Before theatres closed for the foreseeable future, Nick Hayes was touring the UK with Priscilla Queen of the Desert as one of the lead characters in the show Adam/Felicia, with the future dates now suspended. In 2018, Nick toured the US for eight months with Gobsmacked! and some of his previous work has included Legally Blonde, MAMMA MIA! and Footloose, and he made his West End debut in 2005 in Saturday Night Fever at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. Nick also has screen experience, having most recently played the lead in award-winning short film The Definition of Lonely, which has had over half a million views on YouTube. Chatting with us, Nick tells us about being in the cast of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, playing Adam/Felicia and touring the US with Gobsmacked!.
You’ve recently been touring with Priscilla Queen of the Desert as Adam/Felicia, what was this role like to play?
I love playing comedic roles, and working with Joe McFadden and Miles Western is a blast. Adam/Felicia is a high energy, fun, loud and crass character that has a great arc over the show, we see him change as he goes on the bus journey through the desert and becomes close to the other two. For me and our director Ian Talbot, it was important to nail all the beats of that change and show the armour of his drag persona Felicia falling away. In particular, during the homophobic abuse scene in the second act, we felt it important to play the truth of the scene and allow Adam’s vulnerability to creep out from underneath this loud ‘Felicia’ exterior. I also get to sing and dance my socks off in a pair of high heels, which is fun!
Was there anything in particular that drew you to the role?
In musical theatre, a lot of the leading roles I tend to be seen for are the ‘straight guy’ love interest, which I enjoy, but I am on the lookout for roles that are complicated and colourful and have an edge. Adam was definitely this, I felt I immediately understood who he is and how to approach it. The script is hilarious and very well written.
What was it like being part of the production and cast?
This is without a doubt one of the most talented cast and teams I have worked with, every ensemble member is a triple threat and it was clear to me from the outset that the producers and creatives wanted to bring an edge and really push the story with this production. Tom Jackson Greaves, our choreographer, comes from a strong storytelling background with his work for Matthew Bourne and is doing some really exciting directing work, he had a clear vision of how he wanted to tell the story visually.
How was it getting into character for the first time and opening the show?
I came into the rehearsal room with an idea of who Adam was and how the three leads carried themselves within their world but we found early on that overplaying the comedy and jokes wouldn’t work. Ian gave the direction that the jokes and the wit in the script were simply these characters’ language and the way they communicated. We spent a lot of time on Adam and Felicia’s physicality and voice, and how that would differ from boy to drag. We also spent a lot of time carving out a specific Australian accent with our brilliant voice coach, Gemma May. The icing on the cake was during tech with the costumes and makeup, with this show, such a huge part of who these characters are and how we tell the story.
You toured the US with Gobsmacked!, how was the experience in the production?
I feel like I learnt so much on Gobsmacked! as a vocalist, I found my voice on that show – before this job, I was always singing as a character and with musical accompaniment – but this whole show was a cappella with a beatboxer. We had in-ear monitors, handheld mics and made all the instrument sounds using our voices, so it was a difficult and unique experience that allowed me to explore every part of what I am capable of vocally. Learning to collaborate with world class artists like Ball-Zee in such a close seven-part group was incredible and the reaction from audiences was unlike anything I had experienced.
Can you tell us about your time in the show and in America?
We toured thirty-six states and lived for eight months on a tour bus so it was exhausting but amazing. There were some real pinch me moments, singing live at a Chicago Bulls game at the United Centre and playing venues like the Kennedy Center in D.C.. We had a lot of press spots and performing on TV all across America. American audiences are wild, we would do meet and greets after shows and feel like rock stars!
Can you say about playing Neil McCormack in Mysterious Skin?
This was probably the most mentally exhausting role I have played but the most rewarding. The play is about child abuse and how these characters have been shaped by the abuse they experienced – I would hear audience stories after the show and realise we were making a difference by opening up conversation. I was surprised at how many people who watched the play came to me and said they had experienced abuse and how the play had been cathartic to them and helped them move on, and that to me is theatre at its finest.
In 2014, you were Angel Clare in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, how was this?
