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Only Fools And Horses The Musical

Tom Bennett, Del Boy, Only Fools and Horses: The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket

How did you get into theatre?

My dad is an actor, and my mum was a big am dram director in south London so I grew up going around musical productions with her and if they needed a young boy it was me and then I also went on tour with my dad. My earliest memories being in the wings in a cot. My Dad taking me out of the dressing rooms, putting me in the wings, I think it was the Adelphi and he went on and did Razzle Dazzle as Billy Flynn and I remember six-foot Fosse girls with feathers and sequins cooing over me, and he would finish razzle dazzle, pick me back up and put me back into the dressing room so I feel that’s like one of my earliest memories so i don’t really know anything else, it’s sort of in my blood.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Well, I get paid to do what was my hobby but surely that’s i. What I chose to do for fun as a kid, someone now pays me to do it, so I don’t imagine many jobs better than that. I’m more of a tele boy really. This is my first West End show but the feedback I get from the audience at the end of two and a half hours is unlike anything I’ve ever felt before.

What was it like to be photographed by Rankin?

I’ve always wanted to be photographed by Rankin and weirdly I don’t know how but I always thought I would be by photographed Rankin but I never realised it would be dressed as Del Boy so yeah it was amazing to be photographed by Rankin, I’m a big fan of his work. It was quite cool and it was so lovely and so easy and I think he got what you wanted, so all happy.

What was the journey like for you from theatres closing to reopening?

Painful. A very very painful transition from working as hard as I’ve ever worked in my profession to dead stop, to nothing. And the entire industry being on it’s s**t and there being nothing I can do about it. I have a wife and three kids who all need feeding, I wasn’t earning any money. The school shut’s so I was home-schooling three kids under eight which was one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced. So from going from being a West End leading man to no income, to no work, was quite a shocking transition. And I was always clinging onto the hope that Only Fools would come back, and I’d get to do this again and get to provide for my family again, get to do what I love again. It was a tough 18 months.

How did it feel when theatres reopened?

Oh just I felt so lucky. We weren’t one of the first shows to open but when I started seeing that shows were opening, shows were opening with social distancing, shows were opening with things in place, it felt like the green shoots of recovery like something was happening. And then it made it feel even more hopeful and realistic that we would come back, and we were lucky enough to come back at a moment where the social distancing has been eased. We’re still asking people to wear masks in the theatre but yeah, I can’t believe how lucky I am at the moment.

What was the number one thing you missed about live performance?

The audience, I think. I can’t imagine there’s anything else but the audiences reaction. Telly is a different beast altogether but there’s nothing that approaches the feeling when 850 people stand on their feet and applaud there is there is nothing like that in the world.

Caroline Jay Ranger, Director, Only Fools and Horses: The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket

How did you get into your career?

I started off as a dancer when I was young. None of my family were into musical theatre as we were a working-class family, but I loved music and I’ve always loved music before I could speak or talk so I moved into that. It was quite a struggle, but I went for a competition with Cosmopolitan and Arlene Phillips was on that panel, and she became my mentor and I went off to college so that’s how I got into it. And then I went from dance to music theatre, assistant choreographer to assistant director, back to RADA to train solely to be a director and now [I’m] directing and producing.

What’s the best thing about your job?

I think having a seed of an idea in your mind. That lovely child-like idea perhaps seeing a show and working, helping the creative process from writing to adapting it stage to creating the music, to getting the entire team to watching the curtain go up from that tiny seed. And the auditorium filling up with people, that’s one of the best thing.

What was the journey like for you from theatres closing to reopening?

We had just recast for a second year and so we had done all the rehearsals with a few new casts and all set for a very successful second year and then three months after we opened the second year, we closed immediately.

My husband’s a producer so we had 40 shows on hold altogether across the board. We struggled to navigate our way through how we were going to hold onto our incredible teams of people, how people were going to survive once we realised it was going to be three weeks, six months, then eight months, and eighteen months. So yeah, the whole journey was extraordinarily but that was for everybody so we just dealt with it probably much like everybody else.

