Thursday, 5 November 2015

Big Interview: Alistair Brammer

Alistair Brammer is currently preparing to star in Kings Of Broadway at the Palace Theatre.

The one-night-only show, which takes place on 29th November 2015, celebrates the music of legendary Broadway composers Jerry Herman, Stephen Sondheim and Jule Styne.

Marking the inaugural production from the newly formed Alex Parker Theatre Company, Alastair Knights directs with musical direction from the formidable Alex Parker. The line-up also features Janie Dee, Richard Fleeshman, Jamie Parker, Bradley Jaden, Celinde Schoenmaker, Fra Fee, Laura Pitt-Pulford and Anne Reid.

Marking his first major television role, Alistair is currently in Cardiff filming for BBC1’s Casualty. He is playing Jack Diamond, a receptionist who makes his first appearance in December and will be on screen for a six-month stint.

Alistair recently recreated the role of Chris in the first West End revival of Miss Saigon at the Prince Edward Theatre. His credits also include: Billy in War Horse (New London), Marius in Les Misérables (Queen’s Theatre), Young Benjamin Stone in Follies In Concert (Royal Albert Hall), Billy in Taboo (Brixton Club House), Jean Prouvaire in Les Misérables 25th Anniversary Concert (O2 Arena), alternate Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (UK tour) and Walter/understudy Claude in Hair (European tour). 

On screen Brammer played Eric in Episodes (BBC) and Jean Prouvaire in Tom Hooper's film adaptation of Les Miserables (Working Title).

I recently spoke to Alistair about why he wanted to be a part of Kings Of Broadway, the beauty of Herman, Sondheim and Styne’s work and why he loves working with Alex Parker. We also discussed his new role in Casualty, the pressure surrounding Miss Saigon and the Les Mis movie's hardcore fans... 

Why did you want to be involved in Kings Of Broadway?
[jokingly] Money [laughs] – I’m joking – I have done a concert for Alex (Parker) before in Guildford. I had such a good time working on it; I got to hang out with some of my best mates and sing some beautiful music with a fantastic orchestra. So when he asked me if I wanted to do another one I just said, “yes”.

The show is celebrating the incredible music of Jerry Herman, Stephen Sondheim and Jule Styne. Why do you think their music has stood the test of time? We still have new generations of musical theatre geeks growing up and becoming obsessed with these songs!
That’s a good question! I think it depends who you’re talking about; with Sondheim it’s the lyrics and with the other guys I think it’s more their tunes. I just think they are three of the best which is why this show is called Kings Of Broadway. When you look at the back catalogue of the most famous musicals, most of them are written by one of these three people… or Lloyd Webber – but that could be a whole other concert in itself. 

Can you give us any hints as to what you’ll be performing?
I’m going to be singing some Sondheim, he is my absolute favourite. I just think he’s the best! I’m also involved in quite a few group numbers which makes a nice change because I don’t normally get the chance to perform in ensemble-type songs. It’s nice to get back to singing some harmonies! 

Alex has worked with some of the biggest names in musical theatre and his concerts are always hugely successful. What is he like to work with?
He’s obsessed!

[laughs] With what?!
With music and musicals and orchestras! He’s obsessed with class which is only a good thing. If something isn’t classy or doesn’t sound expensive he won’t be happy with it, and that’s all you want from someone who is putting together a concert. You want the music to be lush and for it to be done right. He has got such a fantastic intuition for getting things right. I think if the composers were there they would be thrilled with it. Alex has an instinct for what they would want. 

Alistair in Miss Saigon
How do you find doing these big one-day-only concerts? You did Follies a few months ago too.
Well I love doing things for a short amount of time, I think to leave people wanting more is much cooler than letting something fizzle out. For me this concert is really good because currently I’m not doing any singing as I’m working on Casualty for the BBC. When I got the call about this and was told it was happening at the end of November I said “that’s perfect” because it’s right in the middle of my contract. It’s nice to get back onstage and sing again!

Have you settled into life in Casualty?
It’s a completely different job – you wouldn’t know that doing this could come under the same umbrella as being onstage! It’s an entirely different ballgame besides from the fact that you’re still playing a character. I haven’t done all that much TV before – only bits and bobs – so it’s good to get the practice in. It’s a great place to be, it’s the longest-running TV medical drama in the UK. I get to work with my friend Lee Mead who is a musical theatre boy. It has been really good, I’m only doing it for a certain amount of time which means I won’t be rolling over and over and over. It’s good to be doing something different!

A lot of musical theatre performers often say it’s difficult to break into screen work. Is that something you’ve experienced?
Not necessarily, I would say I’ve always taken jobs that I’ve wanted to do and they have mostly been theatre jobs. You’re right, it can be hard, but only if you have completely closed minded casting directors. I think some people assume that if you can sing then you can’t act, but I think you’ll find it’s actually an extra skill which doesn’t take away from anything else! Funnily enough, the casting director for Casualty came and saw me in Follies and then my agent got an email the next day saying ‘We’ve got a role coming up in Casualty which we think Alistair would be good for’. I was called in and the rest is history! So it was through musical theatre that I got this job!

…some people assume that if you can sing then you can’t act, but I think you’ll find it’s actually an extra skill which doesn’t take away from anything else!”

