Interview: Ian Kelsey Talks “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice”

York-born Ian Kelsey is set to appear on stage at York Theatre Royal for the first time in the current tour of Jim Cartwright’s “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice.Here, Kelsey chats about playing the “bit of a leech” that is Ray in the show, getting back to in-person audiences and the glories of touring…

For people who are new to The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, how would you describe Ray and his role in the story?

He’s a bit of a leech really and so self-centred. He uses people. I think he has a good heart, or he had one, but it’s clear he only thinks of himself when it comes to his relationship with Mari [Shobna Gulati]. He’s not interested in her once he realises he can better his life through the singing talents of her daughter Laura [Christina Bianco].

What made you want to play him?

I’d not the seen the film or the play before, although I was aware of it and what it’s about. But I just started reading the script and found Ray so funny as well as horrific at the same time. There’s a speech where he just rips into Mari at one point and I was gobsmacked by what he says, but it’s brilliantly written by Jim Cartwright. He’s a fantastic writer and as you’re reading it you can hear it being said. The rhythms are just how people talk in the world in which it’s set. The characters don’t have much money but they aspire to live above their station, which is also really funny.

Can you relate to Ray in any way?

[Laughs] I hope not! But I’m still exploring the character in the rehearsal room. I love the rehearsal room because it’s where the magic happens. I’m still finding him and when I’m reading a script it really helps if I have someone in mind and all their nuances start to come into play. With Ray, I’ve got a couple of people in mind, [laughs] although I don’t want to say who they are of course.

Have you avoided watching Michael Caine in the film version?

Yes, because I don’t want to be influenced by it, otherwise for the audience it will feel like I’m doing my take on his take. But I’ve played quite a lot of roles that have already been iconic in the film versions, such as when I played Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption and that was ingrained in me because it’s one of my favourite films. In that instance you can’t help but give a nod to iconic performances. I’ve done Danny in Grease and I completely pinched Travolta’s walk, the Danny strut. You can’t help pinching from the best.

Given how tough times have been for theatre and theatregoers, what do you hope audiences will take away from seeing Little Voice on stage?

I think and hope that they’ll love it. I was at Salisbury Playhouse for the first play they staged [September in the Rain] after reopening the doors after lockdown and so many people came to the stage door to say how fantastic it was to be back in the theatre, being out and watching something other than television. They said the same thing if they saw me in the street. I myself went to see Back to the Future in the West End with my daughters and it was just buzzing. You could feel the excitement of people sitting down and watching something live again. As for Little Voice itself, there’s a lot of humour and truth in it and hopefully people will see part of themselves or parts of their friends and relatives in our performances that will make them titter.

You’ve done lots of TV and stage work. What have been your favourite jobs over the years?

Emmerdale has to be up there because that was my first proper TV gig. We were like a big family and I’m still in touch with a lot of people; some of my best friends are from the show still. Doing Grease on tour was like a 15-month party and to play that iconic role was amazing. Blue Murder on TV for six years with Caroline Quentin, Paul Loughran and Nicholas Murchie was a really good gig and we had a lot of fun on that show.

As well as Grease you’ve done other done musicals like Chicago and Legally Blonde. Do you get to sing in Little Voice?

I don’t want to give too much away but there’s a bit where Ray makes an attempt at a song. Let’s just leave it at that!

What do you especially enjoy about live theatre?

It’s different every night and you’re constantly trying to win the audience over. I learned so much doing September in the Rain about the set-up for comedy and it’s such a brilliant craft because you’re always learning new things. I don’t think I’ve ever done a job where I’ve not learned something.

When were you last on tour and what are you most looking forward to about getting back out there?

The last tour I did was with The Verdict in 2019, which was another great part, and the thing I’m most looking forward to is taking my motorbike with me. One of the most difficult things about being on tour is filling the time between getting up and curtain-up. I’m not one for historical buildings and all that, and if you’ve been on the telly a bit you can’t just go and sit in a coffee bar for the afternoon without being recognised. So it’s fantastic to just put a crash helmet on and go and explore. Usually when you’re on tour you can only go as far as you can walk in the town centre and sometimes you’ve done it in a day, but with a motorbike you can venture further out. For example, when I’m in York I can go up to the moors and in Exeter I can do Dartmoor. I’m really looking forward to seeing more of the country.

The tour calls at York Theatre Royal. Does it have any significance for you?

It’s my hometown and I’ve seen many, many pantos and shows at the Theatre Royal but I’ve never performed there before. I’m a little bit jittery about the maybe more critical eyes of people I went to school with or who I worked on the railway with. I also hope I don’t meet the Grey Lady!

So there you have it! Remember: “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice” is at York Theatre Royal from 4-9 July 2022 and you can find your tickets here.

Interview courtesy of Steve Pratt.

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