Perhaps best known for his television roles as Caleb in Victim and Father Francis in Hollyoaks, Richard Winsor began her career dancing in a variety of Matthew Bourne productions, including Swan Lake and Dorian Gray’s photo.
He now brings Saturday night feverhis first role in a musical, at the Peacock Theater in London, and sits down with us to discuss the show and his approaches to acting.
What can audiences expect Saturday night feverand what has been your experience in the role so far?
Well, we did a short tour just before the pandemic, but it’s very special to take it somewhere like the Peacock, which has its connection to Sadler’s Wells, a place that I have a connection to through my Matthew Bourne career. You feel like you’re in the right place, since it’s a dance house.
I think the audience can look forward to a truly electrifying evening. You get caught up in this whirlwind of dark, gritty drama, but the band is also on stage throughout, the Bee Gees are there as an ever-present force on stage, which is a new way to look at the show. It is therefore a fully integrated multi-sensory experience.
Coming out of the end of a pandemic is a real blessing. The pandemic has stripped us of all our usual outlets. When I see the audience, I see how much people have missed and yearned for this level of excitement and entertainment. It’s a real privilege to help bring that back. Also, I feel fitter and stronger than before, I did a Matthew Bourne To display, The midnight bell, at the end of last year, and which really rehabilitated my body after several years of TV. I am really well placed for this production.
Are there similarities between television and theatre, and do you feel that one informs the other?
When you play a role, whether Matthew Bourne or a play or a musical or whatever, and you’ve had the first week or two of performance, it becomes innate in your body and you can play with it without worrying.
On TV, you have to find that right away; you need to find that freedom to play with instantly. You need yourself for your two or three minutes, for your close-up – this is your time. It’s more of a patience game, learning to be more refined in that short amount of time. With theater, there’s more time before you feel like that, but then again, in theater, you don’t get a second chance beyond that moment. It’s about learning the strengths of theater and using them on television, and vice versa.
As someone from a dance background, how did you experience the transition to theatrical roles?
I worked with Matthew Bourne since I was 19, and I wouldn’t say his work is solely dance-based – it’s very cross-cutting, it’s plot-driven and character-driven. The characters are well researched and thought out, so I needed to know early on how to research a role and take the audience on a journey through it. I always like to have plays and dance back to back, so even though this is my first musical, there hasn’t been much of a transition into theatrical acting.
Did you feel any pressure playing such an iconic role portrayed by John Travolta in the 1977 movie?
It’s certainly a challenge not to be a carbon copy of John Travolta – he is the emblematic figurehead of this story but I didn’t just want to imitate him. Since it’s so well known, there were some notable “-isms” in there, but ultimately I have to play it honestly through myself. So the challenge is there, but I love taking up these kinds of challenges.
I’m an actor who likes to research the role, so I didn’t just watch the movie, I also watched what life was like in 1970s Brooklyn, what that “disco fever” was like. and why it was so depraved. There are all these themes of not having enough to survive and having to graft on, offset by the dream of succeeding in dance.
When [director] Bill Kenwright approached me, I agreed with him that we wanted to keep it as dark and gritty as possible. Some people forget how gritty the themes of the original movie are and put it in the Fat, musical support on glossy paper – but it deals with religion, drugs, wanting to get lost in “the abandonment of disco”. So we made it gritty that way, but with the brilliance of the 21st century, with a band and updated choreography.
What does finding a role usually entail for you?
Reading material is essential. In The midnight bell I played a character with schizophrenia in the 1930s – it’s an adaptation of a novel called Hannover Square, so I really dissected that novel and thought about how the character would feel and move. It’s about figuring out how the character would function and react in certain situations, and having all those tools ready with you.
Also, Tony in Saturday night fever has an effect on all the characters around him – his brother, his father, his needy girlfriend – so you need to know about all those other characters and how they affect yours.
What is the next step for you after SNF?
It is complicated! I am in talks with Matthew Bourne, for a mid-year project, but I can’t really comment on that. I’ll see what happens with this show in the future, and there are a lot of great things being discussed. For now, though, it’s a really exciting show to be on – audiences love it.
Saturday Night Fever is at the Peacock Theater until March 26 – book your tickets here