Before the recent lockdown announcement, Andrew Lancel was set to open in A Thousand Clowns in Windsor this month alongside Will Young and the show would have marked Andrew’s first time working professionally with his son Isaac Lancel-Watkinson. Andrew was also due to start the tour of Swan Song, a one-man play by Jonathan Harvey which he’d previously performed for Liverpool Theatre Festival in September. Earlier this year, Andrew had been reprising his role of Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music, with the tour being cut short due to theatres closing with the current pandemic and his other theatre credits have included shows such as The Anastasia File and The Lady Vanishes. Also having an extensive screen career, Andrew is well-known for his roles of DI Neil Manson in The Bill and Frank Foster in Coronation Street. We spoke to Andrew prior to the announcement of theatres closing once again and his shows now postponed until the new year about what he was looking forward to for working with his son Isaac in A Thousand Clowns, playing Dave Titswell in Swan Song and his time as Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music.
You’ve been announced for A Thousand Clowns in Windsor, what can you tell us about the show and your role?
It’s a fabulous play – so much fun and so many layers – I play the brother to Will Young’s character Murray, who is an eccentric comedy writer who is forced to conform to society to retain legal custody of his nephew. The role I’ll play won Martin Balsam an Oscar for the film version and the roles are gems. It’s part of the Windsor on Air season produced by Bill Kenwright and directed by Roy Marsden. Staged reading in a very cool 50’s radio set up.
I’ve played Windsor so many times it’s like coming home, and working with Roy is something I look forward to and always want to do. This is my fifth with him and my twelfth with Bill. It’s like family and I think that comes over in the productions. Everything is COVID-safe and it’s wonderful to get the theatre open.
You’ll be starring alongside your son Isaac Lancel-Watkinson, how was it having both of you book the production and what are you looking forward to most for working together?
Speaking of family. Isaac is my best friend and I was delighted that he got this. He’s on a bit of a roll with jobs since Mame last year and it was heartbreaking for everyone that The Secret Garden didn’t happen yet (he was cast as Colin at the Palladium), so this is really good timing and a really great role. It’s our first together and I’m so glad it’s at the beloved Theatre Royal, Windsor. Hugely proud of him and we are both huge Will Young fans so it’s a real thrill. We can’t wait.
In September, you starred in Swan Song by Jonathan Harvey for Liverpool Theatre Festival, how did it feel returning to live theatre?
It was an honour and a buzz. Jonathan and I know each other and he wrote for me on Corrie but not on stage so I asked if had anything to open the Liverpool Theatre Festival which Bill Elms had asked me to do. He amazingly adapted this one-woman into a one-man for me.
How was it performing a one-man play and how did the run go?
Scary! We had little time but I had great team with Jonathan, producer Bill Elms and the wonderful Noreen Kershaw, who directed so much of my time in Corrie and was the original Shirley Valentine so I knew I was in safe hands. We sold out and the audience loved it and we are now taking it on the road! We start at the Unity Theatre, Liverpool (where I am a very proud patron) and then play Lancaster, Altrincham, Peterborough and Coventry with more to be added.
Was there anything in particular that drew you to the script and what did you know about the show before booking the role of Dave Titswell?
The range and the bitter sweetness of him. He’s edgy and lonely but a good teacher. Very funny and a bit lost – all Jonathan’s roles are gifts and it was a buzz having it adapted for me.
You toured with The Sound of Music in 2016 and earlier this year, what is Captain von Trapp like to play and what do you enjoy most about working on the production?
I think about that role a lot. It was heartbreaking to finish it early – particularly for the kids who worked so hard. I’ve always wanted to return to the role, I love it so much. Some jobs have been great and set us up or taken us around the world. There have been gifts like Epstein in two shows which changed my life and meaty gems like 12 Angry Men. Corrie was my happiest job on telly but I’ve also made some shorts I’ve enjoyed and stretched me. But the one that stays in my heart and I get emotional about when I remember it, the one I would sign up to do for years without question is Captain von Trapp. The musical is so special and so important with the story, the music and the hope. Bill Kenwright has given me a dozen joyous jobs for which I am eternally grateful – but that’s the one that I cherish the most.
