Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Interview: Oliver Boot, starring as Bill Sikes in Oliver! at the Leicester Curve

Oliver Boot is currently playing Bill Sikes in Paul Kerryson’s production of Oliver! by Lionel Bart at the Leicester Curve.

A few of Oliver’s theatre credits include: Richard II, A Midsummer Night’s Dream & King Lear (all Globe), Piaf (Curve), Othello (Cheek by Jowl) and The Lady From The Sea (Birmingham Rep). 

On screen he has appeared in Blooded, John Carter, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, As If, The Time of Your Life, Hotel Babylon, Distant Shores, Garrow’s Law and My Family. 

I recently spoke to Oliver about why Bill Sikes has always been one of his dream roles, his interpretation of the character plus why variety has played such an important part in his career… 

Oliver! is completely different to everything else you have been up to recently, was Bill Sikes a role you were immediately drawn to playing?
Yes, ever since seeing the 60s film version with Oliver Reed, Bill Sikes has been one of those parts I’ve always wanted to play. Just being asked to audition was a real thrill! And then I was so excited to be offered the role.

Is playing the role living up to your previous expectations?
I’m really enjoying it. I think it would be very easy to walk on stage as a drunken thug and just shout through the whole show, but I don’t believe anybody wakes up in the morning and thinks ‘I’m going to be a bad guy’. Instead people make certain choices and bad decisions which leads them to a dark place. So with Bill I’ve tried to really get beneath his skin and figure out what made him the way he was. 

Which discoveries have had the biggest impact on your performance?
**spoilers alert** I genuinely believe that Bill doesn’t mean to kill Nancy, I think he tries to teach her a lesson and then it becomes a horrible accident which is why at the very end he regrets the decisions he’s made. In the book he actually hangs himself but in the stage production he is shot, but I think it’s almost a relief because he’s so destroyed and torn up. I mean… obviously that’s just one interpretation of it all [laughs], but it was very clear to me when I approached this role. It prevents it from being a one dimensional, shouty performance. It’s been really fun and I’ve absolutely loved it! 

Paul Kerryson returned to the Curve to direct the show, what has he been like to work with? His Christmas musicals are so renowned!
Paul has a lovely way of creating a very safe framework from within which you’re able to work, but he allows you spontaneity and creativity rather than imposing everything on you. We’ve all been able to explore, play and find our own ways of doing little things which is so nice. I love working with directors like Paul because sometimes you find yourself in a position where someone is directing you for the sake of directing you and you feel over-messed with. It’s good for everyone to be working in a creative atmosphere; he has also been very insightful and approachable if you want to pick his brains about anything. 

Oliver in rehearsals with Cat Simmons and Peter Polycarpou

What about the kids? Are they all terrified of you?
[laughs] All the kids love Cat (Simmons, Nancy), they constantly surround her giving her cuddles. I sort of tried not to get too close with the kids because I want them to be a little unsure and slightly scared of me when we’re onstage. It’s really difficult because they’re so cute – they are a really nice bunch of kids! They’re all very chatty and friendly, but I try not to engage too much because it creates something special when we’re onstage. There are all fantastic though, they really are!

What do you think is Oliver!’s secret? After all these years why do people still adore this show?
Big question! I think it has all the elements of a wonderfully relatable story. It has everything! Anyone can understand at least one of the characters and what they’re going through. I also think the score is so memorable, every song is a masterpiece. The whole thing is a work of genius and it’s a real privilege to be doing it because Lionel Bart did such an incredible job!

Your career has been so varied; you’ve worked extensively in both television and film, recently finished another show at the Globe and so on. Do you actively seek new challenges? Do you like being kept on your toes?
Yes absolutely! I’m a huge fan of Shakespeare – I love doing Shakespeare and find it intellectually invigorating and thrilling to do, but at the same time in our industry if you enjoy something it’s very easy to get stuck in the loop of doing it again and again and again. There have been years when I’ve been asked back to the Globe to do another season and I’ve said no because I wanted to try new things and explore other avenues that year. I like to keep things varied because I think it improves you as an actor – it’s important to constantly challenge yourself. It broadens your emotional horizon. 

Doing film and television and Shakespeare and musicals has taught me so much because I get to work with a whole variety of actors. I did a Disney film (called John Carter) with Mark Strong and Dominic West. They are two actors who’re very much at the top of their game; they’re incredible film actors so standing on set next to them and having the opportunity to watch them work was an amazing learning experience. And then to be opposite Charles Edwards (in Richard II) onstage at the Globe was equally as incredible. That’s why I try and keep things varied. Our job – unlike many others – is a continuous learning curve, that’s what makes it so much fun [laughs]!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Oliver! runs at the Curve Leicester until Saturday 23rd January 2016.
Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit: Pamela Raith 

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