Interview: Sean McKenzie Talks Park Bench Theatre’s “The Park Keeper”

Park Bench Theatre is back! Sean McKenzie is set to star in The Park Keeper, which runs 9 – 17 July 2021 and will play to socially distanced audiences at The Friends Garden, Rowntree Park. Written by the Olivier Award-winning Mike Kenny and celebrating 100 years of Rowntree Park, the story sees a hard-working Park Keeper retire after years of service to the community. Here, McKenzie reflects on his upcoming role.

Have you worked before with director Matt Aston or writer Mike Kenny?

No, I haven’t, but I’ve known Matt about 15 years. We tried to do something together once before, so now we finally are – it’s great – he’s a lovely guy and a great director. Mike is a playwrighting legend and I’ve seen Mike’s work at Derby Theatre on several occasions.

Tell us about the character of The Park Keeper and which aspects of him you can identify with?

I think his honesty – also his questioning of life, god, humanity. He’s also a family man and a hard worker. He won’t settle for second best. His standards are very high.

How do you view the prospect of working outdoors and doing a one-man show? Have you done either before?

I’m looking forward to working outside being surrounded by birdsong and nature in Rowntree Park – The Park Keeper by Mike Is a perfect for it! And after all the Greeks, who gave us theatre in many ways, have performed outside for centuries. In fact I was lucky enough to play Trinculo in The Tempest at Herodus Atticus in Athens below the Parthenon to 3,000 Greeks.

Your ambition to be an actor stretches back to your childhood – what was the attraction and do you have any other family members in the business?

Yes, I had a blinding light on the road to Damascus moment and have pursued acting and its craft doggedly since I was 11 years old. A little lad from a council estate getting in to RADA was a special moment in my life. My father was an entertainer so growing up I watched all these fantastic comics, singers and specialist acts in the world of variety. My brother Liam is also a singer-musician.

Why is Derby Playhouse a special theatre for you?

Ah, Derby Theatre is very special – it’s where I met my wife and almost 25 years later we’re still going. Also I was very fortunate to be a part of some very successful shows there over the years – On the Piste, Up N Under, Wind in the Willows and Jim Cartwright’s Two.

Any favourite roles or plays you’ve played or would like to play?

I was very fortunate to be directed by Alan Ayckbourn early in my career with a show, Two Weeks With the Queen, that transferred from the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough to the National Theatre – a wonderful part and great memories of it. Also playing Ray Say in Little Voice at SJT, Toad in Wind in the Willows, Abigail’s Party, Cartwright’s Two, Bottom in A Midsummer Nights Dream, Curious incident of the Dog in the Night Time, playing Alan Bennett in The Lady in the Van – also doing my very own Jackanory. One role I’d like to play is Archie Rice in The Entertainer – growing up in a variety world, it’s a perfect fit.

You spent 18 months in War Horse touring the UK and South Africa – how was that experience?

War Horse was an amazing experience. I was so lucky to go to so many great cities with it – Dublin, Edinburgh, Manchester, Johannesburg and Cape Town to name a few. The puppets were extraordinary and the reaction every single night was incredible. I performed in it over 500 times.

You’ve never missed a performance in your time as an actor, carrying on even when you’ve been ill – details, please

Yeah, through out my career I’ve been someone you can rely on night after night. I worked through bad backs, sprains, food poisoning. Sadly I only missed a couple shows when my father passed but I think that’s allowed! He would have been very proud of me to go back so soon after, but as he said ‘That’s Showbiz’. As well as War Horse I performed in over 500 shows of Curious Incident also.

Any connections with York?

The only connection with York is that I think I was the first person ever to share the Damehood with Berwick Kaler at York Theatre Royal 1995-96 in Cinderella. I have a lot of respect for Berwick as a dame – just fantastic – and took what I learnt with him when I performed Dame (solo) for the first time a few years ago. In fact I’m frocking up this coming Christmas in Stafford at the Gatehouse Theatre.

How are rehearsals going for The Park Keeper?

Great, thank you. It’s a wonderful funny poignant script. Performing this piece by Mike Kenny is absolute gift and I feel very privileged proud and grateful to do so, after what has been a tough time for so many actors in our industry, for everyone in our industry. I’ve never performed in a one man play before and quite frankly it’s slightly scary but incredibly exciting. Like Bowie said, ‘Sometimes when you feel your feet aren’t quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.’

Any hobbies, interests, obsessions you pursue when not acting?

I love reading obviously, walking, music, theatre. Only one obsession – Aston Villa FC.

So there you have it! The Park Keeper runs 9 – 17 July 2021 at The Friends Garden, Rowntree Park. Tickets can be found here, via York Theatre Royal.

Q&A courtesy of Steve Pratt.

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