Earlier this year, Michael Hamway was performing as Link Larkin in Hairspray with Grange Park/Pimlico Opera and also workshopped new musical The Throwaways at The Other Palace as Hitchcock. Michael made his West End and Swing debut in Waitress the Musical last year, and while in the production he covered the roles of Dr. Pomatter and Ogie, before leaving the cast in November. In 2018, Michael was cast as Jamie Wellerstein in The Last Five Years both on tour and at Wales Millennium Centre, and he also toured the UK with Legally Blonde as Aaron. Michael chatted to us about playing Link Larkin in Hairspray, joining the cast of Waitress and training at Royal Academy of Music.
How was the experience performing as Link Larkin in Hairspray at Bronzefield Prison?
Absolutely incredible. A completely unique experience and certainly one I’d never expected to have! I’d never been to a prison before and I was admittedly a little nervous going in, but it was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. We rehearsed for five to six weeks and it was amazing to watch the residents grow and develop over that time. The shows were put on in the sports hall, which had been dramatically transformed into a full-blown theatre! We performed mainly for the public, but also did a couple of shows for some of the other residents. Many of the residents were nervous to perform in front of their friends but the support they received was wonderful.
I remember on our first day, the prison commissioner came to speak to us. She told us how appreciative she was of this program, and of the difference it makes. She told us that when the musical is on, rates of suicide and self-harm drop dramatically, not just for the people directly involved, but prison-wide. I was both proud and humbled to be a part of something that had such a directly positive effect on a community that was dealing with a level of hardship that most are unable to comprehend.
What plans did you have once you finished your run as Link?
I didn’t have a job lined up, so I was headed back to auditioning and looking for appealing projects. Of course, everything changed once the pandemic hit in full force! Now, I’m pretty much just trying to maintain a healthy level of sanity! I have occasional bursts of productivity, writing and filming little scenes and monologues and things, or writing funny songs to keep spirits up. I’m lucky enough to have three wonderful performer flatmates, so we all take care of each other and collaborate on random projects.
You were in the Original West End Cast of Waitress the Musical, how was your experience in the show?
It was fantastic! It was my first job as a swing, so I was pretty nervous going in – on previous jobs I had watched the swings in awe and wondered how on earth they managed to learn it all! After a coffee-based swing tutorial session with a friend of mine, I turned up to rehearsals with more paper, pens, folders and highlighters than I’d ever owned in my lifetime! I quickly got into the swing of things (pun intended) and, with the help and guidance of our incredible Resident Choreographer Leanne Pinder, found I was able to keep up with the other swings. I would irritate the actors no end by turning up to to them with a million questions: “where are you standing for this line?”; “was it left hand over right shoulder or right hand over left shoulder?”; “did you have the blueberry chocolate pie or the strawberry cream pie?”. I began to discover that, at least for me, learning a show as a swing was about thinking of the show as a puzzle; everything has its place and time and all the components fit together precisely. By learning each moment as a chain of components, rather than a dozen tracks marching inexorably on, side by side, a show becomes less daunting and infinitely more manageable.
Anyway, I’m babbling. My experience in the show was overwhelmingly positive. Not only did I learn and develop professionally a great deal, but I was able to do it alongside the most wonderful people. We all had each others’ backs, and still do.
Whilst a swing in the show, you covered the roles of Dr. Pomatter and Ogie, how did you feel making your debut in each role?
I debuted Ogie first, the night after Press Night! Jack McBrayer had been asked to appear on The Last Leg (the lucky devil – meeting Josh Widdicombe et al.), so I was thrown on early. We hadn’t finished cover rehearsals yet, but Diane Paulus (our director) gave me some one-on-one rehearsal time, so I felt very well-prepared and was able to really enjoy it. I remember being tracked on for the first Ogie scene, menu in hand, and before I’d stopped moving, the audience started applauding! Goodness knows why – I certainly hadn’t earned it! But I instantly felt like the audience were behind me.
My Pomatter debut took a little longer to arrive. Katharine McPhee was going to be off so I would be debuting along with my friend and Legally Blonde castmate Lucie Jones. It was lovely to be able to rehearse with Lucie, and acting opposite somebody with whom I had an existing friendship and rapport made the debut all the more exciting!
We understand that last year part of the cast recorded songs from the musical at YouTube Space for Time Out London, can you tell us about it?
It was fun! A few of the songs were to be recorded with ensemble backing as required. I think it was Bad Idea, I Didn’t Plan It and A Soft Place To Land. Check them out on YouTube! You’ll catch a glimpse of me happily clapping along in the background of Bad Idea!
How did you feel on your last night in the cast?
Something close to heartbroken. I had known it was time for a little while, but nothing could’ve prepared me for that final show. I had spent a year working closely with this amazing bunch of people, who had each helped me personally more than they know. I knew that it was time to go, but I couldn’t quite believe I was saying goodbye to everyone, that I wasn’t going to see them every day. I really feel that our cast was something special.
The show marked your West End debut, what advice would you give someone making theirs?
Relax! A West End debut is incredibly exciting, but remember it’s still a job, like any other you’ve done. Work hard, treat everyone with courtesy and respect, learn as much as humanly possible, and maintain your individual personal life.
What was it like workshopping The Throwaways at The Other Palace and how different do you find workshops to full productions?
The Throwaways will always have a special place in my heart! Dylan Wynford has such a unique voice as a writer and it was really exciting to help realise it.
