Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Interview: James Gant, starring in Grand Hotel at the Southwark Playhouse

James Gant is currently playing Rohna and Zinnowitz in Grand Hotel.

Directed by Thom Southerland, the musical opens at the Southwark Playhouse on 5th August (previews from 31st July) for a limited run until 5th September 2015. Grand Hotel premièred on Broadway in 1989 where it ran for over 1,000 performances and won five Tony Awards.

James recently completed a two year run in Les Miserables at the Queen’s Theatre, understudying the roles of Jean Valjean and Javert. His theatre credits also include: understudy Mr Bumble in Oliver (UK tour), Poole in Jekyll and Hyde (UK tour), Evita (UK and international tour) and Crazy for You (London Palladium).

I recently spoke to James about the buzz surrounding Grand Hotel and why he thinks it’s going to be a special production as well as missing life in Les Mis, embracing the intimacy of the Southwark Playhouse and which songs he would take to a desert island…

How much did you previously know about Grand Hotel?
Very little! Because it hasn’t been performed for such a long time in this country it’s lovely to have something which feels so fresh. Having come straight from Les Mis, it’s quite easy to get into the habit of picking up what other people have done in a show before you but with this it’s lovely to be doing something which is completely new to me.

There’s such a buzz surrounding Grand Hotel in theatreland, have you been able to feel that in rehearsals?
Absolutely! It has been great – there’s such a buzz! It’s such a lovely bunch of people and because it’s an international cast, we have people from America and Italy, it feels very special. There’s only about fifteen of us so it’s a small bunch of people. There’s a really lovely vibe and I think it’s going to be a very special show.

The cast of Grand Hotel in rehearsals

What can people who know nothing about Grand Hotel expect?
Essentially it’s kind of like a snippet of time – there’s isn’t exactly one through storyline, you’re seeing lots of different people’s experiences during the same weekend at the Grand Hotel. There’s a very upstairs/downstairs Downton Abbey-esque kind of feel. Because I play Rohna who’s the hotel manager and I also play Zinnowitz who’s a lawyer for one of the characters, I get to experience both of those upstairs/downstairs worlds. It’s a slice of the experience at this incredibly decadent, amazing hotel. It’s such a funny patch in German history as well, because it’s pre-World War II it’s on a knife-edge in history – there’s about to be a big change so it’s a really exciting and interesting time to be looking at.

How are you feeling about going from a large West End theatre to an intimate off-West End venue? The Southwark Playhouse is amazing – there’s nowhere to hide!
I love it! For me it’s really lovely because obviously when I was at college – at Mountview – we did a lot of our showcases in similar spaces to the Southwark Playhouse. When I trained six years ago I was very used to playing smaller venues. Grand Hotel is going to be in traverse so there will be audience on both sides and, again, I did a lot of that at college so it feels like I’m getting to dabble in that world again where you can create new stuff. I’ve done big tours around Europe and the UK and then gone into the West End; I’ve spent a long time doing big, straight out theatre so it’s lovely to actually feel really inside a space in somewhere so intimate. You can connect with the audience so much better! 

James and Paul Iveson in rehearsals
Are you missing life in Les Mis?
Oh my word, yes! Les Mis last year was such a family, we were so close and it was such a lovely year; as it was the year before too. It’s so weird because it becomes your lifestyle, you have your days and then you go in and do the show – when you leave a show like that it feels like you’ve left a way of life! Les Mis is such an amazing show to be a part of, but it’s quite nice knowing that it’s always there. I’m absolutely missing it a lot, but it has been so nice to jump into something which is entirely, entirely different. 

Jean Valjean and Javert are such iconic roles, having the opportunity to play them both is quite something!
I’ve been absolutely blessed over the last couple of years to do both roles, as well as the different students I played – I swapped between years. For me Valjean in particular was an absolute dream because on the twentieth anniversary, ten years ago, they did a medley at the end of the show and got a whole load of under eighteen year olds to come and do a medley of the songs. I did Valjean in that, so it was really nice to then come back and actually do it for real! And then one day I would love to go back and properly, properly do it.

Right, I’m sending you to a desert island and you can only take three musical theatre songs with you. Which three are you going to take and why?
Ok… I would take… well obviously ‘Bring Him Home’ would have to be one of them! That song has always been a part of my life; it’s an amazing and beautiful song. I need to choose something from Grand Hotel! It’s happening right now so because you’re asking me today I’m going to go for ‘Love Can't Happen’. Lyrically and melodically it’s one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard – it’s gorgeous! My last one… erm… probably a song called ‘Marry Me’ from a show called The Rink (by Kander & Ebb). It’s a really, really simple song and it’s really lovely. I did it in third year at college and the character that sings it, Lenny, is just a very gentle and simple character. I think it’s very beautiful melodically and very soft and gentle. It’s such a nice little song!

Finally, there is so much support from within the theatre world – I’m sure lots of the Les Mis fans will be coming down to see you in Grand Hotel. It must be so nice having that kind of dedicated support behind you?
Do you know what? It really is! It’s so nice. I love getting to know the people who wait afterwards; there are some people who absolutely just love theatre and some slightly more eccentric people who are really fun – all of them have this massive passion for theatre. In particular Les Mis fans have such a massive passion for the show and the story. It’s really interesting to hear what makes people want to go and see it so much. I’ve had lots of tweets from people saying they’re coming to see Grand Hotel which is great; it’s really lovely! You can see people’s journeys – people get introduced to new shows, the support keeps theatre alive!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Grand Hotel opens at the Southwark Playhouse on 5th August (previews from 31st July) for a limited run until 5th September 2015. Please visit www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit 2-3: Ian McGlasham

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