5 Guys Chillin’ has developed something of a cult following since it first came to the King’s Head Theatre in October 2015. And now it’s back for a three-week run in its home venue. Following highly acclaimed, sell-out performances in Dublin, New York, Sydney and Edinburgh, Peter Darney‘s verbatim drama returns with some familiar cast faces, none moreso than Elliot Hadley. Hadley has been a part of the cast since the beginning and there is no-one better placed than he to act as Associate Director for this latest run.
I caught up with Hadley to discuss the show that has helped shape his career and his feelings towards directing such an iconic piece off LGBTQ theatre:
Congratulation on being appointed Associate Director for this run! 5 Guys Chillin’ is back at the King’s Head Theatre in the 50th anniversary since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK. Will you take a different slant to the performance over that which we’ve previously seen?
Thank you, I’m thrilled to have been asked to come on board as Associate Director with the latest run at The King’s Head Theatre. The play now has a huge cult following and I believe that its message still needs to remain clear. However, with each reincarnation it has developed and each actor has brought something new, breathed new life into the production. I would like to harness that and bring a playful, nurturing and fun aspect to the party – until the final act at least. There is a naturalistic and almost improvised feel to it and I’d like to explore and develop that. It’s going to be really exciting!
You are the only original remaining actor in 5 Guys Chillin’ – what have you learnt from the role?
I’ve spent a lot of time working on 5 Guys Chillin’ and I definitely learnt something new with each revival. But what really sticks in my mind are the people I’ve met along the way. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of the bravest, most inspiring and incredible humans I’ve met in my life, that were touched by the play & its issues and who chose to share their stories with us. I hope the play continues to inform and shine a light on relevant topics that need discussing.
If you could play another of the characters in the play, which would it be and why?
I would have loved to have a go at playing PJ. For me, it’s one of the most interesting roles. At this Chillout, PJ is one of the least experienced when it comes to sex parties. He has a wife & two children at home yet he struggles against his Punjabi upbringing, religious pressure and parental guilt, all fighting against his homosexual desires. He’s such a complex character and is incredibly interesting to play. Rightly so, each of our actors has played him differently.
You’ve toured this production extensively – festivals around the UK, as well as on Broadway. How have different audiences responded to the explicit material you present?
5 Guys Chillin’ is brilliant because it attracts a typically ‘un-theatre-going’ audience and well as the usual hardcore thespians. And you can always tell which are which. Some performances, usually on a Friday or Saturday night when the chillout crowds would descend, the audience become extremely rowdy and you can tell that they get the references that others may not. The atmosphere drastically changes towards the end of the play however, and we have people who are genuinely moved. It’s not uncommon to have more than a few walk-outs during a performance; for some people I just think it’s a little too close to home.
The American audience were the most drastic difference. They are stereotypically more conservative when it comes to theatre styles and I don’t know if they were fully prepared when we brought the show to New York. They related to different characters and many audiences had to be asked to leave the auditorium by staff after they were still staring, open mouthed for ten minutes after the performance had finished. It was really something to behold and I’m so proud we could evoke such strong emotions with our guests.
Give me a bit of background about yourself and your journey as an actor.
I grew up in a small town in Lancashire and was lucky enough to have a family that instilled a love of the arts in me at an early age. One of my earliest memories was of my dad taking me to London to see The Woman in Black – I was mesmerised and came away inspired.
My first taste of performing was, of course, my school play. I got to play one of the ugly sisters in Cinderella and I remember being terrified when I saw my ball gown for the finale. I had to wear this in front of people?! But, I overcame my doubts and fortunately the show went down a treat, even though I had to fasten the back of the dress with a huge comedy safety pin. From then on I was pretty much hooked (not literally!).
Since graduating from Academy of Live and Recorded Arts (ALRA) in 2010 I’ve had some amazing opportunities. One of my favourites was the BBC drama, “Preston Passion”, where I played Alf Cummins, a World War Two solider writing home to his mother from the trenches. It was screened as part of the Preston Guild celebrations, which is close to my hometown and part of local history.
The acting profession is notoriously challenging sometimes and there have been times I’ve seriously considered giving it up (normally as I’m pulling my 100th pint). But I love the process and the transformation and that’s why I choose to do it – I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Who is your inspiration/ rolemodel?
That’s such a difficult question, I have so many. There are of course loads of actors that I admire but I think my biggest inspiration have been my teachers. I was blessed to have some incredibly inspiring teachers that fed my passion and allowed me to make mistakes and grow from them. The same goes for the directors I’ve worked with.
“I love the process and the transformation and that’s why I choose to do it – I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
If you could only perform in one more play for the rest of your acting career, which play would it be and what character would you pick?
I genuinely don’t think I could do just one more play for the rest of my life; I’d get itchy feet after the first year and it would soon become stale. I think change is good. But if that was my only option, I’d have to say Stefan Golaszewski Speaks About A Girl He Once Loved. It’s a one man show that is beautifully written and intensely honest.
You have performed on screen (both film and TV) as well as on stage. Do you have a preference for either? If so, which and why?
I love all mediums for various reasons but I’d say my heart lies in theatre. It’s where I started and where I get the most back in return. I enjoy the long rehearsal process and fitting the pieces of the characters puzzle together. It’s a bit like detective work. I also love the feel of an ensemble and the work it takes in becoming a company.
What is coming up in the pipeline – future productions or opportunities – that you wish to tell us about?
I have a few exciting things in the pipeline that I’m really looking forward to. I’m filming for a Heineken commercial at the moment and in June I’m part of Herstory: Feminist Theatre Festival at Theatre N16, which is run by my fearsome friend Nastazja Somers. The festival has spiralled in such a short time and attracted attention from the major newspapers as well as voice coach Barbara Houseman.
There are a couple more things I’m dying to announce but, at the moment, my lips are sealed.