Matthew Warhurst was a hit at last year’s Camden Fringe in the role of Schmidt in Falling Pennies’ Doomed Resistance (review here). Having named him as best supporting actor in a Fringe comedy and my ‘one to watch’ in my end of year round-up (no awards of course, just my glowing, super-shiny praise…read it here), I had a brilliant chat with this charismatic young actor who I found to be winningly upbeat, frank and needlessly self-deprecating. He had some wonderful tales to tell, so settle down and take a look…
Tell me about Falling Pennies and how you came to be cast in Doomed Resistance.
So I trained at Mountview and when I was training, I met the lovely Ryan Penny who started Falling Pennies a couple of years after we graduated. So we trained together but actually our paths didn’t cross for a long time after that but he rang me last year. Falling Pennies had done On the Nights at the Arcola and they’d done a lot of great things and he rang me probably about this time last year saying that he’d chosen Doomed Resistance for one of the Arcola on the nights. They do a 15 minute segment and he really loved the writer. Actually, he hadn’t thought of me straight away but they’d done the On the Night and I think they’d done two read-throughs with other actors and then he rang me one day. At drama school everybody used to call me matey – that’s what everyone knows me as – it’s because I’m northern and apparently I call everybody matey, apparently I used to say ‘y’alright matey?’ to everybody! So eventually everybody, even the teachers, started calling me matey. So he (Ryan) rang me and said matey I’d love for you to come in and do a table read for Doomed Resistance. So I read the script then I rang him straight back and said Ryan, it says he is German – do you want me to do it in a German accent? And he said no I do not – he said I want you to do in your accent. So I said right okay.
I went along to the table read with the writer and Tea Poldervaart, who played Lüdendorff, who I’d met but never worked with before, and Ryan. We just read it and the writer was laughing and just seemed to really enjoy it. Ryan hadn’t actually said there was a job on offer when he rang me, he just said they were still kind of in early days and wanted to hear it aloud. So we finished the table read and had a little toilet break and when I came back in, Ryan and the writer basically said do you want the job? To which I said, what job?! He said well, it’s booked in at Plymouth and it’s also booked in at the Camden Fringe in August -it’s yours, we actually don’t want anybody else to do it now! And I sort of had to ring my agent and just make sure that he was okay with it, but that’s how I got the job basically!
Schmidt was a fantastic character, played for the big laughs and most definitely getting them, certainly for the performance I was at. He was reminiscent of the likes of Baldrick at times I thought – how did you find playing that role?
You know what? I absolutely had the most joyful time, I mean, the writer had never met me and when he cast me he said I never imagined it in a northern accent but now I can’t imagine it any other way. I’m very silly so being given Schmidt was an absolute gem of a part; the fact that he is supporting character but he’s got the one-liners. I think that makes him the easiest part I’ve played in the fact that it seems to come quite naturally to me compared to other parts I’ve played. But Schmidt, I fell in love with him quite early on and it became very easy. I haven’t done a lot of comedy but people laugh at me because I say I’m not funny, I don’t understand why people laugh! But I think Schmidt had that sincerity which I found very easy to attach myself to; he’s not trying to be funny, he’s just genuinely this loyal companion to Ludendorff and he was just a joy to play. I owe a lot to the writer because without his words – I mean, I bought the comic timing, but with the way he wrote the play, it was so easy to go out there and to enjoy playing him.
Was difficult to let him go at the end?
It was very different difficult – I mean there are talks – people are interested in it having a life still I don’t have anything set in stone as far as Doomed Resistance goes but I saw Ryan at the weekend actually and he’s over the moon with the awards and as Artistic Director of Falling Pennies, it’s the project that he’s done that he wants to do again. People seemed to really enjoy it and there were a lot of people who didn’t get to see it. I did struggle to let him go back in August.
Do you find yourself still cracking out the lines just for the memories?
Yes! My friends who came to see it still quote them back to me actually.
But that’s how know you’ve nailed it surely? When people would let it go?
Yeah they seem to remember a horse naptime quite a lot.
The show was part of The Camden Fringe – what was that experience like? Had you done the Camden Fringe before or was this your debut?
It was my Camden debut, I’d never done the Camden Fringe before. It was lovely, The Etcetera, where we did Doomed Resistance, were a joy to work with and everything was so easy; the get in, the get out and we had spare tech time. As for as festivals go, I’m from Buxton and we’ve got the Buxton Fringe Festival there so that’s where I grew up and that’s how I first started, so it was my debut at Camden and it was a joy but I did festivals before.
Would you go back?
I’d love to go back, yeah.
How long have you been playing the acting game now – where/when/ how did it all start?
