Since appearing in the world premiere of Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes in 2016 as Ivan Boleslawsky, Liam Mower had been reprising the role when he returned to the show last year up until theatres closed worldwide due to the current pandemic. Having joined the Matthew Bourne company in 2011, Liam has had many performances in productions including his debut in Nutcracker!, playing the titled character in Edward Scissorhands and as The Prince in Swan Lake. Liam was one of the original Billy Elliots when Billy Elliot the Musical opened in the West End at Victoria Palace Theatre, and returned to the show for their live screened performance where he played Older Billy. Liam answers our questions about playing Ivan Boleslawsky in The Red Shoes, performing as The Prince in Swan Lake and his time as Edward Scissorhands.
You joined the Matthew Bourne company in 2011, how did it feel and what do you think you’ve learnt over the years?
Landing a job with the company came as a complete surprise to me as it was more of a lifelong goal of mine so I didn’t expect the opportunity to swing my way so soon in my career! It was an amazing feeling. I’ve been so lucky to play such a variation of roles and I feel like being on stage so much has taught me so many things about myself as an artist.
Can you tell us about your characters in The Red Shoes which you had been appearing in up until theatres closed?
I was playing the role of Ivan Boleslawsky, who is directly inspired by the late Sir Robert Helpmann. Ivan is the premier danseur of the Lermontov ballet company.
How was it being part of the world premiere in 2016 and returning to the show last year?
It’s always so rewarding to be part of an original cast. Matthew and the creative team always have a vision and a clear story when we get to rehearsals but the production needs to be workshopped and built so there’s lots of room for us as dancers to create with Matthew and piece it all together. There’s always more knowledge and experience returning to a piece you’ve already toured so it was great to have another shot at Ivan, the role I created.
How does it feel having the production released in cinemas worldwide during the current pandemic?
Even though the theatres are going to be closed for quite some time, it opens up wider opportunities to see theatre in a different perspective, as long as cinemas stay open. It reaches audiences that wouldn’t necessarily buy a theatre ticket or go to the theatre.
What is The Prince like to perform as in Swan Lake and can you tell us about your time in the show in both 2014 and 2018/19?
To perform in Swan Lake was such a huge ambition of mine so as a male dancer to be involved in the show was really a dream come true. The amazing thing was meeting young male dancers at stage door and hearing stories of them wanting to take up dancing or wanting to pursue dancing as a career due to watching the show. That was really inspiring. It’s exactly how I felt when I first saw the piece, I immediately related to it.
Do you have any favourite memories from performing as The Prince?
Too many to count, but definitely getting the chance to dance the White Act (swan act) and duetting with The Swan and exploring that relationship was a real highlight. Nothing will beat dancing to that score every night!
You played The Angel in Cinderella, how was this?
For me, Matthew’s version of Cinderella is a personal favourite. All to the music of Prokofiev, it’s based in the Second World War around the Blitz. It still tells the tale we all know so well but it has so much more depth and rawness in comparison to the classic fairytale. I played the role of The Angel which is a replacement for the Fairy Godmother type role, and it is such great dance! He’s ethereal and strong yet dynamic and dangerous. He acts as a timekeeper to the piece and represents a symbol of hope for Cinderella, guarding her through the difficulties of her journey. The audiences loved this production as it’s a piece of history we all know so well. Older people that came to the show would tell their stories and share their experiences of the Blitz and they would say the show reminded them of their childhood and that was really special.
How was it performing in both the 2012 and 2015/16 productions of Sleeping Beauty?
This was another original production that I had the opportunity to create on so it was an amazing time to be in the studio for it. The great thing about working with Matthew is that he gives you so much space and freedom to be creative so you can really choreograph and piece things together that work for you. I played the roles of Tantrum Fairy, Count Lilac, and Carabosse/Caradoc. Every night would be a different track and that kept me on my toes! To have the variation of playing good and evil characters was really fun.
You performed as Angelo and Marco in The Car Man, what were these roles like to do?
It’s one of Matthew’s more adult pieces, there’s so many elements and themes to the story such as money, sex, nudity, affairs, violence, sadness, blood and murder and all the characters are so relatable in some way. Angelo is a timid guy who works at Dino’s garage and he’s really quite useless despite his best efforts. He’s a character that doesn’t belong and doesn’t fit in but he grows into quite an angry, aggressive, possessed man and it was amazing to really go through that journey on stage. It’s loosely based on Bizet’s opera Carmen and the music is so exciting, it really drives you.
