Joseph Derrington

Joseph Derrington, credit of Claire Newman-Williams

📷 : Rory Lewis

Currently touring the UK with Blackeyed Theatre’s Sherlock Holmes: The Sign of Four playing Dr. John Watson, 2019 will see Joseph Derrington continue in the role when the tour goes international. Having already made many stage appearances, earlier this year Joseph joined the cast of The Canterville Ghost before solving crimes alongside Sherlock Holmes in his current production. Chatting to us recently, Joseph tells us about what drew him to the role of Dr. Watson, performing in theatre and preparing for a role.

When did your acting career start?

My career itself started in my first year of Uni. I did a show for The Royal & Derngate as a Riot Police officer for “The Bacchae” along with a few other students. That was my first professional theatre job. In 2003 I was an extra in ITV’s “William and Mary” which myself and 200 students had to stand up and sing “Why Does It Always Rain on Me?” for a funeral scene… unfortunately it wasn’t my first appearance on screen as my mother’s hat, who was sitting in front of me, blocked out my entire body!


Had you always been interested to work in theatre?

From a very young age, I loved the freedom of being someone else and being on stage had a strange comfort to it. Out of all the mediums, theatre excites me more than any other style of acting. I love being in theatre shows, watching theatre productions and even just sitting in a theatre. It has a strange energy that can’t really be explained. The weight of history and the unexpected is so energising for me.

Blackeyed Theatre presents Sherlock Holmes - The Sign of Four (courtesy Mark Holliday) (13)

📷 : Mark Holliday

When you’re not acting, what do you enjoy doing?

I work! Glutton for punishment. But my job as a First Response Medic keeps my life exciting and spontaneous. I do enjoy playing the Piano and learning new skills too.


How was touring with The Canterville Ghost and which country did you enjoy visiting the most?

I only toured around Italy for The Canterville Ghost. But what a country Italy is. Erasmus Theatre who produced it were incredibly lovely and giving. We sampled food (obviously) from different regions and had a culturally rich experience – none of this “Spaghetti Bolognese” which doesn’t really exist there. For me the best part was the community aspect where we all sat down to eat in a restaurant every night together and experienced life. Italian audiences, as you can imagine, are very vocal and if they see something they like, they let you know! Usually during the middle of a scene which was challenging at first but you got used to it and it made the day more interesting.

Blackeyed Theatre presents Sherlock Holmes - The Sign of Four (courtesy Mark Holliday) (15)

📷 : Mark Holliday

How excited are you to be touring with Sherlock Holmes: The Sign of Four?

Very! I love the Sherlock Holmes stories and the characters Arthur Conan Doyle has created. I have to say I’m a particular fan of the Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman series on the BBC. It’s exciting to work on a project that you already have a strong emotional bond with AND one that’s witty and fun to do!


What drew you to the role of Dr John Watson?

I could tell you the moustache… but as a twenty-six-year-old man in 2018, you don’t half get a funny look. Watson is the conduit not only of the narrative plot, but also as the connection between Sherlock’s 1000mph thought process and the action on stage. Without Watson, Holmes’ deductions would be violently overlooked as he wouldn’t have to explain them and his talent would go unnoticed (it’s a little like a lot of Christopher Nolan’s movies where incredibly intelligent scientists explain simple science to INCREDIBLY intelligent scientists so the audience is in on the action). John Watson is one of literature’s greats and I wanted to try and put my own stamp on such a great character from history.

Blackeyed Theatre presents Sherlock Holmes - The Sign of Four (courtesy Mark Holliday) (2)

📷 : Mark Holliday

Have you portrayed any similar roles?

Never, apart from in my normal life where I am a bit of a medical man. I work in nightclubs and music festivals as medical responder, so me and John share a passion for helping people and medicine.


Did you research the character before auditioning?

