Monday, 21 December 2015

Guest Blog: Benjamin Wells - Being part of a big cake

Being part of a show such as The Tiger Who Came to Tea is like being part of a big cake.

So, I'm sorry Forrest, put your chocolates down for a second because I'm going with a more baked variety of analogy. You have some really important parts like the producers - who I suppose are the oven - providing the necessary means to bring all the parts together. The writer, directors and creatives who would be the flour and butter that form the base of the whole creation. Actors and crew would be the sugar, a sweet ingredient uniting the other elements together so you start to get the shape and texture of the production. All these elements are important, no, vital to a good production, without any one of these the cake would simply not rise and have a very soggy bottom... hopefully only in the metaphorical sense.

But what gives a production that 'wow' factor? What is the proverbial icing on the cake? What is it that would make Mary Berry wobbly at the knees and Paul Hollywood give you his icy blue eyed stare of approval? Well that, in my opinion, would be you! The wonderfully honest theatre-going audience.

With a children's production, arguably we have one of the most honest audiences in the business, if they don't like what they see, my goodness, they will tell you about it. But on the other hand, hearing 400+ children laughing, singing, and cheering along with the show is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have as an actor. The success of that challenge is what makes David Wood the best children's playwright around. He understands what works for children and that if you are 4 years old and it’s your first time in a theatre you need to be gently welcomed by the characters into the story.

Panto is great, I've made a lot of great friends from doing it and had a lot of fun trying to describe the premise to some American friends, 'so Peter Pan is played by a girl?'. But seriously, being on average two and a bit hours long with big bangs and flashes, loud evil characters and smoochy love songs, you tend to get a lot of restless little ones who are either too scared by the big man in a dress or need the toilet after 55 minutes. I'm generalising, but the intention of a play like Tiger is to ease children into the theatre world so they become confident with what's happening before them. 

Benjamin as Tiger
 They grow in confidence knowing that they can join in and interact with what's going on and when they believe in that they are fully engaged in our world where a Tiger actually came and had tea! So when you do go see a Panto, and I urge you to go and see one, that scary man in a dress becomes silly Widow Twanky with funny hair, and they don't even bat an eyelid when Peter Pan is played by a girl!

This is my first time on a West End stage, I can't deny that throughout the year I have been looking forward to this moment the most. It's what I've dreamed about since I was a wide-eyed teenager, making my way through Central London to the various drama school auditions I tortured myself with. I remember saying to my Dad as he came with me on one trip, walking through Shaftesbury Avenue, 'one day I want to be treading these boards'; cheesy I know.

Being a Christmas run makes it extra fun, and more comfortable! The Tiger costume gets very warm on stage, 6ft 5 of insulated orange black and white fur with a thickly lined Tiger head, so it's nice to get a little cool winter relief outside stage door for five minutes after a show. I don't know how previous cast members did it in the summer in an old theatre building with no air-conditioning, I tip my Tiger hat to you guys.

We are early into our West End run and the audiences have been brilliant. The Lyric stage is lovely and close to the seats creating a special intimate atmosphere. I get to see all the beaming smiles on the children's faces, and even the adults too! That absolutely makes my day.

Benjamin Wells 

The Tiger Who Came to Tea runs at the Lyric Theatre until Sunday 10th January 2016.
Please visit for further information and tickets.

No comments:

Post a Comment