Having starred in many TV shows including The Bill as P.C. Mike Jarvis along with appearances on stage, in 2017 Stephen Beckett played Prospero in The Tempest at Stafford Castle for the Shakespeare Festival. Earlier this year, Stephen was cast as Bill in the West End production of MAMMA MIA! which is booking until 14th September 2019 at Novello Theatre. Talking to us recently, Stephen tells us about joining the West End cast of MAMMA MIA!, playing the role of Bill and appearing at the Shakespeare Festival in The Tempest.
You are currently playing Bill in the West End production of MAMMA MIA!, what do you enjoy most about playing the role?
It’s that journey really, it’s trying to play someone who kind of reaches a pivotal point in their life. It’s playing that emotional journey and taking the audience with you. I’ve never done a musical before so singing and dancing is very entertaining for me, maybe not so entertaining for the people watching hahaha, but they seem to let me get away with it and clap at the end, so that’s good!
Is there anything that drew you to the character?
Yeah, I quite like his wild spirit, his kind of freedom and love of travelling. I play him as an Australian as well and he’s kind of a bit, like I said a free spirit, and then he finds out he’s possibly a dad and he also falls in love properly for the first time. That really appealed to me, the journey that Bill goes on during the show.
Had you seen MAMMA MIA! in the West End before joining?
No I hadn’t. I was probably one of the few people who was auditioning for it who hadn’t seen it. I kind of didn’t want to see it because once I started auditioning for it I didn’t want to watch somebody else doing the part, I wanted to make it my own, I didn’t want to be influenced by them, I just wanted to make it mine and they seemed to like me and kept auditioning and recalling me. I saw it when we went into rehearsals because I thought I better find out what it is all about really!
Do you have a favourite scene in the musical to perform?
Probably when I get to do Take A Chance with Ricky Butt who plays Rosie, we have such a laugh doing that scene. It’s a crazy scene set in a church just before Sophie’s getting married, it goes absolutely bonkers and the audience go with it, they love it and it’s a really good scene to do.
What’s it like joining a long-running established show at a cast change?
It’s kind of weird because half the cast have been there for a number of years and the other half are new, so you’ve kind of got the newbies and the oldies, but they’re really friendly people, really supportive and nice, there’s no kind of sense that you are joining something that’s a private club or anything, everyone is very open and it’s nice. Ricky who plays Rosie and Neil Moors who plays Harry were new as well, so the three of us did loads of extra rehearsals together and went on that journey, which was nice.
How long after booking the role did rehearsals start?
It was quite a long while, it was about three months which is a favourite time in an actor’s life, between getting a job and doing the job, because you can go around telling everyone you’ve got a job and you’re going to be working, but you don’t actually have to do it haha!
What was the choreography like to learn?
Hard, really really hard because I’m not a natural dancer! I’ve never really done proper dancing on a West End stage, I mean in anything really, I’ve done movement and choreography but I’ve never done proper dancing. It took me about two weeks longer than everyone else to learn the steps, but I promised the choreographer I would, I basically went home and I drummed it in, I videoed the dance captain doing the numbers and then I went home and practiced.
Have your family had chance to see the show yet?
They have, a number of times actually. My thirteen-year-old daughter has become a massive MAMMA MIA! fan and she has seen it three times so far, she intends to come every month for the entire run, she’s seen the films loads of times, she might be getting both the DVDs for Christmas who knows haha! My wife and son have seen it once, my son refuses to come and see it again because he’s eleven and he didn’t like all the kissing!
Have you played any roles similar to Bill in the West End before?
No, not in terms of musicals. I’ve done West End runs before, I did a year on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and I did a year in The Railway Children at Waterloo, but I’ve never done a similar role like this.
Last year, you were appearing in The Tempest at Stafford Castle, what was this like?
It was amazing, it was one of my favourite jobs of all time actually. I got to play Prospero which is a fantastic role, the production was amazing, the director and the designer did a brilliant job, we had a fantastic cast around us, it was external and we had great weather. It was the summer Shakespeare festival, it was packed – fifteen hundred people a night. Getting to play one of those parts is one of those actor things, you have a certain number of parts you’d really like to play, I was too late for Romeo, I was too late for Hamlet, but I managed to get Prospero!
You won Best Actor on Stage at the Break a Leg 2017 Awards for this role, how did you find out?
I found out through a friend of a friend. The woman who ran the awards on the website was a friend of someone I knew, she said, I think you might be in for a pleasant surprise later on, however I can’t say anything yet but I think that you might have won something, and I was like, that’s amazing I’ve never won anything. I didn’t officially find out though until I got the email but I had heard a little whisper!
What would you say has been the most challenging role you’ve played on stage?
The most challenging, does that mean I had to have enjoyed it, because definitely the most challenging role I’ve ever played is playing Pericles in Pericles by William Shakespeare, that was the hardest role I’ve ever done and I don’t think I succeeded in it! The most enjoyable challenging ones have probably been Prospero in The Tempest and Benedick in Much Ado, I think Shakespeare’s kind of like the ultimate challenge. So I’ve done three leads in Shakespeare professionally, two of which have been great successes and one of which was a total disaster!
Have you done any local theatre productions?
I haven’t, I have played the Theatre Royal in Brighton and I’ve also played in Worthing and Eastbourne but they’ve all been touring productions, usually Ayckbourn plays. I’ve played The Connaught in Worthing and the Duke of Devonshire in Eastbourne and Horsham, so local shows but touring ones. I haven’t done the festival yet but I do intend to at some point.
Was there anything that helped you decide on an acting career?
I saw Derek Jacobi in a production of Cyrano de Bergerac at the Royal Shakespeare Company when I was about sixteen and I remember sitting there thinking, I really like this whole thing. It was by chance really, I walked past a youth theatre and saw an advert on the window for acting and improvisation classes, I was with a mate, we walked in and I had a bit of a thunderbolt moment. I did one class and I thought, yes this is it, this is what I want to do, so halfway through my A-Levels I decided to stop doing them and become an actor.
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