After finishing his postgraduate course at Royal Academy of Music in 2015, the following year saw Alfie Parker join the Original London Cast of School of Rock before going on to play Sam Byck in Assassins at the Pleasance Theatre. Alfie toured the UK last year with Kinky Boots, playing the role of Mutt and covering many characters including Don, and is currently in the UK Tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Meeting with Alfie, he talks about joining the original cast of School of Rock, playing Sam Byck in Assassins and touring with Kinky Boots.
How did you find the experience touring with Kinky Boots?
I really enjoyed it. Touring is tricky because you’re living in each other’s pockets for sixteen months, but it was really good and the message of the show is what drove us forward. It’s such a great show about acceptance and loving yourself and loving everyone around you and, for me, that really helped. I met some lovely people but of course, like with any job, you don’t get along with everyone, especially when you’re working in close proximity. I really enjoyed it and it was a big learning curve as it was my first tour. Obviously, it was very hard work, but it was lots of fun.
What was it like getting into character and covering the role of Don?
I played a character called Mutt and I based him on a friend of mine. Once I got the script, I worked out the factory lifestyle and you have to work out your status of the show and physicality, and I was more hunched over a little bit.
I loved covering the role of Don. I loved covering all the roles in that show, but Don was my favourite! I’m glad I got on as much for that as I did. It’s such a good part because you’re not playing it to the audience, you just have to be as straight and true as possible. I think his arc is the biggest as he goes from a bully who is so closed-minded to being so accepting and running out on the stage in Milan in high heels – it’s such a big 360. My favourite part about that is the reason why that transformation happened, the fact that he didn’t accept Lola, but he accepted Charlie, and through accepting Charlie, he then accepted Lola and everyone else, but it was Charlie who was the catalyst for that big 360 change of thought. I loved it and I’m very grateful to have gone on as much as I did.
How was it being part of the cast?
It was great fun. Like I said before, the cast didn’t see eye-to-eye 100% of the time, but that’s what it’s going to be like working with a bunch of actors that you wouldn’t normally work with. The Angels, for example, have a very, very different skillset to myself and being in a show which has such a wide variety of casting and people in general was great.
Andy Watkins, who played Mr. Price, hadn’t really done musicals before and he came in and he wore a blazer on the first day! He came in from more of an acting approach and he really wanted to feel the status of the character. I learned so much off the job because there were so many different strengths in the room. It can happen where sometimes you go to a show and people are quite similar in a respect, but it was great to be part of a diverse cast.
What did you enjoy and find most challenging for your first tour, and what advice would you give an actor heading out on their first tour?
I would say you’ve got to double check how much stuff you have because there is only so much you can put in a suitcase, so you’ve got to make sure you have the right stuff! You’ve got to think away from the acting perspective and more about the job. You need to have stuff for every occasion – you’ve got to have a nice shirt for press night, and coats, scarfs and hats, but also shorts and T-shirts. You just need to prepare and plan for all of that.
You’ve got to make sure you have as much fun as possible, which I think people forget when it’s acting. It’s all about fun and that’s the reason why we do it. We met up a lot and had lots of games nights and cheese nights and random things, just to keep the morale high because when there’s such a big group of you, people will miss home and their families and friends, and that’s natural. I was really homesick and I went through a lot emotionally, and if I didn’t have the support of everyone else then it was never going to work. We had some people who couldn’t cope 100% and had to leave for personal reasons, so you have to make sure the morale is high. It is quite a sacrifice going on tour, especially when you’re based on the South Coast and a lot of the venues are Northern and Scottish, so it’s quite hard to find time to come back home and see family and friends.
How was the atmosphere on the final night?
That last day was crazy in general. We had a matinee, which people may know as muck-up matinee… you’re not meant to do it but people do! That final show in the evening was crazy and it makes you realise when you take a step back and look at it as a piece, that sometimes you get stuck in a rut and it’s like Groundhog Day for actors. You do the same thing every day and you seem to lose the story sometimes. There were some posts on Twitter that made me realise that the show meant so much more to people what you think as an actor. People were saying that they met friends coming to watch the show!
It was pure love in the room on that last day and, regardless of what had happened over the past fifteen/sixteen months, you forgot about all of that and it was pure love and joy. It was amazing, it really was.
The show has been announced as winner of the Broadway World Awards for Best Touring Production, how does this feel?
