Most recently, Ryan Bennett was touring the UK in The Addams Family, having taken over the role of Lurch, with their final dates running at Norwich Theatre Royal in April. Last year, Ryan returned to live theatre for the first time since the pandemic started, playing Professor Bhaer in Little Women the Musical at the Park Theatre, and he has previously performed in two-hander productions – The Importance of Being Earnest at Barn Theatre and the Turbine Theatre, and Daddy Long Legs as Jervis Pendleton. Amongst Ryan’s other projects, he toured internationally with Jersey Boys as Bob Crewe and first cover Bob Gaudio, and he performed in the Pop-Up Globe in Australia. Ryan also writes his own scripts, including short film Take Me To The Waves, and during lockdown, he wrote his most recent No Returns, Refunds or Exchanges. Answering our questions, Ryan talks about his recent run of Lurch in The Addams Family UK Tour, playing Professor Bhaer in last year’s Little Women the Musical and starring in the two-hander play The Importance of Being Earnest.
You’ve recently finished playing Lurch in The Addams Family UK Tour, what was the character like to play?
Lurch was a gift to play. I was lucky to inherit so many brilliant choices made by the creative team and my predecessor, Dickon Gough – and to join a hit show midway through its run! Lurch says very little but does a lot. Consequently, I found I had little responsibility in actually telling the story, instead I could simply enjoy serving a whole bunch of punchlines told with a grunt or physical gesture. Ultimate economy. That, and a lovely song at the end. That’s a gift. And such a great show and lovely people to work with!
How was it touring with the rest of the cast and seeing the response to the show?
The cast were all lovely. It’s rare to find such synergy and love in a body of people as big as that. There was truly never any issue. It made touring a delight. And we had some die-hard fans that showed us so much love that meant the world to us. Some little girls dressed as Wednesday and little Pugsleys in the audience too from time to time, and it was clear how much it meant to them. Communing with audiences in the theatre after lockdown again was really special too. To share with that many people the experience of escapism through storytelling is a real privilege – one made even more apparent of late.
What was it like reading the script for the first time and getting into character for the first performance?
The script was really exciting to read because it’s written in a way where you can feel and visualise exactly how awesome things are going to be. That said, because Lurch doesn’t say much, I had to bottle that enthusiasm largely until I made it to the rehearsal room – as that’s the only space where the physical comedy can really be discovered. Getting into character involved a lot of makeup, a wig and four-inch pumps on some mighty big boots. The shoes did a lot of the work for me as they created the walk and the feel. I’d always walk the staircase onstage without looking at my feet as a warm-up routine – just to check I was in the zone.
Was there anything you enjoyed most about being part of the tour of The Addams Family?
The Addams Family was also a great chance for me to travel the UK. Being born in New Zealand and having immigrated to England, I hadn’t had the chance to see that much of the UK yet. So I got to play tourist as I went, which was a lovely bonus. I was on the Magical Mystery Bus Tour in Liverpool, doing nature walks in Yorkshire – you name it. But what I enjoyed MOST… The show felt different every night as the comedy sat differently with every audience. I genuinely enjoyed watching the show from the wings and playing my part the most. I never got tired of it.
Last year, you played Professor Bhaer in Little Women the Musical, how was this?
This was quite a treat. It was my first job back after the pandemic and it was some really beautiful and moving material to work on. I remember auditioning for Professor Bhaer, being sent material for recalls and immediately getting a sense of him. I felt my inner Bhaer very quickly! It was a lovely arc too – a man repressed woken up by love. And, of course, he serves but a small function in a larger narrative that I was so proud to share in. It was also lovely to play at the Park Theatre in London. I have worked predominantly in regional theatre – so being home was brilliant.
Before the pandemic, you were starring in The Importance of Being Earnest with Aidan Harkins at the Barn Theatre and transferred with the show to the Turbine Theatre, what was it like being part of a show consisting of two cast members?
That project was a real undertaking. It’s a three-act play and our version cut very little indeed. The premise was that the “producer” and the “stage manager” were covering for the cast’s absence and got carried away. It was a mountain of lines to learn and quite a challenge to create five distinct characters (as well as the character of the “producer”) that can be recognisably swapped between with little by way of wardrobe adjustments. That said, we had some lovely frocks – and that was a treat too. My co-star, Aidan Harkins, and I just had to hold on to each other to get through it every night. It was easily one of the most challenging things I’ve done. But it was so silly and so funny that it felt like riding a rollercoaster – exhilarating, scary and fun beyond fun.
