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Peter Polycarpou On ... The Ethics of Imagine This

Peter Polycarpou\'s acting credits include the original West End productions of Miss Saigon and Les Miserables. He has also played the title role in Phantom of the Opera, and counts Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Trever Nunn’s NT revival of Oklahoma! amongst his many other stage credits. On screen, he is probably best known for his role as Chris Theodopolopoudos in BBC sitcom Birds of a Feather. He is currently appearing in the lead role of Daniel Washowsky in new musical Imagine This, booking at the New London theatre through to February 2009.

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Imagine This is about a group of actors in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 who put on a play as an act of political resistance, which soon becomes a life-changing experience for all those involved. The play is called Masada, about a group of rebel Jews who were fleeing Jerusalem in 70AD and dug themselves in on a mountaintop for 18 months as an act of defiance against the Roman Empire. It’s an extremely important and symbolic chapter in the Jewish story, and there are obvious parallels with the situation in Warsaw.

Of course many people have questioned us over the issue of using musical theatre to tell a story about the Holocaust. People get rather proprietorial over the subject and think we’re going to be flippant or somehow fail to honour or revere those who lost their lives. But what we’re trying to do is help the audience empathise with the situation these people were in, and hope that we can in some way ennoble them through the telling of this story. Also, what about Fiddler on the Roof, about the Russian pogroms in 1905, or Sweeney Todd, about a serial killer whose wife makes pies with his victims? There are countless other examples you could draw of musicals which deal with dark and turbulent issues. For me, it’s down to how you treat the material and rather the material itself.

My character Daniel Washowsky is something of a father figure in the show and that’s very much how I feel with the company. I remember when I was starting out how inspired I was by the likes of Colm Wilkinson, Alun Armstrong, Brian Cox and Jonathan Pryce, and hopefully I can help the younger members of the company in a similar way. I try to lead by example. I feel much like Colm did when he played Jean Valjean, like I’ve waited my whole career to play Daniel Washowsky. As an actor one of the most important things you can do is to be involved in new writing, so for me to be able to be involved in the creation of this character is incredibly exciting.

I don’t know how the current economic climate will affect us. Granted, we’re not a feel-good jukebox show, we’re providing something very different. But I don’t think about failure. I don’t think about what happened to Gone With the Wind. My total energy is focussed on this piece, on every aspect of this production. I eat, sleep, work and breathe Imagine This. Last time I was in the New London (in Cats), I literally broke a leg! But there’s an old superstition that says if you hurt yourself during a show it’s actually good luck that you’ll return to the same venue, so I’m hoping a bit of that will rub off.

Imagine This, which has music by Shuki Levy, lyrics by David Goldstein and is directed by Timothy Sheader, is currently booking at the New London theatre through to 28 February 2009.


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