Really cool! There are a lot of shows out there and there are a lot of great shows touring, so it was great to get some recognition. It’s purely down to the fans. We put the show on and we try to keep it as true as possible, but without the fans, we are never going to be nominated for awards like that, let alone win them. To have such a strong fan base who genuinely loved the show and loved what we did with it was great. I guess that award is more for the fans than us. They kept the wheels turning, it was great.
Can you tell us about being in the original London cast of School of Rock?
That was my first job out of drama school after Panto in Buxton. I remember when I was doing my BTEC at college and I was saying that if I got to do a show in the West End then I could retire, and that’s what I always said. I was so taken aback that my first long contract was an original West End cast! I worked hard, and drama school was such a sacrifice on my family as it’s expensive, so to be able to say I’ve been in the West End so early on is pretty crazy!
That whole company were amazing. They took me under their wing and I learnt so much off that cast. If it wasn’t for that company and that cast, there’s no way I would still be doing this now. They were great.
You were cover Dewey Finn, what did you enjoy most about this role?
The thing about that role is that it’s crazy! I actually never went on for Dewey, but I got given that cover on the job. I started as Swing and then we transferred rehearsals to the Palladium stage and then went into the New London, which is now the Gillian Lynne. It was in tech there that they asked if I could cover the role of Dewey Finn. I was like, “I’m learning thirteen tracks but sure, let’s go for it!”. I couldn’t play guitar and I think I was more hired for the kids cast change as I did a lot of the cast change rehearsals. Alex Tomkins (who’s still there covering Dewey Finn) is great, he was second cover. I actually did a dress run in front of my mum and I made sure that happened because that was important.
I love the film, I love Jack Black and to try and take an element of that and do it on stage and do it with such talented people was great. Those kids are crazy talented, their talent is off the scale. I think all of the Katies in the original cast (I could be wrong!) couldn’t play bass so they learnt it for the job. They could literally absorb information, it was crazy!
I would have loved to have done it in front of an audience but just to have the pictures in my costume, and to say that I played a guitar solo in front of my director and in front of my mum with a set of lights is all I need, haha!
You played the Genie in Aladdin in Hayes, what was this like to do?
Really good! I loved it, that was my second panto and I was playing the Genie, which was a bit more of a feature than Nick the Policeman! The director, Michael Fentiman, has done a lot of work for the RSC, so that was cool. Panto is quite similar to touring because you are away from home so tensions are high and people don’t always see eye-to-eye, but I loved doing that and I loved playing that role. I used a lot of Tommy Cooper characteristics, which is something that me and Michael spoke about during rehearsals. We wanted this Northern Comic “Just Like That” and all of that kind of stuff. Being able to absorb all of that was really great. Hopefully I can go back.
Can you tell us about appearing in Assassins?
Assassins was my favourite job ever. I went for the audition and I’d lost my rep folder because I left it on the train as I’d just come from a Kinky Boots audition, so I had no music and I went in there and I just explained and sang and it was lovely, and it all fell into place. They asked me if I would consider the role of Sam Byck, and I wasn’t sure as Sam does monologues and normally I would avoid them at all costs! This is the reason why it’s my favourite job, because I took a chance and was able to learn, otherwise I wasn’t going to stretch myself. I think you have to throw yourself into the deep end, and if you don’t, you’ll become much more boxed-in as a performer as it’s all about adding strings to your bow. This, for me, was the best experience. It was so out of my comfort zone and I loved it. It was really tough but I know that if a job comes up with monologues again, I would love to do it 100%. It’s the best job ever.
How do you prepare for opening nights?
Opening nights are strange. The School of Rock opening night was crazy! I never thought I would do anything like that anyway, and to have Andrew Lloyd Webber there, and a red carpet, and these celebrities coming in, was crazy. The Kinky Boots one was also bizarre and it was different.
There’s so much pressure coming down on you on opening night, you can’t really make a mistake as all the big reviews will be coming in and this could potentially affect how the rest of the job goes. You can’t put too much pressure on yourself, you have to remember that it’s a job and things go wrong. In theatre, things go wrong all the time and you have to cover it up the best you can, you have to keep smiling and carry on!
