In the recently opened pantomime Aladdin at The Capitol in Horsham, Cavin Cornwall is playing Abanazar throughout December, with the final performance due to take place Friday 31st. Most recently on stage, Cavin was in the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar in Copenhagen, a show he has been part of since the film remake in 2000, and his performances include Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and the Barbican, which saw him win Best Supporting Actor at The Black British Theatre Awards. Earlier this year, Cavin played R.F. Simpson in Singin’ in the Rain at Sadler’s Wells in London and, with his screen career, he has filmed for five Star Wars movies and the upcoming TV series. Cavin chats to us about his role of Abanazar in Aladdin, performing in Jesus Christ Superstar and playing R.F. Simpson in Singin’ in the Rain.
In The Capitol theatre’s pantomime Aladdin, you are playing Abanazar, what are you looking forward to for playing the character in Horsham?
There are three things I’m most looking forward to playing Abanazar at The Capitol. The first is – I consider this my home panto. This is the first time I’ll be doing a panto so close to my home town of Surbiton and I’m loving that! The second is – this is by far my favourite pantomime and character (three times in panto and in the West End) the third is – I’m loving the fact that the theatre is also a cinema! This is heaven for me as I love movies!
What do you feel you’ll bring to the role and what can audiences expect from your portrayal of Abanazar?
What do I think I can bring to the role? How to be a really horrible baddie! I love playing the bad guy, it’s my forte! In theatre, film and voiceover, it’s the most interesting of characters and being a voice actor and singer I get to play with the wide range of vocal ranges and voices.
Why would you encourage booking tickets to see Aladdin at The Capitol this Christmas?
Simple! This is a great show, with a wonderfully talented and versatile cast. This particular panto has a fantastic script, it’s also a little different than that of the traditional panto that Horsham is used to, it’s been brilliantly directed and is very entertaining for both adult and children. And you’ve just got to see the magic carpet in action, that’s worth the ticket price alone.
What was it like reading the script for the first time and getting into character?
Hilarious! As I mentioned earlier, this is a funny script. My favourite part is trying to find out someone’s name which literally takes three pages of script! Abanazar has to jump through a lot of hoops to get what he wants which makes for a very busy, energetic and challenging journey.
How do you think it will be interacting with a pantomime audience as the ‘baddie’ of the show?
I can’t wait for the reaction from the children, particularly the school performances. I’m just eager in anticipation of hearing that utter deafening scream of “he’s behind you”, “oh no he isn’t”, “oh yes he is!” and the reaction to Abanazar’s yettie army. It’s going to be AWESOME!
Do you have a favourite aspect of performing in pantomimes?
This is my fourth pantomime, not only do I find them very fun to do, they are one of the most demanding of shows to do. More often than not, it’s a tight schedule to get the show up and running. The show schedule is very full with double and triple show days and depending on the character you’re playing, you can be very, very busy! It can be a very exhausting, challenging but totally fulfilling experience, which I love!
Earlier this year, you played R.F. Simpson in Singin’ in the Rain, how was this?
Having the opportunity of playing R.F. Simpson in Singin’ in the Rain was one of the best and most defining parts I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of. It was the first time a black actor had ever played the part of R.F. Simpson and I’m grateful to the producers and director for taking that step. It’s one of my favourite films and this musical in particular was phenomenal! The cast in its entirety is exceptional and absolutely a must-see!
Do you have any highlights from working on Jesus Christ Superstar over the years, most recently in Copenhagen?
Over the last decade I’ve been very fortunate to be part of nearly all major productions of one of the most iconic musicals to grace the stage, Jesus Christ Superstar. I first made an appearance in the film remake in 2000 as Peter. I really wanted to play Caiaphas, but it wasn’t meant to be. I then went on to play the part many years later in the arena, national and international tours. The highlight has to be the Regent’s Park production. This particular show redefined what Jesus Christ Superstar was and should be for a modern day audience.
How has it been returning to stage after the pandemic closed theatres?
