Louis Maskell, interview: “The Grinning Man has an almost Tim Burton spikiness to it… Like a really intense experience at a nightclub.”
The lead role in The Grinning Man, Bristol Old Vic’s blockbuster, is the big break Louis Maskell was waiting for. The modest actor explains why he wants to act for ever.
Based on the Victor Hugo (Les Mis) novel and cult silent movie ‘The Man Who Laughs’, this macabre musical fairy-tale features ingenious puppetry and a perfect marriage of the alternative and the discordant mainstream. As well as being expertly written the majority of the songs are skilfully structured. How would he describe the show? “People have a preconceived of Victor Hugo novels; they immediately think it’s going to be long and dark and sombre,” Maskell says.
“This piece has elements of that but it is incredibly funny. The best way is to describe it is that it has got humour and an incredibly touching narrative at its heart, it has an almost Tim Burton spikiness to it,” says Maskell. “New British musicals like The Grinning Man and Everyody’s Talking About Jamie deserve attention – dare to see them, I promise you that you won’t be disappointed,” he says sweetly.
The Grinning Man is directed by Tom Morris (War Horse) – Maskell has nothing but love for his director. “Tom is a genuinely incredible director, it doesn’t surprise me he is artistic director of a theatre like Bristol Old Vic, because he is such a keen builder,” Maskell says.
“Tom rarely ever gets annoyed and his rehearsal room is very collaborative – we have revised the show and then organically created the piece with our new cast members and in turn created a new family of grinning men and women,” he adds.
On the topic of regional theatre, he is full of praise for the risk-taking happening outside of the capital. “The only way that you can create really good and dynamic musical theatre or plays is by going down the regional theatre road – because in the west end you rarely get anyone putting on a new production; the best theatre is in the regions – all of these really good regional theatres like Sheffield, Leicester Curve and Chichester Festival Theatre, deserve a lot of praise.”
I saw the original production of The Grinning Man at Bristol Old Vic and attended a preview recently. I was struck by how young the audience were, the enthusiasm and affection for the show was palpable. Has he noticed this? “I was very intrigued as to what kind of audience we were going to get but what we’ve found is there is a real hunger from a younger audience for this particular piece. I think it’s because the show feels almost like a really intense experience at a nightclub – it’s got that kind of energy to it,” says Maskell.
He trained at Guilford School of Acting, how important was his time there, I ask. “Massively – it gave me the base for what I do now – it gave me lots of skills to build upon,” he says. “I remember when I first graduated, I found it difficult to crack getting that first job… I did everything that I did at Guilford every day. So, I would warm up and work on my voice and the more I did that the better I became. I found more confidence and I got more jobs. Guilford gave me lessons to implement outside of college.”
What are his favourite musicals? “The shows that I’ve done are the ones that I was obsessed with growing up: My Fair Lady, West Side Story and Fiddler on The Roof. I think Hamilton is an absolute beast… I’ve got quite an eclectic taste,” Maskell says, with a laugh.
Maskell’s star is in the ascendant. I ask him how he would best sum up 2017. “I’d describe it as a year in which a lot of dreams became a reality,” Maskell says.
Louis is taking it all in his stride. “I’ve got my feet on the ground; being a leading role in a show in London is something that I’ve always aspired to do. To be here doing a new musical is something that I never envisaged achieving; I’m embracing every moment because everything will end at some point,” he says.
He adds: “Once you’ve achieved a goal you’ve then got to set new goals – I know that I need to now work even harder I love musical theatre. I want to act forever.”
The Grinning Man runs at Trafalgar Studios, London.