I did, I read books, character studies, watched series, movies, made character profiles myself all to boil John down to someone relatable. I didn’t want him to be seen as the “stupid” one as he very much isn’t. He’s a medical man, a great thinker and writer. Emotional and mercurial. It’s just against Holmes, he sees the world differently. This was also brought up in the audition. Nick Lane, the writer and director, felt exactly the same and didn’t want this slapstick approach to Dr Watson. He wanted the intelligence and the emotionality that a normal man would have who was educated and could hold his own when confronted with the encyclopaedia of Holmes.

Blackeyed Theatre presents Sherlock Holmes - The Sign of Four (courtesy Mark Holliday) (10)

📷 : Mark Holliday

What’s the most challenging aspect to this role?

I think the limp! Ive tried wearing braces under my costume that limit the movement, looking at how people use walking sticks and also trying to make sure that I don’t get into the habit of limping off stage. Usually when I have to do an accent for a part, I’ll live in that accent for a week or so to build up the muscle. With the limp I wanted to do a similar exercise, but limping permanently for a week has ramifications on your back and also leg muscles in the leg you avoid using and the extra weight bore on the other one. I think its believable with how I limp and a technique which doesn’t put too much stress on the other leg so I’m trying to balance my weight a lot using my cane. The challenge is to keep it up for a year!


Is there any venue on tour you’re most looking forward to performing in?

Hugely looking forward to China and the Netherlands. Inside the UK, it’s going to be nice to go back to theatres I’ve toured to before like The Atkinson in Southport, but to visit places I haven’t been to yet, like Malvern and Worthing. I’m particularly looking forward to the London run in Greenwich as most of my friends and family are there so they are going to come and see the show which would be nice (and convince them that yes, this is a proper job!).

Blackeyed Theatre presents Sherlock Holmes - The Sign of Four (courtesy Mark Holliday) (16)Blackeyed Theatre presents Sherlock Holmes - The Sign of Four (courtesy Mark Holliday) (12)

📷 : Mark Holliday

What do you do to prepare for a long theatre run?

Apart from the obvious, packing I don’t prepare myself too much. I like touring at the moment and seeing the country (or in this case a different continent). I always pack way too much but it’s better to be over prepared than under prepared!


How are you finding your time on a Blackeyed Theatre production?

I love it. Everyone at Blackeyed have been so supportive and make it clear that they really do care for our comfort and wellbeing. Adrian has been concerned about everyone’s health and safety since day one but that echoes in our work too because we invest more into a company that looks after us. The company is fantastic and the shows they produce, including Sherlock, are beautiful to watch. I saw Frankenstein and knew that I wanted to work with Blackeyed on one of their future shows, just missing out on Jekyll and Hyde but thrilled to be joining them for this one!

Blackeyed Theatre presents Sherlock Holmes - The Sign of Four (courtesy Mark Holliday) (5)

📷 : Mark Holliday

How different are rehearsals in something like Sherlock Holmes opposed to musical theatre roles?

I’d say the main difference is rigidity and exploration. With musicals you have a score and lyrics that you can’t deviate from as it would ruin the flow, the context, the rhymes etc. a choreographer who wants to pull the right emotions from physicality that needs to be replicated night after night with the same shapes and the same intensity. With Sherlock and Nick, the director, we were encouraged to not be so rigid! The script was malleable and the stage directions were just there as a guideline, we were told to play and feel the scene when rehearsing to see what comes out organically rather than what is prescribed. I think this is what makes Nick so great because he was very empowering to us as actors and it made the process so enjoyable to be part of.


Have you been given any acting advice along the way that has stuck with you?

So much, from not only Nick, but also some of the older cast members who have been in the business a long time. There are two pieces of advice that has always stuck with me. First, we are doing something called a Play, it’s called a Play for a reason! Have fun! And the other is, NO ONE IS GOING TO DIE! Which oddly helps (although I have been given full permission to deal with any sudden audience illnesses in the middle of a show if an emergency does arise… hopefully it won’t but I always carry my equipment with me in my dressing room – equipment of the 21st century of course).


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