Workshops are a completely different animal from a full production; it scratches a different kind of creative itch. New writing is always exciting and it’s an amazing feeling to be a part of the creative process. You get to help discover the character and really bring yourself and your ideas to the role. You get to watch and help the show develop through collaborative devising, and then after a week of potentially very intense creativity, you get to put it on in front of an audience and suddenly it takes on an even newer life! It’s an experience I would recommend to anyone and everyone. The Throwaways was my third workshop (I’d previously done Five Children And It and Luna Park, both during the From Page to Stage Festival at the Tristan Bates Theatre), and I hope it won’t be my last.
What was The Last Five Years like to be part of as Jamie Wellerstein?
The Last Five Years was a bucket list job for me. I had always wanted to play Jamie, and here was an opportunity to not only be in the show, but to be a part of an innovative re-imagining of it. Centred around access for the deaf community, our production incorporated alter-ego versions of Jamie and Cathy, played by deaf performers Anthony Snowden and Raffie Julien. We would use sign language-inspired dance and movement to interact with one another, adding perspective and depth to the action, and hopefully enhancing the audience’s experience of the piece. I feel so lucky to have been a part of such a unique and incredible production.
You toured with Legally Blonde as Aaron, what did you enjoy most about this role and being in the production?
Legally Blonde is one of those shows that you can’t not have fun doing! Dressing up as a female prisoner and skipping along to Whipped Into Shape (masterfully choreographed by Helen Petrovna) is a treat I will always remember. I had fun as disheveled, arrogant Aaron, and enjoyed all the different bit-parts I got to play. Within the first fifteen minutes of the show, I had seven quick-changes, my favourite being full costume-change for five seconds as a Jet Blue Pilot!
The thing that stays with me most though, is the people. It’s normal to get close with your castmates; being an actor necessitates a closeness and intimacy from the outset of any job. Typically, though, at the end of the contract you all go your separate ways with wonderful memories in your pocket. Legally Blonde was different; I came out of it with some of my closest friends.
How was the experience covering and learning the roles of Emmett and Warner?
Emmett as a character felt quite close to me as a person, so I found a relaxed comfort in him at quite an early stage, and musically he fits my voice nicely! Sadly, I only had one opportunity to go on as Emmett, but the circumstances couldn’t have been better: a fantastic two-show Saturday in Glasgow and I was able to relax and enjoy it! Warner came less naturally to me. I’ve always struggled more with truthfully portraying antagonistic characters. While I didn’t go on as Warner at all, rehearsing him became a valuable learning opportunity in how to find truth in a character that I relate less to.
In 2017, you appeared as Tredgold in Forty Years On at Chichester Festival Theatre, can you tell us about your role and the experience performing at the theatre?
Forty Years On is an extraordinary revue-like play within a play. It follows the end-of-term play at the fictional school Albion House, as it’s put on by the teachers and pupils. Tredgold is Captain of School and, having led the rugby team to yet another victory, disrupts the play in raucous celebration. The headmaster begins to chastise him but it rapidly turns to praise upon learning of their victory against a rival school. I had so much fun playing this part! I had to get thoroughly muddied up backstage and then enter with a bunch of rowdy kids all singing a profanity-riddled psalm!
The interesting thing about this production was that I was needed throughout the play to help provide music with the other sixth formers, but Tredgold doesn’t enter until half-way through. This meant that I needed to have a second character to play when not being Tredgold. We came up with Timmy, his shy twin brother! This was a wonderful acting experience for me because I had to really think about and embody characteristics and physicalities that were different enough for me to be believable as two different characters. I remember having so much fun improvising as both in order to figure out how they each walked!
How did you get into acting?
I performed in plays at school from a very young age, but mostly it was esteemed roles such as ‘Villager 3’! I think acting was always something I’d wanted to do, but I never considered it a realistic option until after I graduated University. I had played Tobias Ragg in Sweeney Todd during my second year and it wasn’t until I left and had to figure out what I was going to do, that it occurred to me that Musical Theatre was an option. I went to an open day at The Royal Academy of Music and knew instantly that it was where I wanted to be. The trouble was that I had previously been a countertenor and so I wasn’t used to singing in my chest voice at all! I found a fantastic singing teacher who managed to raise me to a standard at which I could do myself justice in my audition, and that was it!
Can you tell us about your training?
Training at the Royal Academy of Music was easily one of the best and most formative years of my life. It was an extremely intense one-year post-graduate diploma course (I think’s it an MA now). We were in every day to start body conditioning at 8:40am, and quite often wouldn’t get home until 11pm. It was mainly singing and acting based, with enough dance to bring us up to an adequate skill-level. We had frequent singing/repertoire lessons and all kinds of speech/voice sessions, as well as three dance sessions per week (jazz, ballet and repertoire). One of my favourite classes was called Integration (acting through song). It’s a kind of shared masterclass in which you take turns to get up and perform a song of your choice, and you work on it in front of everyone else.
I arrived there fully aware of my overwhelming ignorance and lack of experience, so my default position was one of a sponge; just soaking up anything and everything I could. I took every opportunity to learn and grow from as many different people as possible, and I had so much fun doing it! We also were afforded incredible opportunities to work with external professionals in projects throughout the year. One of my favourites was playing Henry in our version of Next To Normal. The project taught me so much about learning and preparing a show, and, after I’d left, our wonderful director Anna Linstrum called me in for an audition for Jackie The Musical, which was my first professional job!
Do you have a favourite aspect of your career?
If you mean my career specifically, I would consider myself fortunate to have had a varied selection of jobs. I’ve worked with some incredible and inspiring people and come out with quite a few close friends! In general, clichéd though it may be (clichés are clichés for a reason), I get to do what I love with people I love, and have each and every day be different.
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