What were your characters like to play?
I played Jack (Earnest), Cecily, Dr Chasuble, Lane and shared Lady Bracknell. Cecily was my favourite. Being that I was a 30-something producer called Graham De Hare playing a teenage girl, I got to indulge in the silliness of what that entailed. Jack was akin to myself, Dr Chasuble – a man torn between lust for Miss Prism and his piousness, and Lane, the long suffering working-class butler. Lady Bracknell is so iconic that she was difficult – it took a while to find a new angle on some of her most famous lines.
Can you tell us about playing Jervis Pendleton in Daddy Long Legs?
Daddy Long Legs is another two-hander show. It is a two-act musical where neither performer leaves the stage but for a moment. It was hard on my bladder and hard on my mind again trying to keep so many lines and lyrics going. It is probably the job I am most proud of in my career thus far. It is a beautiful show and the creatives on that production made something very special. My co-star on that, Rebecca Jayne-Davies, is incredible. It all felt very special indeed. It was also my first show back in the UK after almost two years abroad doing other productions – so that meant quite a lot too.
How was the experience touring internationally with Jersey Boys as Bob Crewe?
It was my understanding that Luke Sheppard’s production of Jersey Boys was the first new interpretation of the material to hit the market. As such, I got to find my Bob Crewe afresh and put my stamp on things in a way that inheriting a role in a hit production doesn’t always allow. Things were being rebuilt from the ground up and it was all really exciting. We opened in Dubai and closed in Beijing – it was another great opportunity to travel and see the world. Audiences really warmed to our show and we had some followers in China that travelled the country with us. I was given a Kindle as a gift by one of them that I still use to this day.
You were also first cover Bob Gaudio on the tour, what was this role like to do?
I wish I could tell you – but I sadly never got the chance to play him before an audience. The actor playing the role had fantastic health! It was fun to rehearse though and I would have loved to give it a try. It just wasn’t meant to be.
Can you tell us about some of the other shows you’ve appeared in which includes The Comedy of Errors and Macbeth?
Working for the Pop-Up Globe in Australia was another career highlight so far. Playing Angus/Thane of Lennox in Macbeth and Dromio of Ephesus in The Comedy of Errors in rep was a rare delight. Often we’d do both shows on the same day – a comedy and a tragedy. It was also a beautiful Australian summer and we were in an outdoor open-top replica of Shakespeare’s second Globe theatre. We had some packed houses too – it was a real spectacle to come to “The Globe” to see these plays and get blood all over you etc.
Having previously performed in pantomimes, do you have a favourite aspect of performing in them?
Going to see a panto is often children’s first time at the theatre. Remembering my first time at the theatre and how impactful that has been for me – I think pantomimes have a very special role to play indeed. It was also a great crash course on British culture for me – as it’s all wrapped up in there.
We understand you write short films, can you say about some of the ones you’ve released and what upcoming writing plans do you have?
I do! I’ve written a handful of shorts and a web series. The most successful of which was Take Me To The Waves that won a few awards and saw me flown to New York to attend a premiere and do a Q&A. Waves is about a girl with Cerebral Palsy who falls in love with her carer. Most recently, in lockdown, I did a fun little short called No Returns, Refunds or Exchanges which also saw a few festivals. I’m currently, very slowly, drafting my first feature with a mind to submit it to funding bodies to get the capital to get it made when it’s finally finished.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you start?
I played Oliver when I was eight years old in a production in Auckland, New Zealand. I started acting so young I don’t remember choosing it, it just evolved and this is who I am. I think I found my tribe early and always knew this is what I wanted to do. I was lucky in that way.
Do you have any favourite theatre shows to watch?
Les Misérables was my first show and has a special place in my heart (like many others). Anything Sondhiem has me bending over backwards to see it. I recently really enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird. Probably my most jaw-dropping and eye-opening night at the theatre has to go to the Steppenwolf original production of August: Osage County though.
What are you hoping 2022 brings for your career?
I’m hoping to land good roles in good shows as always – whatever form they take. That’s one of the things about being an actor, you have to respond to what is there and can’t really control what comes along next… That said, I’d love to be in a Sondheim musical and I’d love to work in London – ideally in the West End. I’m still waiting for my first West End gig having travelled the world to work here. Hopefully soon…
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