For his first screen role, Danny Collins played Mungojerrie in the 2019 feature film Cats which was distributed worldwide through Universal Pictures and based on the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical of the same name. As a regular performer with Matthew Bourne’s company, Danny made his first appearance with them in Swan Lake before going on to shows such as Nutcracker!, Edward Scissorhands and, most recently, he returned to the company last year to tour as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. In 2016, Danny performed as Dr Jekyll in Jekyll & Hyde at The Old Vic, which was directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie, with the show having been streamed on YouTube for a limited time earlier this year for their online series. Danny made his West End debut as Frank Shultz in the musical Show Boat, after opening with the show in Sheffield, and the following year, he played Amos Scudder in Barnum at the Menier Chocolate Factory. We recently spoke to Danny about playing Mungojerrie in Cats, his time as Dr Jekyll in The McOnie Company’s Jekyll & Hyde and performing in Matthew Bourne’s productions.
How was it filming as Mungojerrie in the 2019 film Cats and what was the experience like on set?
It was very much a pinch yourself moment. I loved watching movie musicals when I was growing up and that’s played a huge part in me choosing this career, so the opportunity to play a role in a big studio picture was such a big deal. I literally couldn’t believe my luck! Being on set and getting to work with some really iconic names just made it all the more surreal to be honest. It wasn’t a career opportunity I had realistically imagined happening so I just tried to drink in every moment of it.
What was it like working on your first feature film and how different did you find it to your stage career?
The size of the set! It was just colossal. It was all built to scale as if we were the size of a cat so seeing this giant world for the first time was mind-blowing. Moving around it easily was definitely one of the biggest challenges. I had to do a good bit of the shoot on a wire up something very high, and singing and dancing simultaneously is tricky enough, but there’s not much that can prepare you for doing it along a 12ft high wall that’s only a foot wide. It definitely took a bit of getting used to to look and sound confident but it was a proper thrill and the opportunity to do some stunt work was such highlight. The whole job was a huge learning curve and so much of it was new to me but that’s half of the fun. There’s always a challenge or a new skill I have to learn in my stage career so there was little difference in it in that regard.
You most recently played Mercutio in Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet, what was the role like to perform?
Considering I was dead by the interval, it was a really full on half a show! This production is set in an oppressive young offenders institute and the conflict is between the abusive guards and the inmates. It’s all high drama from the get-go so you constantly jump from moments of being downtrodden, to rebellion, to complete tomfoolery and tragedy which needs a lot of emotional energy, but is really satisfying to perform. Mercutio is the biggest troublemaker in the institute and I loved building up the conflict with Tybalt until our showdown. The music is just amazing too. I used to dance around the living room to Dance of the Knights when I was a kid, play-sword fighting with my brothers.
What did you enjoy most about the production and returning to a Matthew Bourne show?
I joined R&J about halfway through the tour as a last-minute replacement as the current Mercutio sadly had to leave due to an injury. I had never done this on a new show before and I had a week and a half to learn it and get on stage, so it was pretty exciting from the get-go. Everyone was really supportive as ever and it was great fun to throw myself into a role without having time to over analyse it. I also hadn’t performed with the company in a few years so I just really enjoyed being back on stage with them.
Can you say about the Early Adventures tour that you were part of?
Well, it’s performing a little piece of New Adventures history which is just lovely. So many of the numbers in Early Adventures were the inspiration to make entire shows later down the line like Nutcracker! or Play Without Words and it was really wonderful to learn this movement years after I had already done tours of those later shows. It’s a really funny show too so it’s a hoot to perform, and it’s also a lot smaller than the later productions so it was nice to perform in smaller venues where the company first toured.
How was it playing Rocco in The Car Man?
Well, The Car Man is one of my all-time favourite shows for sure and I loved playing Rocco. It’s got this real gut-buster of an opening number that just builds and builds to Terry Davis’ amazing rework of Bizet’s Carmen and it just leaves the whole company gasping and dripping in sweat. I mean, the show doesn’t really let up from there either! It’s all a bit of an adrenaline rush and you’d always be covered in bruises after a performance and never remember how you got any of them. For some reason, the shows that end in a big tragedy always seem to be the most satisfying to perform and get the biggest audience reactions. Without trying to sound too cheesy, I guess you feel like you’ve been on a ride with the audience as opposed to entertaining them for a few hours.
You played George Monroe and covered Edward in Edward Scissorhands, what are your favourite memories from your time in the show?
Playing Edward at the Southampton Mayflower with my whole family watching. The company very kindly let me have a cover show close enough to London so my family could watch and it’s one of my most special memories. As a part, it’s a killer because the gauntlets and the leather suit constantly constrict and overheat you and you very rarely get to leave the stage. Now it sounds like I’m making excuses, but as the cover I didn’t get a lot of time to acclimatise to all the gear and it really made it the most exhausting thing I have ever done. I’d feel my legs going numb halfway through Act One, so I was happy to just still be alive at the end of it, haha. The cherry on top is Edward gets a really epic bow! On a big rall in the score, you throw your arms up and it starts to snow on the audience. It was just magic doing all that and seeing my family out in the auditorium.
