Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Interview: Samuel James, starring in Monster Raving Loony

Samuel James is currently starring in Monster Raving Loony by James Graham at the Theatre Royal Plymouth.

Directed by Simon Stokes, the play is a “fast-paced and hilarious” journey using the life and exploits of Screaming Lord Sutch to examine the state of the nation and Britain’s post-war identity crisis. 

Samuel previously appeared in the Theatre Royal Plymouth’s productions of Grand Guignol and Stockholm. His theatre credits also include: Twelfth Night & Women Beware Women (both National), Ragtime (Piccadilly), The Full Monty (Prince of Wales), Fault Lines (Hampstead), Abigail’s Party (Bath) and Decade (Headlong). 

Samuel can currently be seen as Garth Stubbs in ITV’s Birds of a Feather whilst his screen work also features The Shadow Line, Battle of Britain, Rose and Maloney, Poirot, New Worlds, Psychic Spies and Closer.

I recently spoke to Samuel about why he’s having so much fun working on Monster Raving Loony, what makes the show so different to anything else he’s ever done before, plus the close bonds he has formed whilst working on Birds of a Feather…

What did you think when you first heard about Monster Raving Loony? 
Well, it’s directed by Simon Stokes who I had a fantastic time working with before. As soon as I knew James Graham had written the play my interest was immediately aroused. When the email came through from my agent there was a comprehensive breakdown of what was required [laughs] – I thought to myself ‘this could be the most challenging thing I ever do in my career’ so therefore I knew I had to do it.

Samuel and the Monster Raving Loony cast in rehearsals

It was made very clear that it isn’t just a biopic of Screaming Lord Sutch… it’s a biopic of Screaming Lord Sutch told through the medium of post-war comedy from Hancock's Half Hour up to Alan Partridge with the Carry On films, The Young Ones, 'Allo 'Allo!, Only Fools and Horses and Absolutely Fabulous in between [laughs]. I looked at that and thought ‘wow, what a lot of fun this is going to be’! I was brought up with the Carry On films and Only Fools and Horses; the prospect of paying tribute to those shows was too good to resist really.

So what was it like to go into rehearsals and get the piece up on its feet? It’s a huge, huge role for you!
It has been tiring but in the best possible way. We are a company of five and have had an absolute blast every day. It’s an incredibly supportive company. We’ve all been chipping in and helping each other out. We did a fair bit of work around the table talking about each individual scene, but then I know Simon likes to get up and start doing it – it was great that before long we were having an actual stab at it. There hasn’t been a dull moment! There’s a big music element to it as well so we often started each day with a music call. I’m the only one who doesn’t play an instrument – I’m just doing the singing. We’ve got drums, piano, double bass and the lot! It has been an incredibly fun and enlightening experience.

It sounds like you are going to take audiences into a mad world where they will experience things they have never experienced before! What do you think people will go through?
Samuel with Charlie Quirke
[laughs] That’s the million dollar question! We don’t know… the writing is incredibly, incredibly funny and moving. When you’re rehearsing a comedy because it’s about getting the work right it becomes less funny to you, but then when you get it in front of an audience that all changes. I have never done a production or seen anything like this before. It starts in an old Working Men’s Club scenario with the Music Hall element to it, so there’s potentially a little bit of audience participation. The idea is we’re all kind of in it together – the audience are referred to quite frequently. The aim is hopefully for them to come in and feel like they’re a part of this story and have contributed… and that they laugh a lot!

What is it like to have the opportunity to work on something so creative and enormously different? It must be like a breath of fresh air!
Exactly that – you summed it up perfectly! It is like a breath of fresh air because of the amount we’ve been able to play and because the piece covers so much. There are so many different styles involved and characterisations required from all of us – we all do at least twenty different characters in this play. It’s just wonderful to be a part of something which you feel is unique. That’s the great thing about it. Simon has said that he wants to see us enjoying ourselves whilst we’re up there.

It’s so interesting that earlier you mentioned all those classic comedies, and that you’re currently on screen in Birds of a Feather!
I know! Of course there are similarities because in Monster Raving Loony we’re nodding our heads at a great deal of sitcoms – Birds of a Feather is a rarity these days because it’s done in front of a live studio audience. There are definitely some parallels! 

What has Birds of a Feather been like to work on?
Well this is going to sound terrible… it’s going to sound like all I do is muck around and have a laugh! But I have to say on Birds of a Feather I have so much fun! The girls are just fantastic; they know the show, they know their audience and they know each other so well that they can just get up and do it. Our director on Birds, Martin Dennis, is constantly having to get our attention and get us back to work because somebody starts talking about something and then a chat begins… and suddenly there are cups of tea on the go and we have to be reminded that we’re actually supposed to be rehearsing [laughs]. 

Samuel in Birds of a Feather

What has been lovely for me is working with Charlie Quirke who plays my younger character in Birds but is Pauline’s son in real life. It’s nice because we get to have our little relationship both on screen and off whilst the three birds have theirs. They were all so supportive as far as my involvement in the show – I came in and took over as Garth for the second comeback series and they were all so warm and welcoming and friendly and helpful. We shoot at Pinewood Studios which isn’t too far from where Pauline and Charlie live, so during this series – which we finished filming in October – we would do the studio record on a Wednesday night and then on more than one occasion I would go and kip at Pauline’s house for the night. We’d have a glass of wine, wind down and chill out like friends.

It was a shame to miss the NTAs with them all, but I had to concentrate on Monster Raving Loony. We were rehearsing all day and then I would go home and get my head in the script to do about two hours of work each night. It’s a big show for me and I can’t wait to see the response!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Monster Raving Loony runs at the Royal Parade, Plymouth until 27th February 2016.
Please visit for further information and tickets. 

Photo Credit 1-2: Manuel Harlan

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