How does it feel to be back in theatres?

It was extraordinary because for me six weeks ago, my daughter was expecting a baby so she wasn’t double jabbed, so we’d been working from home and not really mixing to suddenly rehearsals with entire casts, set going into a full theatre last Friday and the exchange between the audience and the cast was something I’d never witnessed before. That was absolutely tangible and emotional.

What was the thing you missed most about live performance?

I think it’s a collective feel good that I missed. Even if you’re watching a heavy subject, even if it’s not light entertainment, there’s a collective appreciation of something that you feel like you’re with your tribe in a way you know when you’re in a theatre all collectively watching similar experiences. I think we need it.

Paul Whitehouse, Grandad, Only Fools and Horses: The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket

When did you catch the acting bug?

Well I sort of came to it quite late in life I never went to acting school or drama school or anything like that. I started by writing comedy for a friend of mine and we developed a double act then and we we did quite a lot of tv comedy in the 90s through the 2000s to the noughties and I’m currently doing a show with another comedian called Bob Mortimer, so I’ve done quite a lot of tv comedy, and I’ve done live comedy tours but I’ve never done theatre before, so this is the first. And I co-wrote this musical with Jim Sullivan who is the son of the late John Sullivan who wrote the original tv series of Only Fools And Horses so quite a privilege.

So what’s the best thing about your job?

Well, it’s funny really. I mean the audience response to Only Fools is fantastic. It’s sort of ingrained in the national psyche really so it’s a kind of double-edged sword doing it really because there’s a lot of expectation and you don’t want to undermine the legacy because people cherish it and love it so much, but I think we’ve just about got it right you know.

But yeah, I had a few sleepless nights doing the writing when I think oh my gosh am I going to do it justice. It was great to have Jim on board and because he knows the series and characters inside out it was about two and a half three-year procedure to write it. There’s always a lot of fun writing but I think that initial phase where you put the show together in rehearsal is probably the most creative and exciting period. Obviously when you get back on stage you know the audience response to theatre is extraordinary and you know we all feed off that and you know I think it’s a sort of reciprocal thing because we get a lot from it and it helps us then with our performance to give back but obviously lockdown came along and sort of pulled the rug from under everyone’s feet. You can sense in the audiences now the sort of joy, relief and sort of party atmosphere. There’s a real sensation that it’s not just that they’re back, it’s not just that we’re back, that there’s a real connection and that everybody’s back now and we can really enjoy ourselves.

What was the journey like for you from theatres closing to opening?

It was quite strange because I had to announce it that night you know we went into the theatre and weirdly I’ve been filming with some old comedy mates of mine and I was sort of loading it over and saying I must go I am in the theatre tonight. I went round to the theatre from where we were shooting, we weren’t very far away and in that time we were going ahead with the show but during that sort of hour period, SOLT and Equity said we can’t go ahead, we’ve got to pull the show. I mean a lot of people hadn’t turned up, I think they knew the writing was on the wall but it was kind of strange because all the cast were ready and we had to go out and say to the audience sorry we can’t do it but the audience completely understood so we went to the pub and then 18 months later we came back. It’s extraordinary to go back to rehearsing again and then you know opening up, you know it’s a joy to be back.

What’s it like being back in theatre?

I mean I’ll just take a moment here because I quite enjoyed lockdown because I’ve worked quite a lot you know over the years and it was actually in a weird way for me, on a personal level, it was quite nice to have a sort of enforced break and so I know I was also able to do the odd little bit but the joy of being reunited with our cast and all the same crew as well all the crew and all the front of house staff and people who worked so hard to make the show and put it on. It’s such a collaborative process so we’re very lucky we’ve got everyone back, a big party atmosphere and I know it’s a cliché but you know you do feel part of a sort of a huge family.