On Kinky Boots opening night, there were some show stops and fire alarms and all sorts, and you just have to keep smiling and cracking on and ploughing through the mistakes. For me, it’s all about morale, you have to make sure you are positive, especially in the dressing rooms, your aura and energy rubs off on other people. Sometimes, you just have to say, “Can you cheer up a bit?” in a subtle way and that’s when you get the UNO cards out because people seem to get quite wrapped up in their headspace so everyone needs to relax and take a step back. Remember, it’s not life or death, it’s theatre. It can feel really intense but you just have to sit back, especially with a show like Kinky Boots where it has its own story to tell. As long as you stick to the script, it comes across to the audience and that’s lovely.
When did you get into musical theatre and what encouraged you to start?
The first show I watched was Jersey Boys in London and my mum took me to see it. I did a lot of pantomimes at the Worthing Pavilion as a kid – I was a wolf, a lost boy, and stuff like that – and I didn’t know if theatre was something I wanted to do as an adult. I got more into rugby as I got older and I really wanted to be rugby player when I was at high school. I still did Music GCSE and Drama BTEC GCSE, but I either wanted to play rugby or be a straight actor, I didn’t want to be in musicals. I then went to Northbrook in Worthing and I started on the acting course and we did an integration with musical theatre. I sang and they said I should transfer to the musical theatre course. I said I wasn’t sure if I wanted to transfer, but I did anyway because it would add more stings to my bow. It just came out of nowhere, I wasn’t set on it from a really young age.
I stopped playing rugby due to health issues, so that was written off, so I decided to concentrate more on acting, and musical theatre was sure to follow and here I am! Right time, right place, I just fell into it. I then watched Jersey Boys and it was such an eye-opening show. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons are cool anyway, but watching someone with a voice like that… I know it wasn’t Frankie Valli, but they did a really good job! I have a soft spot for that countertenor voice, it’s so cool. I basically wanted to do that show, so I fell into musical theatre and here I am.
What drew you to train at Royal Academy of Music?
When I was at Northbrook, I was set on going to Mountview and it was the only place I wanted to go. I auditioned for it and I didn’t get in. I proper messed it up and was really under-prepared and really unprofessional. I learnt from that and stayed at Northbrook for another two years doing their university degree, having the mindset of thinking I might do the BA Hons there and go into teaching, as that was something I also wanted to do.
I was having private singing lessons on the side with a lady called Jan Spooner Swabey, and she is a miracle worker. She basically unlocked my voice and gave me what I use all the time now. If it wasn’t for her, 100% I wouldn’t be doing this. I had private tuition with Jan for about a year and a half, and she said that the Royal Academy were looking for certain kind of males to audition. Jan and I had spoken about the Royal Academy before and I was meant to audition the year after, but when I heard this, I went for it as I realised I might not get it, but I’d at least get my foot in the door and they’d remember me the following year. I auditioned on my own because I couldn’t make the audition date, it was very intense but then it all fell into place. I had to go and see Mary Hammond at her house in London and it was all very bizarre and moved very quickly – it was like The X Factor!
My dad passed away when I was thirteen and now, whenever I do a show, it’s always dedicated to my dad. I think it said the dedication in the School of Rock programme. When I went to the Royal Academy of Music, it was like I was wearing a badge for my dad and I was cracking through and performing, and I think that’s probably why I’m here. I wasn’t expecting to get in, but I was the last year they did the postgraduate course (it’s now a Master’s Degree). I was actually too young to go on the course but they let me defer a year.
Do you remember how you felt finishing your training and booking your first professional role?
It was absolutely crazy. Going to drama school is one thing, but then you get that first contract through and you start going to auditions! My first job was the Buxton pantomime playing Nick the Policeman with a guy called Josh, who is great and lovely.
Whenever I get a contract through, Mum’s always the first person to find out, I always give her a phone call! You then have to sit on the news as you’re not meant to say anything but you want to tell everyone!
The first job was amazing. Everything was coming together and paying off, and all of that sacrifice was worth it.
What are your plans for the next few months?
I’ve recently started the Joseph tour! I worked through Christmas and I finish in April. I’m covering someone who’s done it on and off for ten years so that’s pressure! I’m playing one of the Brothers, so that’s my plans for the next few months.
I’m also moving into a new flat in Brighton. London’s too busy for me but I think commuting from Brighton will be cool. I’m moving in with my girlfriend, Lizzie Bea. She’s going off to play Tracy in Hairspray at the Palladium!
Follow Alfie on: