Tobias Charles is currently making his West End debut as an original cast member in the world premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella at the Gillian Lynne Theatre. Previously, Tobias played Frank in Priscilla Queen of the Desert and, in 2019, he performed as Fanny in Fanny & Stella at Above the Stag Theatre. In the hugely-popular Russell T. Davies series It’s a Sin which aired earlier this year, Tobias could be seen as Davey alongside a cast including Olly Alexander and Lydia West. Talking with Tobias, he tells us about being in the original cast of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella, his 2019 run in Fanny & Stella and filming as Davey in It’s a Sin.
You’re currently performing in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella, how did it feel booking your role in the original cast?
It was elating. Booking anything is so validating and rewarding, but to snatch my first West End role in an Original Cast of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, and during a pandemic, was overwhelming. I’ve always wanted to work on new material, but I’d never planned on being a part of something so incredible. I feel very fortunate to be here at this point in my career.
What is it like performing in the show and at the Gillian Lynne Theatre?
To the largest live audience I can remember performing to? Yeah… it’s pretty epic! With an audience that size the response can be electric. We’ve been there now for eight months and most days I still chuckle to myself at the sheer absurdity of it all. The Ball in Act 2 is particularly magical – they have utilised the assets of the theatre beautifully, it’s a wonderful moment.
Do you have a favourite musical number in the show and how is it having Cinderella as your West End debut?
My favourite number is I Know You a musical stand-off between the Queen and the Stepmother. Played by two iconic women, Rebecca Trehearn and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt. The way they play with the scene is a masterclass in comedy and they are equally inspiring throughout the show. I know I’ll be stealing the number for a cabaret duet in the future.
Cinderella is, of course, a phenomenal opportunity for a West End debut, I have a couple of featured roles which I wasn’t expecting. Which offer moments of humour in scenes, solo vocal lines that I can get into, and an opportunity to dance with my prince eight shows a week! (You’ll have to come see to see what I mean!) I feel like my assets are being demonstrated while also being asked to step out of my comfort zone. Knowing that a team of people have entrusted me with this role is humbling, but I am most proud to have been given the platform to represent the queer community.
Can you say about some of your highlights of being in the musical so far?
In rehearsals, as expected with a new show, there were constant changes. And in one rehearsal Emerald (Fennell) wanted to try out some changes to the Boudoir scene between myself and Rebecca. Emerald took us off into a room in the theatre with the Resident Director at the time and asked us to read through the scene while she added lines, took them away and edited. It was unbelievably cool to be sat there while she worked, and all I could think is “I cannot believe I am sat here, working on a scene, with an Oscar winner and an Olivier winner”. I must have had this silly grin on my face the entire time because it was a real pinch me moment.
Another highlight would have to be my family coming to see the show, they have invested so much into my passion for theatre; their time, their money, their emotional support. They have been on this journey with me since day dot and to be able to invite them to a West End theatre and see how proud they are, makes my heart soar.
Is there anything you enjoy most about being part of the cast?
It’s great fun with everyone, but it is difficult at the moment. Constantly shifting COVID regulations make socialising difficult or impossible and, being a new face in the room, (with quite an isolated on-stage track) it’s been a slow process to feel like I’m getting to know any of these wonderful, talented, friendly people. On the flip side, everyone has great energy, and we have dealt with obstructions with humour and as a company. I also quietly live for a bit of drama, and this contract consistently delivers.
How was it playing Frank in Priscilla Queen of the Desert?
Frank was bizarre. I adore drag so a show like Priscilla was right up my street. I’ve envisioned myself in a 6-inch heel, a full beat and an up-do since I was about 13 years old and I live for it. But I’m 6ft, broad, cis-male and my gender expression is fairy masculine, so I thrive on opportunities that give me reign to explore and play with my femininity. However, this was not one of those moments. To be cast as the role who so brutally expresses his distaste in the Queens was difficult, but it wasn’t an emotional place I’m unfamiliar with. Homophobia is so often a form of projection, that by finding Frank’s inner turmoil with his own femininity, and perhaps sexuality, helps explain his behaviour that he directs towards the Queens: who represent the things he has been taught to detest in himself.
In 2019, you played Fanny in Fanny & Stella at Above the Stag, how was this?
So silly. Kieran Parrott (Stella) and I had an absolute ball on this show. We ended up having such a sisterly connection in and out of character and it was a wonderful first gig. I left ArtsEd prematurely to be a part of Fanny & Stella (while still completing my degree) which, at the time, I was very grateful for as I had been struggling in the institution in my final year, with a lot of things going on both inside and outside the building. I adored learning about the history of Fanny and Stella as they are real, historical, queer icons and my feminine fantasy was truly brought to fruition in Fanny. She is my Victorian-era alter ego and I adored every part of playing her.
What was your time in the show like and can you tell us about the run?
The Above the Stag theatre has a particularly queer clientele and it was the first time I felt integrated into a family of queer people, performers and allies. I started to feel like there was a community I belonged to that I had been searching for since arriving in London three years prior to attend ArtsEd. There is still so much stigma in theatre training that leads you to believe you must lead with your masculinity to get ahead and that breeds an unhealthy, internalised homophobia in many performers. Going from that environment to the Above the Stag was a real juxtaposition of experiences and it came just at the right time for me. I didn’t want it to end.
Do you have any favourite theatre shows to watch?
I have never actually seen it live, but Cabaret is my absolute favourite musical, I am a huge Kander and Ebb fan and I have tickets to see Cabaret soon at the Playhouse Theatre. I’ve booked it off work and we have terrible seats, but I could not be more excited. The musical is everything I love about theatre, it is glamorous, painful, dark, moving. It is an intelligent comment on Weimar Germany and every detail feels thought about and intentional. I’ll have to check back in after I’ve seen it because I guarantee you I won’t be able to stop talking about it!
What was Davey like to play in It’s a Sin and how was it seeing the response to the show?
I remember sitting in an “acting for screen class” at ArtsEd called “Intimacy on Screen” and I thought to myself “I’ll never need this”. Fast forward to my first TV gig post ArtsEd and it’s almost exclusively intimate scenes… Lesson learnt. Davey was fun as, again, I adored that the work I was being cast in was queer-centred. I don’t have words to explain how life-changing being a part of this show was, but I’m sure anyone who has seen the show can understand why.
After watching the show and seeing the positive response the show has had, it is currently my proudest achievement. The platform the show gave to actors such as Nathaniel Hall who is HIV+ and commits themselves to an endless battle on the stigma towards HIV is astounding and inspiring – and a testament to the inclusive and thoughtful casting by Andy Pryor. It’s a Sin became the most binge-watched show on Channel 4’s streaming platform within a few weeks with 6.5 million views. That statistic alone shows how far acceptance towards the queer community has come in several decades. However, I was taken back, but not surprised, to find that as a queer person, I knew more about the AIDS epidemic than many heterosexual people I know, who lived alongside the height of it. This is why we need more queer people to follow Russell T Davies’ lead and unapologetically create more work like it. Representation matters.
How did you find the experience being on set of the show and working with the rest of the cast?
I made out with Olly Alexander for an entire morning on set, I was bantering with Lydia West, a hilarious woman and undeniable star. Callum (Scott Howells) and I knew each other from a show, Prodigy that we did with NYMT years prior and Omari (Douglas) went to ArtsEd a few years ahead of me, while Nathaniel Curtis lived near us in West London at the time. The other boys who were involved in the intimate scenes and I had a group chat and often trained between London and Manchester together for filming. It was an other-worldly experience with awesome people and I still pester Russell to write me into something else so I can do it all over again!
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you start?
In 2002 (I was four), my parents took me to see a production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Apparently, I turned to them afterwards and said, “That’s what I’m going to do”. And I haven’t stopped striving for it since. It was a production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in which Carrie Hope Fletcher, our wonderful leading lady in Cinderella, played Jemima Potts. My mum found the programme a few weeks ago and I cannot believe I am in a show with someone who played such a big part in sparking my love for theatre.
Can you say about some of the shows you performed in whilst training which included Newsies?
The one thing I will say about third year shows is that too much weight is put on finding an agent, rather than enjoying your process. I was not spotted by Shane, my perfectly marvellous agent till our showcase, after both of the shows had ended. Had I not kept calm, both of those experiences would have been ruined for me and that would have been a shame. People in their final year of training need to not panic because it’s a long game, and things don’t always happen straight away.
How do you like to spend your time away from acting?
I read a lot, I picked it up during the pandemic and now I can’t stop, it has made me both a better person and a better performer. I play video games, particularly on the Nintendo, my favourites being Pokémon and Mario Kart (which I am proud to be brilliant at). And I love my social life, I don’t drink much anymore and making connections and plans over things that aren’t alcohol orientated has been a big positive change in my life. I also work out a lot for my mental health, my career and because of pressures from both the performance industry and the queer community but that’s a whole other conversation! I’m having a fabulous time at the moment, and I’m very grateful to be where I am.
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