So my mum says it was when I was four years old. We used to watch Coronation Street and at four I used to say that’s what I want to do when I’m older. I can’t remember that (laughs)…but when I was six years old I did the Pirates of Penzance at the Buxton Opera house and that was it then. Everything I could, I did; The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland – and it was every year because Buxton has quite a creative scene, with Buxton Fringe Festival, every year, no matter what. Then all through school it was all I wanted to do so I kind of leant myself more towards the drama and English side of things. I always knew I was never going to be a mathematician or anything so as long as I got my passes in the subjects that I wasn’t keen on, it was fine. I always knew what I wanted to do. And I had amazing teachers who really pushed me. I did some professional work at 16 and 18 and I was kind of straight in there.
I really got pushed to apply for drama school at 18, which I did. I didn’t have much hope that I would get in because I’d always been told it was really hard, so I booked my Visa to China to go travelling because I’ve got family out there. Amazingly, I’d never been to London but I came down on the train like a little Billy Elliot and I got on the tube for the first time on my own and went up to Mountview. I applied to quite a lot of drama schools but I went to Mountview and within three weeks got offered a place with a full scholarship, which has completely changed my life. I still feel very very blessed. Within three months I had to move to London at 18 – it was crazy and I feel so lucky. I mean, I wouldn’t have been able to do it had I not got a scholarship – my stars must’ve been aligned. It all felt too good to be true to be honest, but it was real!
I see you made your professional debut in Housewive, 49. What was that experience like and how did you land the job?
It was, to date, the most incredible job I’ve ever done. Working with the now late Victoria Wood – I still can’t quite believe she’s gone really – she was incredible. I graduated and had been out of drama school for a week and she auditioned me at LAMDA for it – well, it wasn’t actually her that auditioned me, it was Peter James. He auditioned me and said will you come back to London next week and it was a big long wait – I thought I hadn’t got it and I didn’t really know what it was for – I just got sent a little section of the script and I was then told it was for Victoria Wood. I think it was within two months I got a call offering me a role and it turned out that was it. It was incredible.
I was working with a lot of the Dinnerladies cast who were cast in it; Andrew Dunn was cast in it, and Sue Devaney – who are now very very close friends of mine and taught me so much. But I multi-roled, I played Michael Hockey, I played Alan and I played a few other little parts. It was the most incredible job and Victoria was just amazing; sitting and going through the comedy – her comedy, the way she wrote it, it’s all for a reason – it’s that comic timing. And working with Peter James too, who is a legend – I mean, he founded the Liverpool Everyman and started things off; he directed The Crucible and he kind of gave Victoria – he got on Talent back in the day with Julie Walters. It was kind of a hub coming together creatively from Sheffield back in the day and I sort of got introduced to it – it was absolutely incredible.
Those are some pretty amazing connections so early on.
It was amazing, absolutely amazing. A big role model of mine was Alan Rickman and he came to see it, and I couldn’t believe he was sat in the audience watching me perform – someone who we’ve also now lost. But I look back with utter fondness – it’s four years ago now, it was 2014. It gave me such a good jump into the industry and I mean, something really special would have to top that because still, up to this day- actually I don’t think anything will, because we’ve just lost Victoria –
– How much time did you spend talking with Victoria Wood – her time must have been so precious?
It was precious – she was as the first read-through and she was in rehearsals and came to dress rehearsals – she kind of spoke to Peter about what she wanted and if she wanted anything taken away. I just sat with her and spoke about life really, which is just incredible – she was a very special woman who still had a lot to offer, which is really sad – really sad.
It is. Those we have loved and lost… And now you’re currently working in wardrobe on the Young Frankenstein production in the West End – how are you finding things from the other side of the stage?
It’s incredible – I’m Principal Dresser – basically, the boss I did that for is a very good friend and she offered me some hours after I went on tour last year and I went to a few of the arenas and dressed Take That. It just gives me – well, it means I can pay my rent but it’s still in the industry and the people that I meet through doing this are – I mean, I dressed for the RSC and I dressed David Tennant an few years ago over at the Barbican. It’s just lovely and they take me on and my boss says to me whenever I get any acting work, we’ll let you go, so it’s not keeping me tied – it gives me full time income when I need it. And I’m looking after Lesley Jospeh, the lovely Lesley Joseph at the moment. And Ross Noble – so again, the king and queen of comedy – and Hadley Fraser as well. And it’s lovely; I mean, I’m working on a Mel Brooks musical – an old school comic coming back to London – it’s very Vaudeville, very music hall, the way that Susan Stroman has directed it. So when I’m not dressing them, I get to go and watch them go out every night and deliver top notch comedy.
You’re living the dream!
