Brighton-based Stephen Beckett will be part of the cast bringing “a huge ray of sunshine” to the London stage for the next year.
Stephen, best known for his role as Dr Matt Ramsden in Coronation Street and Mike Jarvis in The Bill, has joined the West End cast of Mamma Mia!
Around a third of the cast are staying on; the rest, Stephen included, are newcomers to the show: “We are the fresh blood!”
So does it make it harder to step into something which is already a massive success?
“It’s a mix of things really,” Stephen says. “You know it is one of the most successful shows ever in the West End in terms of longevity, behind only Les Mis, I think. But I had never seen it before I joined. I come from a more straight theatre background. I did a year in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and with that one, they actually encouraged us not to see the show beforehand. They wanted us to come in and make it our own.
“And with Mamma Mia! I was very honest and told them that I had not seen it before, that I wanted to come in and give it a fresh perspective. But then having got the job, they encouraged us to go and see the show so we had a feel for where we come on and come off.
“Before this, my knowledge of it really was just the movie. I had seen the movie, and I knew all the songs. I am a massive Abba fan. And so I had an idea of the plot, but the stage show is very different to the film. The stage show is much more involving than the film, I think.
“And the reason it is so successful, I think, is because the show itself has such a natural energy and such a huge feel-good factor to it all. It is all about rediscovering youth, all about new youth. It is all a huge ray of sunshine really.
“I am playing Bill, played by Stellan Skarsgård in the film, and I am going to play him very differently to the way Stellan played him. Stellan goes quite internal. He goes into the mind of a mid-life Scandi crisis. In the play, the character is much more relaxed. When you first meet him, he is quite happy with his life and where he is.
“There is maybe an odd echo of thinking ‘Here I am in middle age and I have not got a lot to show for it’. And you have to think what has drawn him to this island; what has made him accept this invitation. But really it is a rediscovery of life.
“But really he is very relaxed. I am going to make him an Australian. Bill is traditionally played as whatever the actor feels comfortable with, and I know that he has been played as an Australian in the past.”
Stephen resisted making him English. Sam is English in the musical; and Harry is even more English: “You need to get a sense of difference.”
Stephen will be commuting for the role up from Brighton. He jokes whether the quality and reliability of the rail service will mean he will need a couple of extra understudies. But as he says, he’s done plenty in London before – and certainly knows to leave in plenty of time, time enough to jump into the car if he has to.
“We have been in Brighton for 16 years now. Lots of friends were moving down to Brighton, and I was absolutely a dyed-in-the-wool Londoner with no intention of moving, but my wife really wanted to. I refused. She persuaded me to try. I said I would for six months. But we got here and I just fell in love with the place!”