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Interview with Andrew Alexander: Richard Hannay The 39 Steps

At the time of the interview, Andrew was starring as Richard Hannay in The 39 Steps at the Criterion Theatre.
Having studied history at university, Andrew subsequently found his forte at the Royal Academy of Music where he discovered that “… if I could get paid to lark around then that would be the ideal job”.

Since making his stage debut in pantomime Andrew Actor Andrew Alexanderhas performed in various theatres across the country, as well as in the West End. He has also co-written and starred in a comedy production Off-West End.  Apart from theatre, Andrew has achieved success with the musical quartet Teatro, with a Gold Disc award for their album.

Earlier this week, Andrew took time out from his busy schedule to answer some questions about himself and his career.

When were you first recognised as having a talent for singing and acting?
Still waiting.

You read History at King’s College London. What were your career aspirations at that time?
As soon as I got involved in student theatre I knew that if I could get paid to lark around then that would be the ideal job.

You graduated from the Musical Theatre course at the Royal Academy of Music. What are some of your favourite memories of your time there?
In improv classes we had a improvised ‘Soap’ called York Gate which I loved. I played a misanthropic doctor with a penchant for harming his patients. I ended up in court tried by a judge –  my good friend Ron Crocker, now Assist. MD on Shrek –  who wore an exercise mat as a judge’s wig. Silly and Fun. Fond memories of friends there and studying at such a prestigious establishment. Also laughing at myself in the mirror in dance classes.

Where did you make your professional stage debut?
In Beauty and the Beast – a Pantomime at Windsor Theatre Royal. My first review compared my portrayal of the ferocious Beast to the Disney character Eeyore – a gloomy, depressed, old, grey donkey.

You played the part of Nanki-Poo in the musical comedy Hot Mikado. You must have had a lot of fun with the show. Can you describe your character and share some memories?
It was a Watermill Actor/Musician production. Three weeks to rehearse scenes, songs and LEARN THE ENTIRE UNDERSCORE OFF BY HEART. Somehow it all happens. I don’t know how.

As well as starring in the West End, you have also appeared in several shows in regional theatres.  What are the highlights of your time touring and playing in theatres outside of London?
Sheffield at Christmas was (surprisingly) beautiful – especially the Peak District.

You have performed in Beauty and The Beast and Snow White. What do you like about pantomimes and which other roles would you love to play?
I like the interaction with the audience. The breaking of the fourth wall, if you will. There is something extremely exciting about that connection between audience and actor, something very live and present. My very favourite moments are when things go horribly wrong.

You co-wrote and starred in a new adaptation of Box and Cox at the Hen & Chickens Theatre in Highbury. What is the play about and what was it like re-creating something in your own style?
Box and Cox is a Victorian play (later turned into a Comic Opera by Gilbert and Sullivan) that is about 2 men who rent the same room, unaware of the others’ existence as one works in the day and one works in the night. The original language is slightly antiquated so it was fun trying to adapt it (with Gabriel Vick) into more of a ‘contemporary’ Blackadder style. It is fascinating writing comic skits and seeing which jokes land and which, er, don’t.

What is it like performing in smaller theatres where the audience are ‘up close’?
Quite scary to be honest.

As a member of the band Teatro, the group’s debut album achieved gold record status and number 1 chart positions around the world. The group also performed for Her Majesty The Queen at the Royal Variety Performance. Can you tell us about your musical journey with Teatro and what more can we expect from the group?
The group was put together by Sony BMG after auditions around the world including the West End and Broadway and by coincidence I ended up in it with Simon Bailey (Phantom of the Opera, Les Mis) – a good friend of mine from school. It was all great fun – recording the album (I now have a gold disc on my wall – amazing), TV/Radio appearances, parties, premieres and concerts all over the world. Perhaps we’ll do a reunion tour in 20 years that no-one will care about.

You are currently starring as Richard Hannay in The 39 Steps at the Criterion Theatre. How would you describe your character?
Richard Hannay is the original British Spy Hero, James Bond with a Pipe. But he is completely and utterly hopeless with women; British stiff upper lip and all that. Not too good at expressing the old feelings but pretty bloody special at saving the world, what?

There are 4 cast members performing 139 characters in the comedy, with a lot of fast action taking place. What is it like being part of this brilliant comedy?
Honestly it’s a joy. I feel very lucky to be working with a superb cast and to be playing the lead in a Tony and Olivier Award winning West End Play. It’s the dream.

Looking at your career so far, there seems to be a theme of ‘comedy’ roles. Is this a deliberate career choice?
I just get the most pleasure out of performing in Comedies. I Love Comedy. On a basic level as an actor the thrill of getting a laugh in unison back from the audience or, hopefully, a round of applause – nothing beats it. But I’m also fascinated at how Comedy works – the rhythm and the timing; there’s almost a science to it, a structure and compositional technique. And when it works it is magical.  On another level Comedy can also expertly explore the ridiculousness and tragedy of human behaviour, interaction and existence.

How do you like to prepare before the start of the show each night?
Sometimes quick gym and steam room before the show. Then at 7pm a physical warm-up with the cast followed by private musings in my dressing room with Fawlty Towers (hands down my favourite sitcom ever) playing in the background.

Do you have a favourite line from The 39 Steps or any of your previous roles?
Oh Bugger.

What do you like to do to chill out away from the stage?
Spend time with my girlfriend (now Fiance…) and Friends

Why should everyone go and see The 39 Steps?
Because 1) it’s funny 2) you can get £10 tickets from Monday – Thursday till the end of November and 3) X Factor is terrible this year. Don’t stay in.

Many thanks for taking time to answer a few questions about yourself Andrew, and best wishes for The 39 Steps!

You can follow Andrew on Twitter at @andalexander

Interviewed by Neil Cheesman
Follow on Twitter @LondonTheatre1

Updated 11th October 2014