TRISH LEE speaks to JASON DONOVAN, who stars in a new stage version of The King’s Speech, which inspired one of the most successful British films of all time, at Oxford Playhouse from Monday to Saturday next week. In 1936, Edward VIII abdicated, and his brother Bertie was crowned King George VI. At an office in Harley Street, Bertie and his wife Elizabeth, the future Queen Mother, are meeting maverick Australian speech therapis t Lionel Logue – played by Jason Donovan. Soon the eccentric therapist and the King begin their extraordinary journey to overcome his stammer, as Bertie prepares to address the nation on the brink of World War Two and deliver the iconic speech that was broadcast across the globe to inspire his people
The film was such a success, was it a hard act to follow?
No, not really, Geoffrey Rush is such a sensational actor, I’m not trying to get close to what he achieved. I saw the film four years ago and loved it but there was no need to go back – I take inspiration from what I see on the page. And I believe this is the best I’ve ever done, I am really proud of what I’ve achieved.
After so long in the musical groove, where you work within strong ensembles, this is really serious theatre and the spotlight is on you – how have you found the challenge?
It’s the discipline it requires, really. Theatre is a craft in its own right. I love musical theatre but it’s nice to have a bit of a challenge. Yes, the bar has been set high here and I suppose the spotlight is on me because of my high profile but I guess I feel
So you opened at the Chichester Festival Theatre, had a run at Birmingham Rep and now you’re on tour. There’s been high praise from the critics: ‘he revels in the role’ ‘ likeable hero’ ‘a triumph’…
I’ll take those, thank you. They don’t come along that often. But the shoe fits nicely – I’m at a good age to bring something to the role and I’m really enjoying it.
How did you prepare for the part?
Digging really deep in rehearsal, there comes a light-bulb moment when the characterisation falls into place, and that comes from knowing the text. I always prep hard, I don’t like to leave it to chance – I’d never turn up without knowing my lines.
Did you have to brush up your Aussie accent?
No, that’s one thing I didn’t have to worry about.
When the tour ends, will you take on more ‘weighty’ theatre or will you go back to musicals?
I work to live and I like to live well. I’d love to do more theatre and more
television acting. I don’t know how to improve what I’m currently doing to make that happen – perhaps that’s up to my agent – but musical theatre helps me keep the Donovan family in the manner to which it is accustomed! I’ve three kids. I’m not going to say no.
What would be your dream role?
Something in two or three series of House of Cards or a regular part in Breaking Bad…
I’d love to balance the year with six months on a good TV series, two months theatre – working eight months solid, then four months spending time with the kids.
Are you looking forward to the Oxford Playhouse run?
I’m really excited about Oxford, it’s a second home to me. My wife is from Oxford so we spend a lot of time there.
Tickets for The King’s Speech at Oxford Playhouse start at £14. Visit www.oxfordplayhouse.com