Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Interview: Steffan Rhodri

Steffan Rhodri is currently starring as Cyrano in Cyrano De Bergerac at Theatr Clwyd directed by Phillip Breen.

Steffan returns to Theatr Clwyd having previously appeared in Mary Stuart, Great Expectations, The Birthday Party, The Crucible, Betrayal, Dealer’s Choice, Bedroom Farce and King Lear. 

His other theatre credits include The Hairy Ape (Old Vic), The Mentalists (Wyndham’s), Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (National), Goya (Gate), A Mad World My Masters & Candide (both RSC), Posh & Absent Friends (both West End), The Kitchen Sink (Bush), Clybourne Park (Royal Court), Abigail’s Party (Hampstead/West End), The Father (Chichester), Richard II (Ludlow) and The Tempest & Two Noble Kinsmen (Shakespeare’s Globe). 

On screen he is best known for playing Dave Coaches in Gavin and Stacey, with his credits also including Spilt Milk, Under Milk Wood, Hinterland, A Touch of Cloth, Father Brown, Stella, Wire in the Blood, Belonging, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Submarine, The Big I Am, Ali G Indahouse, Solomon & Gaenor and Twin Town.

I recently spoke to Steffan about returning to Theatr Clwyd, how this production of Cyrano De Bergerac came about and people still wanting to talk to him about Gavin and Stacey…

How did this production of Cyrano De Bergerac come about?
Well it was partly my idea! It doesn’t happen very often, but in this instance I’ve been involved right from the start. Phillip Breen, the director, and I go back a long way – we worked here at Clwyd together and then became friends. We were on holiday about eight years ago and I mentioned Cyrano because it had been mulling round in my mind. It’s such a great story which is adaptable in many ways. I said, “Wouldn’t it be great to do some sort of twist on it?” I was thinking of writing a screenplay and setting it in Wales – maybe make a bilingual film.

What made the idea evolve from a screenplay to a piece of theatre?
Over the years we’ve come back to it… and to cut a long story short… Tamara Harvey is taking over as artistic director here at Clwyd. She spoke to Phillip because she was putting together her first season, she was pregnant so couldn’t direct anything herself immediately, so asked Phillip if he would like to direct something. Quick as a flash Phillip emailed back and said “how about Cyrano with Steffan?” and she said “let’s do it” – so that’s how it came about. I felt obliged to do it [laughs], having suggested the whole thing. 

The cast of Cyrano De Bergerac

Has the concept continued to develop?
I committed to it back in September and since then we have had lots of discussions because of budget and so on; regional theatre isn’t great so we haven’t been able to afford to do a complete new adaptation, but we got the rights to do the Anthony Burgess adaptation. Phil, Tamara and I were very keen to put together an all-Welsh company. So it sounds very Welsh, and we’ve had the rights from the Burgess estate to adapt and amend it slightly. We worked with a wonderful Welsh poet called Twm Morys and he has cleverly woven some Welsh into it. It’s still set in Paris [laughs], but rather than doing it in posh RP accents we’re doing it in Welsh accents peppered with Welsh language. 

How does it feel to be able to have such creative involvement in a project? It’s such a luxury!
It’s great working with Phil who I’ve worked with several times and have a vocabulary with – that really helps. The older I get now the more I work with the same directors again which is great. Being involved with the whole idea from the start has been a huge privilege, because as an actor often you’re the last person brought in. To be involved in the whole idea and to have a say in the casting was great too, usually you don’t have a say in who you work with [laughs]. We have a wonderful troop of actors, they’re fantastic… I just love them. They’re so committed. 

Steffan in Cyrano De Bergerac
What is it like to be back at Theatr Clwyd? Does it feel different with Tamara coming in?
Yes I think so. With Tamara taking over there’s a fresh air about the place. Of course Terry Hands did a great job. However, at the same time as Tamara coming in there have been even more stringent budget cuts so there’s a slight element of fear of who will still be in a job in the building – as with all regional arts, they’re being absolutely designated. Tamara’s doing a great job of keeping the optimism going and making great strides already. She’s about to direct her first production straight after Cyrano De Bergerac, she’s doing Much Ado About Nothing and again I think she’s going to use as many Welsh actors as she can. There’s a good vibe about the place. I’ve worked here many times during Terry’s nineteen years, but haven’t been here for a while so it feels good to come back. There’s a fresh atmosphere which probably was needed.

After doing big West End plays, is it important for you to make time in your schedule to go back and do some regional theatre?
Yes, very much so. Especially here because I feel like I owe this place a lot. I don’t mean that in a patronising way – I’m not coming back here to do it a favour but I learnt a lot here and was given wonderful opportunities, by Terry especially, to play parts I perhaps wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to do elsewhere. Theatr Clwyd holds a fond place in my heart, so I’m really glad to come back and to be doing this.

You have one of these dream careers where you can do a big play at the Old Vic followed by a two hander with Stephen Merchant in the West End and then jump into all sorts of different screen jobs. You’re certainly not typecast! Is that kind of variety important to you?
Very much so… but I wish I could tell you it was all planned. I came to Theatr Clwyd when I was thirty and I have to say – I mean this honestly – everything I’ve done since then has been a bonus [laughs]. I had very little ambition in my twenties and was quite happily jobbing around doing whatever came along. Then I came here and was part of the company… and I haven’t looked back. That’s a long time ago now! I just feel very lucky that I haven’t been put into a particular box. 

There are some things which help with recognition – things like Gavin and Stacey. So when it comes to doing a show like The Mentalists and the producers are putting their heads together about who to cast, if I hadn’t done Gavin and Stacey, despite everything else I’ve done, maybe my name wouldn’t have been current enough. So I’m really grateful for opportunities like that… even though really Gavin and Stacey was just a few weeks work for me doing the odd scene here and there.

Steffan in Gavin & Stacey

Is it strange that, even though it was such a long time ago and you’ve done so much since, people still want to talk to you about Gavin and Stacey all the time?
Absolutely! That’s always what people know me for and want to talk about. I was with Phil on the train going back for the Easter weekend and the guy next to us on the train started talking to me about Gavin and Stacey and Phil was a bit taken aback that it still happens… but it does! I can never quite work out when it happens – it happens at times in a glut, so it probably has got something to do with the way I look. Maybe to do with the way my facial hair or hair is [laughs]. It’s happened quite a bit recently – maybe it’s because I’m unshaven. I don’t know [laughs]. 

So finally, what can people who know nothing about Cyrano De Bergerac expect from the show? What will they take away from it?
For me it genuinely has everything I would want to see in a play. If we do our job properly it will make people laugh and it will make people cry, but also it’s got sword fighting, wonderful harmonious Welsh singing, great sets and beautiful costumes. It really does have everything… and it’s entertaining! It’s got real heart about real things. It also has one of the greatest characters in classical theatre and I feel very privileged be playing him.

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Cyrano De Bergerac runs at the Theatr Clwyd until Saturday 7th May 2016.
Please visit www.theatrclwyd.com for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit 1: Helen Maybanks
Photo Credit 2-3: Pete Le May

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