How was your time playing The Inspector in The Anastasia File at Theatre Royal Windsor last year?
A very happy short run – again with Bill Kenwright and Roy Marsden. A lovely play and character. First and hopefully not last with the wonderful Jenny Seagrove – third with the fantastic Rosie Thomson. Richard Winsor and I had a lot of continuing drama and touring chat to share which was a blast. Hopefully we will bring that one to the masses when things settle.
Can you tell us about playing Dr Hartz in The Lady Vanishes?
Back with my dear friend Ben Nealon and a wonderful cast and my beloved second mum – Gwen Taylor – we played son and mum in Corrie and have been so, so close since. I adore her. We were not nice in Corrie but have been friends for life since. Again directed by Roy and it was a good old-fashioned caper which people seemed to love.
How different is it playing Brian Epstein in Epstein – The Man Who Made The Beatles and Cilla the Musical, and what was he like to portray in each?
The heart is the same and it’s an honour to play that man. In the two-hander it was an emotional rollercoaster but that led directly to me playing it in the musical – I’ve never known nightly reactions to a show as I have with Cilla the Musical.
Musical theatre is a very different discipline and technique but I’m lucky to have portrayed him five times now… and will again next year hopefully!
What was it like filming for your episodes of Marcella and playing the role of Clive Bonn?
A nice cameo in a classy show still shown all over the world.
Can you say about playing Frank Foster in Coronation Street and what were the viewers’ response to your character?
Hardest but happiest gig. It was very difficult getting inside that man and was very hard and emotional with some of those scenes. But it was important and very well done. Ali King was a joy and, I think, gave one of the finest ever performances the Street has seen. The storyline was huge. Massive and I’m proud of it. People are always nice and know you’re playing a role. I was only there eighteen months.
What are some of your favourite memories from your time playing DI Neil Manson in The Bill?
Too many to list. I was there seven years and did 300 episodes but my memory of it is hard work and a great character. I miss the input one had and the loyalty of the whole team. Class. Great times and I don’t think the show has ever been replaced.
I’ll always remember taking a chance with the way I did my screen test and Louise’s reaction when I told her I’d got it. Also, speaking to Stefan Booth when I found out Louise was pregnant.
The amazing stunt co-ordinator Nick Gillard and I are still friends and gave my son and his mate some lightsaber lessons as he did three Star Wars films – so The Bill family continues and I’ve bumped into several colleagues this week filming Casualty.
Had you always known you wanted a career in acting and how did you start?
I can’t remember wanting to do anything else except for playing for Everton. It was just gradual – school to touring to telly. I used to sing in care homes when I was a kid and Isaac and I have been doing that in lockdown. I started doing that and being a TV extra. And also doing youth theatre and am-dram. They were my training really.
What TV and theatre shows do you enjoy watching and how do you like to spend your free time?
Free time is all about the family – Louise, Isaac, Freya and Olly. We love walking, cooking and hanging out. I’m an avid churchgoer and a die-hard Evertonian – so Isaac and I go as often as we can – and we have missed it so much. I love the theatre and galleries and especially getting to a beach… any beach!
I’m a fan of political dramas so recently it’s been lots of watching the US election stuff and news too. The Trial of the Chicago 7 was perfection. The last play I saw before lockdown was Our Lady of Blundellsands by Jonathan Harvey at the Liverpool Everyman. So it’s great the first play back in the city was his. But most of my telly watching is with the kids… Freya – Peppa Pig, Fireman Sam, Paw Patrol, and Isaac – all the football! Louise and I loved watching all the Unforgotten series and can’t wait for the new one.
A THOUSAND CLOWNS was originally opening at Theatre Royal, Windsor – 10th to 14th November.
SWAN SONG was originally opening at Liverpool’s Unity Theatre for four performances over two nights November 20th–21st, the first live performances at the venue since closing in March. It was then moving on to The Dukes Lancaster, Alty Fringe at the Garrick Playhouse in Altrincham, The Cresset in Peterborough and the Belgrade in Coventry. More dates were to be confirmed.
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