Yeah, and it’s a lesson in itself really – even though I’d love to be doing it all the time and be person on the stage, actually, I can step back and get a master class every night watching them and getting to know them. So it’s great fun – and actually, Mel Brooks was over for the rehearsals so I met him a few times and it’s – it’s just incredible, (It has to be said that Matthew’s genuine incredulity at his life is very endearing). I don’t say no to anything; even though it’s not an acting job, it gives me such an insight and the experience that I’ve acquired off-stage have equally been life lessons when I’m on stage.
Do you currently have anything in the pipeline for your next role on stage?
The dressing is for now and at the moment I’m auditioning, I’m auditioning for a lot, and actually – I can’t say much, but I’ve had a few exciting meetings at one of our country’s lovely soaps. Nothing is dead-set yet but I’ve met with them a few times and they seem really keen. I don’t know anything at the moment but I’ve had a few meetings at the end of last year with the view that they really like me so it’s all bubbling away but nothing definite yet. I won’t say just in case it doesn’t happen!
Absolutely – leave them wanting more – it sounds exciting!
It is, and it would be really lovely to go into that work.
Do you have dream roles for the future or are you more interested in new writing and originating roles?
Do you know what – I don’t have a preference. There are some roles that I would adore to play – I’d love to play Hamlet and I’d love to to do the play with the monologue that got me into drama school, which is called Equus- Daniel Radcliffe did it on the stage, it’s quite a hard-hitting piece. I quite like playing absurd characters, I don’t see anything as too far really. I love to play people as far away from me as possible, with both comedy and serious roles – I wouldn’t shut down anything really. There might be a new comedy series – my friend’s written it and the producers and writers I know said they want to maybe approach me about that, and that would be a comedy. It’s a bit like The Office, that’s kind of how they’ve shot it. So I love new writing and I love originating roles like Schmidt but there are a lot of classic roles in theatre that I would just love to play, Hamlet being one of them.
Do you find yourself more drawn to comic or dramatic roles? You’ve kind of just answered this one, but is there anything to add?
When I first went into acting, I was drawn to the serious but then it was other people who pushed me towards comedy.
Even though you were saying you weren’t funny, everyone else was saying you were and they pushed you over that way?
Yeah, so it was more that I never thought I was funny and actually, in drama school I started getting cast in comedy roles and I loved it. I guess my art is not thinking I’m funny seems to make people laugh!
Do you get a sense of that when you’re performing? Do you sort of listen out for the laughs?
I kind of can’t believe it to be honest; with Doomed Resistance, I fully had to believe that I was as sincere as Schmidt is – there are a lot of similarities between me and Schmidt – a lot of people have said so…
Hopefully not too many though I hope, for your sake!
No, no – not too many – just the right ones!
Can you name your most proud professional moment to date? Surely Housewife, 49?
I think I do have to say Housewife – it was just so incredible and I learnt so much. The people that I did it with have gone on to be great mentors so I owe a lot to that job, personally and professionally.
Well I think it speaks volumes as well if you’re still in touch with people as well – plays are such mini families which disperse…
Yeah, so, Ronnie Roberts, who played Nella, the main part, she actually let me live with her when I first moved back to London, and Sue Devaney who I just adore is now a very good friend. Richenda Carey, who actually played my gran came to see Young Frankenstein the other night and came to see me. I’ve been able to see them in everything they’ve done since and I think that’s really important – they actually are like family now, they are really special friends from a really special time.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about pursuing an acting career?
I think you just have to be in love with it. It’s really hard; there are times when I don’t have any work and you do get down and out about it, but actually the love for it keeps you going, especially in this day and age. The best thing that happened to me is drama school; getting away from everything I knew and opening up my eyes – I think I’d be a very different person if I hadn’t gone through that drama school training. Now I know a lot of people don’t go to drama school and it’s not imperative, but for me it was. It taught me a lot about the world and especially about London, and having come from a rural area up north, it was imperative for me. I think that’s just it: having a passion for it and doing it for the right reasons.
You said you were pushed to apply for drama school – who was responsible for encouraging that?
My drama teacher at the time, she just said you have to do this for a living, you have to pursue this and you have to give it a go. She was adamant that I give it a go and I owe her big time. I think it’s vital to have a passion for it and to do it for the right reasons; I do it because I think the world can be a hard place to live in sometimes, there’s a lot going on, a lot of negativity and actually, we provide an outlet for people to come and let their hair down, to laugh and to be entertained. I think especially now, it’s so important and the world would be a much duller place without theatre. That’s why I do it and that’s what keeps me going – and there are times where it is a struggle but I adore it and I’m still having a good time even when the industry can give you a bit of a knock. I’m still having a great time!
So with so much ahead of him and such an impressive start behind him, I guess we should give thanks to that adamant drama teacher, Buxton Fringe, The Pirates of Penzance…and Matthew’s mother’s choice of soaps! Now head over to Part II of my interview with Matthew, where he opines about cuts to drama provision in schools and the joys of live theatre bloopers!