – he’s developed such a problem involving Dom Perignon that he’s currently in the Priory. Bless.
It’s been a long, fun ride – when I first started I had no idea that I’d be playing WEP for 14 years. It began when I was in Oliver! in the West End – and Twitter/X was in its infancy. I had the idea to create an anonymous impresario character that could satirise and reveal some useful truths about the industry. And it just seemed to grow – with two books, West End talent contests, six years of articles for The Stage, an April Fool’s in WhatsOnStage, a show in Edinburgh, interviews, press nights – it really was something that consumed me. And towards the end, I felt more successful as WEP than I ever did as myself. And that’s when I knew it was time to take the mask off.
Since my reveal I’ve had messages asking lots of questions. Did anyone figure out it was me? What’s the most embarrassing thing that happened? So I thought I’d share my most embarassing moment – something that totally crushed me as Christian, as well as WEP.
In 2019 West End Producer took a one man show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, called Free Willy. WEP auditioned actors for the coveted lead role of Killer Whale Willy. I got to sit at a piano and tell the audience about the ‘biggest aquatic underwater musical of all time’. It was a huge undertaking, but luckily the lovely people at Cuffe and Taylor saw the promise in the show, and supported my Edinburgh trip.
To be honest the whole thing was a logistical nightmare. Not only did I have to rehearse somewhere where we could keep my identity a secret, but also I had to turn up to the theatre everyday totally masked up and in costume to remain anonymous. Thankfully my dear friend Elizabeth Newman allowed me to put the show together at Pitlochry Festival Theatre – a much easier place to be incognito than doing it somewhere like the Jerwood Space (where everyone knows your secrets, dear). My journey each day to the Assembly Rooms involved finding a toilet near the theatre, locking myself in a cubicle, waiting for my friend Harry to hand over the costume, and quickly getting changed without anyone noticing what was going on.
The show itself was hard work, as I didn’t really have any peripheral vision in the mask. I could only see in front of me – which made the whole thing even more challenging. Especially when playing the piano, singing, and auditioning my special guest (Christopher Biggins was a joy, dear). But with lots practice, copious amounts of Red Bull and alcohol, and the sacrificial killing of two new drama graduates, we managed to make it work. It even got some good reviews (it’s amazing what a bit of bribery will do ). And in moments of doubt we just followed that famous Stanislavski mantra ‘be big, be bold, and try not to f**k it up, dear’.
Anyhow, part of the deal was that I would then perform the show on the Floating Festivals Stages Cruise – which is basically a floating musical theatre resort. All passengers were huge MT fans – with musical stars performing every day, Q&As with West End performers, the chance to stalk Collabro back to their cabin, and musical theatre songs blasted through the tannoy 24/7 (I remember waking up to Hugh Jackman singing “Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’ – I was hideously hungover and there really was nothing beautiful about me that morning, dear).
It’s a brilliant musical theatre cruise – and was totally sold out. I was booked to perform my Edinburgh show on the cabaret stage – an intimate venue rather like the Assembly Rooms . But when we arrived one of the team requested I perform on the main stage instead, as they thought it would be a good one to end the night with. What a mistake that turned out to be….
The night of the show arrived. I was pooping in my showpants (‘sh*tting in my sh*tty showpants’ is an excellent vocal warm up, dear). I was already nervous as hell but then I found out that I’d be performing after Alfie Boe and Sheridan Smith! Yes that’s right. Alfie Boe and his brilliant band – who the audience obviously adored, encore after encore. Then Sheridan Smith, performing an extraordinary set, with backing dancers and orchestra, showgasms galore – followed by little old me. Now to give you some context, my show began with WEP bouncing onstage mounted on an inflatable whale singing songs like “My Willy Needs to be Wet” and :One Whale More” – while talking about my Free Willy musical. And it was a disaster.
Within ten minutes I could see people standing up and walking out – it still makes me nauseous thinking about it now. The problem was that the audience were die-hard musical theatre fans, and I was taking the mickey out of the genre so it didn’t go down well (also I don’t think half of them knew who the bloody hell I was). It was hideous. I sat at the piano and sang a couple of songs, and every time I looked out I could see more people leaving. My heart was racing, I didn’t know what to do – I just wanted to run offstage. So I started cutting bits – which entirely confused the tech team (we’d only had a quick 15 minutes rehearsal) – but they valiantly kept up. Finally I got to the second half of the show where I interview and audition my special guests – West End star Steph Parry and Collabro’s Thomas Redgrave – and things went a bit better (both of them were so supportive and lovely). But I just wanted to get the thing over with as quickly as possible. I was soaking wet in my outfit, the mask was a sweaty mess, I wanted to cry, and I just kept looking out to the auditorium that was now HALF EMPTY questioning my life choices. I was living that awful actor’s nightmare for real….
And then it was OVER! I ran straight to the cabin, got a bottle of gin, took my mask off, and had a mini nervous breakdown.
Cue the following evening. I’m in one of the ship’s restaurants (unmasked) with my friend Harry, when an elderly couple joined us. We chatted, I told them I was working backstage, and everything was going marvellously – until we got onto the subject of the cruise. I asked her if she’d enjoyed herself, and the lady said “I’ve had the most wonderful time on here, and the shows have been tremendous – apart from that awful man in a mask. Did you see his show? It’s one of the worst things I’ve ever seen in my life! We left ten minutes in. God, I hope you’re nothing to do with it.” Of course I said I didn’t know anything about it, but inside my inner Daniel Day Lewis was screaming. I downed my wine, went to the end of the ship, and nearly recreated the end of Titanic (where old Rose throws her gem into the ocean – except I nearly threw myself in instead). Finally I went back to my cabin, jumped up and down on my WEP mask, and went to the bar to get savagely sloshed.
To be honest, the whole thing gave me a huge crisis of confidence, and it took me a couple of years to get back onstage both as WEP and myself. But it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry isn’t it?!
So there you have it. WEP’s most embarrassing moment. I suppose the only good thing was that nobody knew it was me….that’s the joy of being anonymous. But now, after years of therapy sessions and copious amounts of theatrical tears I’ve just about recovered – although I do still seem to have a triggering relationship with latex, dear.