WONDERFUL! However, being ‘on stage’ and in a theatre is very different now. I have been very fortunate not to have totally been absent from performing on stage since the lockdown began in the UK, having done the 50th Anniversary tour of Jesus Christ Superstar in Denmark. I’ve seen how seriously something as a pandemic can devastate our industry in many unforeseen ways. It is a fact that the ‘theatre industry’ would be the first (hardest hit) and the last to get back to some type of normality. For me, I consider ‘the stage’ my second home. It’s a safe, creative space that like-minded people who love what they do can come together to create, bond and share (what I think is a much needed element to society) with an audience, particularly in times such as these.
For many of us that have the opportunity to do this, it’s like being part of a family with the same goals, making a unique connection with each other and the audience (whom I love meeting after a performance). Obviously, all that has changed and I’m not sure if it will (or can!) ever be the same again.
What are some of your favourite memories from your career so far?
Wow, I have so many! In theatre, it has to be working with and learning from some of the industry legends such as Gwen Verdon, Ann Reinking and Chita Rivera on shows such as Chicago and Fosse the musicals. In film, fulfilling a lifelong dream (which I thought was an unachievable dream) of being in a Star Wars movie, of which, I’ve since been in five to date plus the forthcoming TV series. I still wake up every morning thinking ‘did I really do that?’ and lastly, winning the 2019 BBTA Best Supporting Actor Award for Caiaphas at the Barbican.
How was the experience working on Star Wars and can you say about some of your voiceover roles?
Working on Star Wars was a totally unbelievable experience! Working on probably the biggest Sci-Fi movie of all time and with the likes of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and J.J. Abrams was at times mind-boggling! If you thought about it too much you couldn’t do your job properly and that could be very dangerous! There was absolutely no time or room to think how fantastic it was to be in this position, it literally was and is one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done! I was employed as a ‘Creature Performer’. This entails being in a costume that you (more often than not) CAN’T SEE! (you would have radio communication telling you what the world looks like around you), you CAN’T BREATHE! (without breathing apparatus) and CAN’T HEAR! (all that you could hear were the servos of all the motorised electronics operating the face of the alien head you were portraying). There were times I was in a costume such as this for practically the entire day with very little breaks and enormous heat. It’s a very challenging experience and not for those who have claustrophobic tendencies. However, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
I also have a completely different and mostly solitary profession of being a voiceover actor. I absolutely love this genre! Providing voices for movie trailers, video games, animation, commercials and audiobooks. I happen to have a very wide and versatile vocal range with a vivid imagination (to the annoyance of my wife!), in this world I’m able to free all those annoying little characters running around in my head!
Had you always wanted a performing career and how did you start?
Hmm… there is no short answer to this one but I’ll give it a go!
I was born and raised and learned a lot of tough life lessons in the town of Bristol. Growing up in a town like this in the 70s and 80s wasn’t easy for a young daydreaming, hyperactive black kid such as myself. I was, according to my mother, a good, loving boy, but growing up on the streets and being black wasn’t easy! I had a lot of ambition and big dreams. We didn’t have a great deal of positive role models to look up to except on TV and film and I loved dancing and music. All of which I spent most of my time watching and doing, I became a DJ, was a disco dancing champion and learned martial arts becoming English Junior Karate Champion at 17 (you had to know how to protect yourself in those days!). I was an avid fan and watcher of Hollywood musicals on film and everything about music and the club scene. I wanted to emulate and do everything that excited me.
After sustaining an injury in a martial arts competition, I was forced to rehab for a few months and it was suggested to me that I should apply and audition for some professional dance/musical theatre schools in London. So, I did, I got into every school I applied for and decided to go to The Doreen Bird College and never looked back!
I always thought I’d eventually be a choreographer of music videos and then go on to be a director, hopefully in film, but life never quite works out the way you think it might!
I couldn’t be more happier of what I’ve managed to achieve to the surprise of many a teacher and those who thought there wouldn’t be much on the horizon for me! I’d just like to say; ‘thank you’ to you all of you with little faith for providing all the drive and dogged determination I needed to get me to where I am today.
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