What did you enjoy most about playing Edward Scissorhands in Edward Scissorhands and can you say more about being in the show?
I can’t really explain the level of nerves that I felt waiting to go on stage for this role! It’s a story we all know so well with such an iconic performance from Johnny Depp in the movie. So there was such a pressure and responsibility to do the role justice and to get it right. The costume is a whole realm in itself, taking an hour and a half to get ready for the show with the assistance of a wig, makeup and costume team. The hands were like having a second arm and they were incredibly heavy! Edward is never off the stage so you would have to rely so much on the backstage team to feed you water or dab sweat away from your forehead and you couldn’t use the toilet once you were in the suit because you were sewn into it! Lots of the show was dependent on other people and that was a new experience for me as I like to be in control of what I’m doing usually. Steam would leave my head after taking my wig off after the show and I was completely exhausted. But it’s one of the most rewarding shows I’ve ever experienced. Hands down the best role I’ve ever performed.
What do you remember most about appearing in Play Without Words?
At the point of doing this piece, I’d only ever played children on stage before! I would say I learnt a great deal from working on this production. I was still young and new to the company, and I was working with some really incredible experienced performers so it made me step up to the plate and made me want to be good. I felt like I really learnt how to deal with my nerves at this time (and still continue to do so!) as I’d previously suffered from stage fright as a kid. Being under the directorship of the late Scott Ambler was so valuable and a moment in time I will never forget. His knowledge of the piece was so detailed and layered and he was always so reassuring and always made you believe you were making the right decisions and the right choices.
Your Matthew Bourne debut was in Nutcracker!, what was this like?
This was my very first contract with the company so this show feels really special and the one that really kick-started my career as an adult. I think about that show often and think about how much I have grown as a performer, it’s been almost ten years since Nutcracker! and it certainly doesn’t feel it! It’s baffling how quickly time passes. There’s always a twist in Matthew’s stories and this show is no exception. The first act is set in a dull orphanage with two horrible house parents and as Clara falls into a dream one night, you’re transported to a colourful sweetie land with a giant four tier cake on stage! It even snows. It’s so magical. I played a liquorice man and a Cupid.
Can you tell us about playing Billy Elliot in the original West End cast of Billy Elliot the Musical and returning as Older Billy for their live screened performance?
None of us knew it was going to be as big as it was. After a long year of auditioning, I became so attached to the creative team and the show, the thought of not continuing in the experience made me really sad. I guess it was something I was so sure of from an early age, wanting to dance and be on the stage. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the experiences I’ve had and I’ve learnt such valuable information along the way. Part of me felt like I had to grow up quickly, having to live away from home, live in a different city, do my laundry, study, train, rehearse. Also, having to digest a big role and learn the obstacles of being on such a huge stage as a kid. I was told that it was going to be the hardest role of my life, and so far, they’re not wrong. Returning to play Older Billy was just an amazing experience, I didn’t stop smiling! I had this overwhelming feeling of familiarity being back in the Victoria Palace, it was a really humbling experience.
How did you get into dance and had you always wanted to perform it professionally?
It was the one thing I was always sure on. From a very early age, I think my love for dance really overtook anything else in my life. I wanted time to pass quickly at school so I could run to dance class. It’s where I felt happiest and where I could express myself. I was the only boy in my ballet class so I guess I could immediately relate to Billy Elliot. So much of that role was actually just me.
Do you have a favourite show to watch and what are you looking forward to for returning to live performances?
To be watching anything right now with a full house would be such an achievement. I almost forget what it feels like to be sat in a theatre waiting for the curtain to rise. I really hope it’s around the corner, audiences need it just as much as performers and artists do. It’s what we’ve trained our whole life to do, we need these opportunities to keep learning and keep sharing amazing stories. Audiences always crave escapism and audiences are always in need of some distraction from the real world, even just for a moment. I’m looking forward to the day when I’m getting ready for a show, the calls are being announced backstage and it all starts to feel real. By then, I feel like some normality might have returned.
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