I love Thomas Hardy’s book and how relevant it still is given what it has to say about attitudes towards women. Getting to explore that story on stage was interesting. Being part of the process of adapting something from novel to live theatre, what worked and what didn’t and how best to approach it. Working on pieces with a book as the source material is great because you have a lot of your research and reference points already written out so you get a head start in rounding out the character. It was my first time working with actor musicians and I was blown away by how they managed to merge storytelling with the skill of playing their instruments. I also loved working with Jess Daley (Tess) who is an incredible talent.
What was it like being in Legally Blonde at the Savoy Theatre?
Legally was such a fun gig, it was written by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, who I became a fan of after seeing their Bat Boy at the Shaftesbury – their writing has this juxtaposition of fun and fluffy with a dry and sardonic edge, so it’s very tongue in cheek. Our director Jerry Mitchell really understood that, and the result was this intelligent musical with real charm and wit. It really deserved its long run and it was cool to be a part of.
For your first international tour, you covered the role of Sky in MAMMA MIA!, what are some of your favourite memories from this tour?
MAMMA MIA! has become such an iconic piece of musical theatre now, there are fifty productions worldwide in sixteen different languages, it’s an institution. A lot of my experience at the time was in relatively new productions, so it was interesting stepping into a show that had already found its feet and was a well-oiled machine. I have so many memories of travelling to countries I would never otherwise have visited and the tour mostly played 20,000 seat arenas, so the audiences were epic.
Can you tell us about some of your earlier productions you were involved with?
I started really early, my first professional theatre job I was around seven years old, Peter Pan with Matthew Kelly, I have such happy memories of my first experiences on stage. After training at Laine Theatre Arts very young, I booked my first West End job at eighteen, Saturday Night Fever at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, directed by Arlene Phillips. I remember the whole cast being older and much more experienced so I learned a lot very quickly. In the earlier years, I had a run of work on shows directed by Karen Bruce, Footloose in the West End, Fame and The Wedding Singer on tour. Karen is a brilliant woman, I learnt so much from her.
What are some of your favourite aspects of performing in a musical?
Musical theatre is such a specific art form, being able to tell a story moving through dialogue into song and dance, and have it believable, is a skill in itself. Sometimes musicals get a bad wrap in the acting world but I believe it takes a high level of performer to be able to do all three disciplines together to a high standard and make it truthful. I think sometimes bringing music and movement to a story can give it another dimension and allow the audience to go further into their imagination so when a musical works it really works and there is no better way to tell a story.
You also have screen experience, can you say more about some of your roles?
My first television role was in Hollyoaks: In The City – it was high drama and fun. Lime Pictures is where I cut my teeth in television acting and learned the basics. After that, I worked on Doctors at the BBC and a few other roles before moving back into theatre. Then in 2015, I worked on a short film written by Leon Lopez, while we were working on another film together, and he showed me his script called The Definition of Lonely, I loved it and suggested a mutual friend of ours, Lucas Rush, play the other role, by the next week we were sat on location in London shooting it. The Definition of Lonely was one of those labour or love projects where the right people came together at the right time with the right script and made something magical. We didn’t expect it to reach far, but it ended up winning awards at various film festivals and now, five years later, it has well over half a million YouTube views and is the role that most people mention to me! We are so grateful the film touched so many people in a positive way and are hoping to shoot a sequel at some point.
Where does your love of acting come from and is it something you always wanted to do?
Yes, always. I was obsessed with stories on TV and in theatre from such a young age – no one in my immediate family is a performer but we have a history of actors further back. Julie Andrews is a relative on my dad’s side so I remember my nan showing me her old films, and understanding it was a job and something I wanted to be part of. I was always fascinated in the imaginary and the make-believe, how a story can help someone or change their mind.
Have you watched any TV or theatre shows in the past year that you would recommend?
Before lockdown, I didn’t have much of a chance to see anything as I was working a lot, but recently I have watched so much! It is a dream of mine to work at the National Theatre, so I’ve loved getting to stream the NT Live productions, Twelfth Night with Tamsin Greig was excellent. TV shows I’m loving at the moment – Mrs. America with Cate Blanchett, Ozark and pretty much every true crime documentary ever made!
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