Ahead of his debut as Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol, opening tomorrow (22nd December 2015) at Middle Temple Hall in London, I spoke with West End star David Hunter to find out more about life spent on stage
How are rehearsals for A Christmas Carol going?
Really good, it’s been fantastic. It’s been particularly fantastic to watch David Burt play Scrooge. He did it last year and it’s been really nice to come in and see what he did last year and the new stuff he’s been working on. I think it’s such a hard part to play because it’s so iconic and everyone has an idea of what it should be, but he’s just absolutely perfect. I’m a bit in awe of him to be honest.
How have you found playing Bob Cratchit compared to other stage roles you’ve had?
I suppose, similar to Scrooge, it’s so iconic because everyone’s played it from the most famous actors all the way to Kermit the Frog! It’s interesting just trying to be original with it. I’ve tried to forget any version of it that I’ve seen before and any sort of expectation there might be and just focussed on what I would always do as an actor approaching a role. I’ve really focussed on building a family feel amongst me and the other Cratchits and building those relationships until you feel that’s the most important thing to him in the world. It’s been lovely to approach it with fresh eyes instead of being bogged down with what he’s ‘supposed’ to be.
Where did your interest in theatre come from?
It was in high school really. I always wanted to be a cartoonist and wanted to work for Pixar or Aardman with the Wallace and Gromit-type animation, but then I picked up a guitar at 16 and started writing songs and trying to show off to girls, and now I have a wife, so it worked! I suppose in high school and in college I found a real confidence. I was a quiet kid in high school and kept my head down and then started doing a bit of drama and I think people started being a little warmer to me. They found it interesting and I’ve spent 20 years trying to get people to like me! I’ve always loved it.
Now my big thing at the minute, and one of the reasons I’m doing this show [A Christmas Carol], is to try and reconnect with the joy of doing a show again, because I did the dream show about a year ago in Once, so when you take that dream away you think, what next? I took a year off and me and my wife bought a business and got married and we’ve got a baby on the way and we’ve done a bit of a life year. Now I’m dipping my toe back in and it’s not about achieving some mythical dream, it’s much more about let’s see if you can do it for the love of it and create some work you can be proud of, whatever it ends up being. I’m over the moon because I’ve really enjoyed working on this [A Christmas Carol]. The company is so exciting and so different and so focussed on what they want to be, I’ve just loved being a part of that again.
Was being on the hit ITV show Superstar a turning point for you?
I don’t think my life has changed in an everyday way. I think we all had a glimpse of fame as we had a buzz around us with people watching on telly and all your friends are tweeting you and texting you and it was a really exciting time. I suppose the way it changed my life is that in auditions people were maybe a little nicer to me. People just gave you a bit more time than they would have before when you were just another face in the crowd. And maybe jobs came around a little easier as they’ve seen some of your work and know what they’re getting. It’s hard to pinpoint whether I got certain jobs because of it, but it helped obviously. Certainly it was an incredible time that started a new chapter, rather than a complete life change.
Was your role in Once the Musical the highlight of your career so far?
Yes, absolutely. It really was everything I ever dreamed of doing. To play a West End lead first and foremost was the dream, but to do it with a show like Once. It’s my favourite musical ever. I’m not a massive musical fan oddly enough, but I love Once. I discovered the show about a decade ago when I fell in love with the soundtrack and had it constantly playing in my little Ford Fiesta that I used nip around Warrington in! Then five or six years later it had been made into a musical and I just thought, they’ve literally made a musical from my favourite songs, so I started dreaming about what if I could be part of that. So to progress through and eventually play the lead in the West End, doing eight shows a week where I loved the script, loved the songs, loved the fact that I got to smash a guitar every night and burst my lungs singing with a fantastic cast, it was just everything that I ever dreamed of. I suppose the challenge since then has been what do you do when all your dreams come true? Because, although I was ready to leave the show and had been with it for over a year, it was still a case of wow, when you’ve done a musical or a show that you respect so much and it’s so perfect for you, how do you fall in love with another one? I actually feel like a jilted lover! I’m now finding I just want to dip my toe in and try a new show, something that I can get my teeth into, and with a company that I really respect who are doing fantastic work.
What do you love most about being on stage?
I think inherently we are all just shows offs aren’t we? There’s just a part of me that loves knowing that I’m having an effect on an audience. It’s a weird thing being on stage because you’re so focussed on playing the character and the role but you’ve got to be aware of the audience and how they are seeing it, it’s a strange balance which can sometimes get a bit skewed when you’ve got family in or you’ve got a critic in. It is an incredible feeling to be able to hold an audience in the palm of your hand, and I suppose that’s what we are all aiming for in those moments within a show where you just feel like you’ve got them absolutely gripped. That’s when those bits of magic happen and that’s really exciting and something you can only get from live theatre.
Do you get stage fright?
No. But I can see how people get frightened because there’s so much that can go wrong! I think really the best way to battle stage fright is by doing it all the time. At my first gig when I was in a band in drama school, I gripped onto the mic stand with all my might and my knuckles turned white and I didn’t move an inch and I was absolutely petrified – and that was in a tiny basement venue in front of probably 20 or 30 people. But 100 gigs later and you’re arms are flailing all over the place and you’re bouncing around and it’s not scary anymore because it’s the world you live in and it’s easy. I suppose it’s about making that bizarre thing that we do into something normal. In a West End show, when you’re doing eight shows a week, there are some days when it’s just boring and you get in and think this was the dream that you always wanted to do and all of a sudden its, I don’t know if I can say these lines again. I was talking to my friend the other day who I was doing a workshop with and she’s just finished her 1000th show of War Horse and I thought, that’s 1000 times you’ve said the exact same lines in the exact same place. It’s a bizarre thing to do but you can see from that that you can’t get nervous anymore. I suppose that’s how I stave off stage fright, just being utterly prepared and just repeating it, repeating it, repeating it.
What’s next for you after A Christmas Carol?
I’m still trying to figure it out. I don’t know what the dream is anymore because it was so definitely Once, so it’s the first time in forever I’ve said I don’t know what I want to do next. But I’m going to enjoy finding out. I’m doing a small part in a feature film in January and I want to do some recording and record a little EP that I’d like to release. But I think I’ll just have my ears and eyes open for things like A Christmas Carol. The main thing is I’m having a baby in May so I have to get a schedule around that and I plan to be open minded and probably very tired! So I’ll see what the year brings and enjoy it every step of the way.
To book tickets to see David in A Christmas Carol from 22nd to 30th December visit www.anticdisposition.co.uk.
Images: Scott Rylander