You left Miss Saigon back in May. Now that you’re out of the Miss Saigon bubble, how does it feel to look back at your time in the show?
Sadly it’s closing in February! I had the best year ever in Miss Saigon. If people asked me five years ago ‘What is the one part you really want to play?’ I would always say Chris in Miss Saigon, no question. So when it came around and I happened to be just about the right age – I was probably slightly young – I made it my absolute mission to play that role. Whenever you do a long contract it’s funny because you look back and can’t believe it was a whole year of your life! I did eighteen months on Les Mis, that was five years ago now, and I have flashing images as to what my time was like there when it was actually eighteen months which is a long time [laughs]! I look back at my time in Miss Saigon with fondness, but I think when you leave a show you have to make the choice to move on. You kind of forget about it… until it comes onto your iPod shuffle [laughs], and then you get a bit nostalgic and a bit sort of ‘awwww, I miss that’ because I do miss the part. Chris is my favourite role that I’ve played so far.

What is it like to take on such an iconic role like Chris? Did you feel the pressure?
You just have to treat it as a role. You have to read the script and avoid going on YouTube to watch how Simon Bowman or John Barrowman or whoever else played it. You have to discuss the script and your character with the director and then just do it! If people want to make comparisons then that’s up to them, but I didn’t because there’s no point – I’m a different person to everyone else who has played it before. Everyone loved Miss Saigon the first time it was here and it had gone away for a very long time which meant there was a lot of hype about it coming back, so I felt pressure because of that. I didn’t want to let the Miss Saigon fans down, but then neither did the designer or the director or Cameron (Mackintosh). We all shared that pressure. The revival was incredibly exciting, but I guess it was also a bit nerve-racking. I was actually thinking about it earlier because I have been doing some painting today and it came on and I just thought how mad it is that I did it! It’s good to think like that sometimes… I’m very lucky.

Alistair & Eva Noblezada in Miss Saigon

I’m sending you to a desert island and you can only take three musical theatre songs with you. What are you going to take and why?
[laughs] Do they have to be musical theatre?

You can get away with musical theatre related songs…
…but it can’t just be like… Elbow [laughs]?

[laughs] Definitely not!
You’ve put me on the spot! I honestly don’t tend to listen to musical theatre! I’ll tell you what, one would be ‘Now / Later / Soon’ from A Little Night Music because the words are just so brilliant. He (Sondheim) makes entire sentences rhyme with the next sentence, it’s crazy! I love Henrik's bit, the 'Later' section of the song. I just think it’s one of the best things and then how they all come together is just beautiful.

West Side Story… I would probably try and sneak the entire album into my pocket.

Alistair in the Les Mis film
You can’t sneak an entire album in your pocket!
[laughs] Well… I would slip the album into a single sleeve… I love West Side Story. Do you know what? I would take the Quintet because it’s got all of them in – so hah! It goes [sings] “…gonna get her kicks…” and then they do ‘Tonight’ and a bit of ‘Maria’, so I basically get every song [laughs]. I need to think about this, if you’re on a desert island you probably want something positive because it’s pretty grim. I would take ‘One Day More’ purely because the lyrics/title might get me through it!

People are still so obsessed with the Les Mis movie! Can you believe it has been three years since its release?
From doing eighteen months on the show I probably gained about 1,500 Twitter followers and then I did a tiny part in the film – I played Prouvaire who is one of the students – and when it was released in cinemas on Christmas Day I gained 3,500 followers! That was on one day alone. It makes you realise how big the world is and how small the theatre is, it’s quite interesting! Not to put the theatre down, I mean in terms of the actual number of people you reach by doing a films is a million times more. It’s crazy, it’s really crazy! I still get messages about it, people are always posting stills from the movie. If I ever talk to any friends of mine like Killian (Donnelly), George (Blagden) or Fra (Fee) on Twitter we get people going ‘eeeek I can’t believe they’re actually talking to each other’ [laughs] because they just think of us still on a barricade fighting the French! I do forget the film has these hardcore fans, but the movie was brilliant. It was the best fun ever, I got to hang around with all my mates and just fight!

The theatre world is very small, but there are a lot of very dedicated, passionate people. How does it feel to have that support behind you?
What’s funny is that the main difference between TV and theatre, once you take out the fact that it’s completely different work, is that when you’re doing theatre every day you come out of work and there are thirty people at stage door wanting your autograph or a photo. Plus you get 1,000 people clapping you at the end, so you get that instant recognition which makes you feel really good. In TV you just walk in, do your job, say “see ya” and then leave [laughs]. There’s sort of no gratification. I miss that contact with the theatre fans. It isn’t just an ego boost, it makes you realise there are people out there who love what you do and that spurs you on. There’s something about the lack of that in TV… sometimes you miss the momentum that you get from doing theatre. You know you’re doing it for the four million people watching at home… but [jokingly] “Where’s my thank you?!” [laughs]. 

“Where’s my applause?!”
[laughs] No, I am just joking… but there are elements of truth certainly. The support in theatre is brilliant!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Kings Of Broadway is staged at the Palace Theatre on Sunday 29th November 2015. Please visit for tickets. Alistair plays Jack Diamond in BBC1’s Casualty from December.

Read our interviews with Killian Donnelly and Lee Mead

Photo Credit 1: Mug Photography
Photo Credit 2: Darren Bell
Photo Credit 3: Michael Le Poer Trench
Photo Credit 4: Matthew Murphy

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