Thursday, 30 July 2015

Interview: Alex James Ellison

Alex James Ellison is currently starring in Aliens Love Underpants. 

Following a UK tour, the production is transferring to the West End’s Dominion Theatre for a limited run between 1st August and 5th September 2015 with a family friendly performance schedule to coincide with Kids Week.

Adam Bampton-Smith‘s production is based on the hugely successful children’s book by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort which has sold more than three million copies since being published in 2007.

Alex’s theatre credits include: Apartment 40C (London Theatre Workshop/St James Studio), Whistle Down The Wind (Union), One Of Those Days (Lost Theatre) and Best Of Friends (Landor). He is also a singer/songwriter and has been touring to promote his latest single 'Chocolate Bar'. Alex is the organiser of The West End Big Busk which sees top West End stars busking to raise money for a homeless charity called The Passage.

I recently spoke to Alex about why kids have been loving Aliens Love Underpants, the importance of family theatre, balancing music work with a career in theatre and his latest single… 

The Aliens Love Underpants book has sold millions of copies; the stage show has been a massive hit – what is its secret? Why do families love this story so much?
I think it’s because the Aliens are amazing and the magic we can do onstage gets the kids really involved. The kids don’t know how it’s done with all the effects, like when the washing line disappears and when things pop out of nowhere. It’s really magical for kids to watch.

Do you think it’s important for parents to take their children to see family theatre? It introduces them to good, proper storytelling.
Yes! It’s great to see their reactions; the kids all come out loving it. They’re always laughing and enjoying themselves the whole way through. I think for a lot of kids it’s their first proper theatre experience so it’s great to be able to give them a proper story. It’s an hour long so it doesn’t drag on and nobody loses concentration. For a first show it’s a great opportunity to introduce them to puppetry and all the magic of theatre.

I’m sure the audiences sometimes keep you on your toes, is it a fun show to perform?
[laughs] It’s very different performing kids theatre – I find it completely different. From my point of view it’s about giving the kids the best performance you can. There’s also some stuff in there for the adults as well which gets picked up quite a lot, a few of the reviews have said things like ‘it’s not just for the kids, parents can enjoy it too’. Hearing the laughs and everyone shouting out is great. I love doing kids theatre, I think it’s so important for kids to have the opportunity to go to the theatre. We do morning performances so have a lot of school trips coming in; I remember when I was at school I used to love doing stuff like this.

What’s everyone else like to work with?
It’s a really nice cast actually, on tour there were only five of us and then our company manager so there were just six of us touring together. We’ve had such a good time. We like to have fun onstage, because the kids are all shouting out at different times it doesn’t always necessarily go the same every show [laughs]. We have to adapt to what happens, the puppets are cheeky so they can be quite mischievous. We have a bit of banter onstage; it’s a lot of fun [laughs]. Obviously we spend most our time all together on tour - when we’re not onstage us six are together so it’s lucky that we’ve got a good cast!

And it must be exciting to now be bringing the show into the West End, especially to the Dominion Theatre!
Absolutely! I can’t wait! It seems crazy that this is happening because I actually saw the show last year at the Leicester Square Theatre. I had a friend who was in it and loved it! Now knowing that it’s taking a step up to the Dominion is crazy – I’m so looking forward to it!

Lots of people in the theatre world will also know you as a passionate songwriter. Is it challenging to balance theatre work with focusing on your music?
I mean, it is difficult because basically I want to keep moving forward in my career. I always want to be doing more stuff and new stuff. The thing I’ve found with musical theatre and acting is that I spend a lot of time waiting around for auditions because that’s just how it is – you have to wait for that next call to say you have an audition. I feel like it’s not really in my control, although obviously when I get auditions it’s in my control to do the best that I can. Waiting around I kind of started doing music stuff which I’m in control of completely. I can write my own songs whenever I want and gig as much as I like. Doing a show like Aliens Love Underpants has been a great opportunity because the shows are during the day so I can do lots of gigs at night. It’s nice to be able to keep it all moving!

Tell me about your most recent single, ‘Chocolate Bar’.
It’s actually quite appropriate for the Aliens audience because it’s quite fun and bubbly, there’s nothing bad for kids in it or anything like that. It’s a fun little cheeky song about relationships and pairs of things – it’s just a bit of fun. Lots of chocolate bars are incorporated into the lyrics. It’s cool and I’ve been very happy with the response it’s had, I released it a couple of months ago now. People seem to have enjoyed it and I’ve had some really good feedback.

You’re also behind The West End Big Busk, can we expect any more of those? 
Definitely, it started off as an idea about a year ago and I tried to get it done last summer but it was so hard to get busking licences and I was phoning up different councils and everyone was a bit like “Oh I don’t know”, it never really got taken properly seriously. So then I was so happy when I managed to get it sorted this year and the performers we’ve had have been absolutely incredible! They’re so lovely and so supportive of the charity. Hopefully we’re going to do another one in August, we’re trying to keep it moving forward so we’re planning to add new stuff and make it a bit bigger.

And finally, I have to ask you the West End Frame killer question. I’m sending you to a desert island and you can take three musical theatre songs with you. Which three are you going to take and why?
[laughs] Just songs?! One of them would definitely have to be ‘Quiet’ from Matilda because I just think the lyrics are crazy and intelligent. Because it’s quite fast and speech-y at the beginning, every time I listen to it I hear new bits. I just think it’s a brilliant song and I could listen to it over and over again! My second song… oh my gosh… erm… ‘All the Wasted Time’ from Parade. I love the story of Parade, I did it when I was at Brit school so it’s a very special show to me and I think it’s amazing music and lyrics. And also, if you listen to the Donmar version they have all the dialogue in it which I love [laughs]! And… my last one… hmmm… ah it’s got to be something from In The Heights! Maybe ‘Fireworks’ because the way Lin-Manuel Miranda has written all the songs is amazing. They start so nice and pretty and have nice tunes and stuff, and then they build so well – it becomes a massive frenzy of harmonies and I think it’s amazing. Those are my three!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Aliens Love Underpants runs at the Dominion Theatre between 1st August and 5th September 2015. Please visit www.underpantslive.com for further information and tickets.

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