Do you remember how you felt booking your first role with Matthew Bourne in Swan Lake, and can you say about some of your earlier roles in his productions such as Nutcracker! and Sleeping Beauty?
Yes, I remember it really well. I auditioned for Swan Lake without an agent so I remember getting my offer through an email instead of a phone call unusually and I had to read it a couple of times to believe it. I never really expected to get the job to be honest. I stupidly hadn’t seen any of their productions and I didn’t realise how narrative the work was. I thought they were a ballet company and I’d not have the technical ability to get in. I just remember really loving the audition material and treating it like a great experience. I am really lucky to have spent half of my career with them now and those years have really changed me as a performer. All of the jobs with the company have been special for different reasons but Nutcracker! pings out as playing Fritz was my first principal role and an exciting, but scary, step up. Sleeping Beauty was also very special because it was my first original product for the company and I loved being part of the creative process.
You’ve worked with Drew McOnie on Jekyll & Hyde, what was it like playing Dr Jekyll?
Playing Jekyll is a role I am most grateful for in my career so far. It’s the biggest responsibility I have had as far as carrying a storyline is concerned so I threw everything I had at it. It’s hard not to remind yourself of how big an opportunity you are getting sometimes and I had some pretty intense pre-show nerves every night. It was all forgotten when the show started though! I think we really pushed the boat out with how many props I could use in just the opening number so that was more than enough to focus my mind, haha. Performing Jekyll was just a joy because it starts with such an innocent love story and some really lovely comedic moments and then just spirals into such darkness and murder. It was the whole shebang and it really stretched me as a performer.
What did you know about the production before auditioning and how did you prepare for the role?
So, I never auditioned for the role as such. As I had already worked with Drew on the previous McOnie Company productions he knew me well so, luckily, I popped into his head as Jekyll as he was dreaming up the show. It’s the only time someone has written a show with me in mind as a character and that’s part of what makes it so special. Preparing for it was fairly straightforward because Grant Olding and Drew make such a great team. Grant’s score was composed exactly to the story Drew wanted to tell so the emotional journey of Jekyll was already laid out in the music clear as day. I remember listening to the music non-stop on the way to and from rehearsals and even when I was in bed because there is so much detail in it to help you tell the story. It also didn’t hurt that I just loved the music as soon as I heard it. I was still performing in Show Boat for the four rehearsal weeks and the buzz I got from it definitely helped with some of the doubling up fatigue.
How was it having the show released online with The Old Vic in August?
It was just wonderful. I was more than a little chuffed when The Old Vic picked it as part of its online run. There were only eleven shows of Jekyll & Hyde so it was fantastic to share it with so many more people. It got 38k views on YouTube so we were over the moon with the response. It’s rare to have a live performance filmed properly and it was just a treat to see everyone dancing their hearts out again.
In 2018, you played Amos Scudder in Barnum at the Menier Chocolate Factory, what was the show like to do?
So, this was my first proper taste of immersive theatre. First of all, we were right on top of the audience because the show was played in the round and the Menier Chocolate Factory is a pretty intimate space already. Then we had a twenty-minute pre-show where we went out into the bar and did magic tricks and general flimflam and stupidity. This was all pretty terrifying at first having to improv and keep your carnival persona going so close to your audience but I really loved it when I got into the swing of things. I was probably having more fun than some of the punters some nights!
How did you find your time as Frank Shultz in Show Boat in the West End?
Frank was my first speaking role and I was super aware of my lack of experience of using my voice. We originally opened in Sheffield before we went into town and it was during that run I got over a lot of my nerves and hang ups about having to sing. I learnt so much on this contract. Daniel Evans’ direction and the talent in both casts did so much to build up my confidence as an actor and it was a really special version of Show Boat to be part of. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect debut in the West End.
Where does your love of dance and theatre come from and how did you get into them?
Well, my parents have always loved theatre so we’d have a family trip to a show every Christmas. It always felt like the biggest treat of the year and those early trips made a big impression on me. I remember watching a production of Oliver! when I was about eleven and being so jealous of the kids performing in the workhouse! I loved watching musicals when they were on TV too, especially Singin’ in the Rain and West Side Story, and I think I’ve always tried to emulate Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in some way. I started dancing at a local school in a church hall when I was five and I guess that was that. I have had amazing teachers that believed in me and a really supportive family. It’s just always been a really positive part of my life and I don’t take it for granted.
Do you have any favourite dance or theatre shows to watch?
I love anything really innovative. I love clever use of props and light and puppetry to tell a story as opposed to giant set pieces. The more creative the staging and the more mediums to tell a story the better. There’s so much great work happening in the UK all the time I couldn’t name them all, but off the top of my head, and excluding people I’ve worked for, I’d say work by companies like Kneehigh or Wise Children and Frantic Assembly always leave me really inspired. I try to see as much theatre as I can when I have the time. I feel like I learn a lot just by watching.
What advice would you give someone wanting to get into a dance and theatre career?
Just immerse yourself in it. See as many shows as you can and as big a variety as you can. Don’t stop training or trying to improve yourself because it keeps you inspired and feeling part of the industry even when you are out of work for a long time. That’s the advice I’d give myself when I graduated anyway.
Follow Danny on: