Twelfth Night: Q&A with actor Will Alexander

Will Alexander

Hester Ullyart

Twelfth Night: Q&A with actor Will Alexander

Will Alexander plays Duke Orsino in Top Dog Theatre's production of Twelfth Night. He chats to What's Hot New Zealand about the Bard, big birthdays and being home.

You grew up here, trained in London, toured the world, featured on TV and on stage – what’s your number one career highlight? Performing at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Birthday party was pretty amazing, the salmon was raised specifically for the occasion but I think the Champagne they gave us was a bit watered down. Also cutting someone’s tongue out onstage in Amsterdam and throwing it into the audience comes to mind as a highlight. 

Pro-tip for would-be actors? It’s likely if you’re auditioning for things then you’re going to need to deal with rejection. Don’t take it personally. See auditions as a chance to perform, do a good audition and then forget about it. If you can have the resilience to be turned down a lot and carry on doing good auditions, you’ll keep improving and eventually get a break.

Why does Twelfth Night stand the test of time? It has themes that are timeless and very human. Like love for example. I’m in love right now, so to read the musings of a beautiful mind like Shakespeare’s on a subject which is very present in my life, even though he lived 500 years ago, is magical. This script is so relevant for me I need to be careful not to steal his words to woo my muse.

Can you give us any inside word on what’s going to be special about this performance? Emma Cusdin, I’ve known her since I was 15 and done a lot of theatre with her. I know she is going to positively smash Malvolia. I’m also a big fan of Jeff Clark’s comedy chops and very excited to bear witness to his Aguecheek. Hester Ullyart is a brilliant actress. So for me the cast is what’s going to be special about this performance.

You’re performing two discounted matinées just for schools. What can kids get out of a good Shakespeare play? There will be a lot of physical comedy, a lot of rowdy, loud, musical, colourful, theatrical goings on which will no doubt maintain the attention of both the scholars as well as anyone who doesn’t know what iambic pentameter is. A lot of beautiful people doing scandalous things as close to the line as possible. This is not a stale museum piece. This performance should inject some life into a few NCEA essays while telling a clear story. Shakespeare’s plays were written to be heard and witnessed. I think we’re missing something if we just discuss the script in an English class.  

The two matinées on the Thursday (12th) and Friday (13th) are not on sale to the public, but are for schools at $10 per ticket, which includes teachers and accompanying adults.

Derek and I will also be visiting some schools to talk with the students about the production and answer any questions. And no doubt get some quality feedback; kids will let you know what was working and what wasn’t!

Can you tell us a bit about your character, Duke Orsino? He’s the Duke of Illyria, he has a lot of status. He gets whatever he wants and whoever he wants whenever he wants them. So being told that Olivia has refused his advances is not something he’s used to. It sends him into a bit of an obsessive head spin. He can’t stop thinking about her and loses control of his mind. The more he is rejected the more he wants her.

Your co-star Hester Ullyart is also a very widely-experienced actress. What’s it like working with her? Hester was in the year above me at RADA but we’ve never actually worked together. I’ve met her and talked with her in the real world, so I know she’s a wonderful person. I’ve seen her perform so I know she’s a brilliant actress but what it will be like to pretend to fall in love with her in Illyria, I don’t know.

Top Dog Theatre has generally been an outdoors Shakespeare company – what’s the thinking behind bringing it inside the Isaac Theatre Royal this year? I’ve worked with Derek and Top Dog on a few of their outdoor productions. I love that because of the natural light the audience isn’t in darkness which means we can really see people’s faces and eyes and really talk to the audience. I’m hoping that we can preserve some of that direct audience interaction indoors. It seems a natural progression for Top Dog who has now performed in most of the venues in Christchurch, as well as creating some, to perform in one of its largest.

Do you have a pre-show or post-show ritual? I meditate before the show which calms me down and focuses my energy. Then after I’ve done some yoga to warm up my body and some vocal warmups I find somewhere that I can see the audience and I send them love.

After the show depends on what happened during the show. Sometimes I need to have a shower to wash off all the blood, at Pop-Up we all used to take three breaths together as a cast and crew, but usually I just want to get out to the foyer to see whoever was in.

What’s on the cards for you after Twelfth Night? I’m organising a festival in Titirangi, West Auckland on the 20th of November. I’ve never organised a festival before but I’m looking forward to experiencing a more organisational role and creating a new kind of event centred around music, community and I’m hoping to incorporate some theatrical aspects too. It will be advertised through Earth Beat platforms.

Twelfth Night, Isaac Theatre Royal, Thu 12 – Sat 14 Aug, topdogtheatre.com

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