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Fabien Martorell

Interview with dancer and actor Will Kemp

6 December 2013 Charlie Kenber

“I can’t quite believe we’re in the theatre next week…just a deep breath is what I need!”

For the first time in its long and prestigious history, the Royal Opera House is transferring a show to the West End. Taking over the Duchess Theatre from next week is the latest incarnation of the ROH’s ever-popular Christmas show The Wind in the Willowswith more than a few novel flourishes.

Will Kemp, who’s reprising the role of Ratty tells us, “It’s a really beautiful piece. It keeps very loyal to Kenneth Grahame’s original book: the values of home, adventure and fun. It’s very cleverly told because it uses puppetry, we have great acting, we have words, we have song, we have classical music. It’s a real trip of imagination.”

It’s an incredible eleven years since the original production: “It’s a fun one, I’m really thrilled to be back” Will says. It’s “a labour of love. I have a strong affinity with the production – being in the original 11 years ago it’s very close to my heart. Last year my kids loved the show so much – I’m very much looking forward to them coming back in again to see me jump around in a pair of tights and a moustache!”

Although eleven years old, the show is not allowed to grow stale, and there have some notable changes this year, not least to the cast: Tony Robinson has joined the production, starring as Kenneth Grahame. “With each incarnation it’s always a little bit different – because there’s different people on board that bring different ideas and energy. Although it’s all come out of Will Tuckett’s fantastical mind, he’s also very open to collaboration.”

Will is especially praiseworthy of Tony Robinson: he’s “had a huge input in talking with Andrew Motion who’s our writer. He had some great ideas, and so many thoughts and feelings about it all which have been incorporated. And he can sing! He sings in this. For him it’s quite a change from documentaries and so such.”

Although most recently Will has become well known for his acting work – both in London and his now home-town of LA – his career began as a dancer. He very quickly landed the lead in Matthew Bourne’s original Broadway production of Swan Lake, which counter-intuitively fed his acting. “My work with Matthew Bourne’s company very organically bridged me into wanting to learn as an actor…I would take acting classes in order to enhance that sort of work, and then it grew out of there.”

With a full schedule of acting gigs Will’s not had much time for dancing of late, but has recently made a welcome return. “I came back last year and I hadn’t really danced for a long long time. I seem to be just about clinging on this year. I’m at that point of trying to work out if the aching muscles are positive, or if it’s a little niggle that I have to look out for to make sure it doesn’t turn into an injury: because one is getting older!”

Two and a half years ago Will left the UK and moved to LA, in pursuit of TV and film work as well as these changes. His wife “grew tired of the weather here and also me being away from her and the children, so we moved…but the irony is that not much shoots in Los Angeles, so I’ve worked in Canada, Atlanta and I was in Romania for two and half months and now I’m here! So I think my wife is perhaps beginning to realise that there’s not one fixed place of locations as an actor – you have to be prepared to move around. I enjoy the travel also. It’s what keeps life exciting and colourful.”

Regardless of the move, London will always be special for Will. “I love coming back to London…seeing so many friends in plays and musicals and at the Opera House. I try to go nuts and see as much as I can while I’m here, because the thing I miss is going out and seeing what everyone else is up to – whether it’s Shakespeare at the Old Vic, or a musical in the West End. I think people forget when they live here that that is on your doorstep.”

The rigour of the rehearsal regime is also treating Will well. “To be doing this process of rehearsing for two weeks – which is actually fairly short but it’s certainly more than you get on a TV show or on a movie – to come back into a room with thirteen phenomenally hard-working, talented people is refreshing. That’s the reason I’m doing it. I’m having a great time soaking up London and being in a sweaty rehearsal room again, just slogging it out 10-6.”

After this show, the future is surely bright for Will. “This year’s been great,” he confirms, “I did three independent films in Los Angeles, I just shot a pilot opposite Alicia Silverstone…we’re all crossing our fingers that it gets picked up as a series. Next year I have the release of The Scorpion King: The Lost Throne…I play the villain which is a lot of fun. I had to do lots of horse riding and sword fighting, and had to work out in the gym and look like a warrior and do all of that macho stuff which is quite fun actually.”

The reality of the theatre remains however, and Will rushes off back into the maelstrom of rehearsals. “I can’t quite believe we’re in the theatre next week…just a deep breath is what I need!”

The Wind in the Willows plays at the Duchess Theatre from 11th December until 1st February 2014. Tickets from £15, available here.

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