Ken Christiansen first came to my notice when he appeared as Ray Say in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at the Union Theatre. I have also had the pleasure of watching him play Grahame in The Fix where his vocal ability was completely mind-blowing. He’s an Off West End (OFFIE) nominee off the back of his performance as Grahame, so please give a warm welcome to the incredible man himself.
Hi Ken, thank you so much for talking to Break A Leg. So at the moment you are appearing as Grahame in The Fix at The Union Theatre. Tell me about the show and your character.
The Fix is a musical which was first performed at the Donmar Warehouse in 1997. This version is set in the 1960’s and the character I play is Grahame Chandler. He is a part of the American elite, he was set for Presidential office, however he developed Polio as a child, he has a nervous stammer and he’s a deeply repressed homosexual which in the 1960’s was un-presidential and his younger brother was pushed into the spotlight. He faced the rejection with stoicism, but mostly with bitterness. When he’s asked to fix it for his Nephew to run for President, his lust for power is then rekindled and it’s what ultimately leads to his downfall.
Were you familiar with the show before you took the role?
I didn’t know it at all, other than knowing that it had been commissioned by Cameron Mackintosh for the Donmar Warehouse, I wasn’t aware of it. It is an amazing show and Grahame is a great role to play. I had worked with Michael Strassen before when I played The Reciter in Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures, so I knew that we were going to have a lot of fun and his process is honest and he works with the basic building blocks of every individual performer’s ego, where childhood fears lie, he peels away layers of constraint until everything you do has a root. As a result audiences really understand the characters, it gets stark results and worked well for this production from the moment the narrative was developed off the script.
Any favourite musical numbers for you in The Fix?
A highlight has been working with a bunch of musical theatre actors. I’d say don’t be fooled, they kick regular actors into touch with their dedication. I’m very new to the musical theatre world, I cut my teeth within classical theatre, I trained at the Drama Centre in London where musical theatre is mostly frowned upon. For years I secretly harboured a desire to sing and entertain, so to get this opportunity is a blessing. It’s a physical and vocal mountain, but the rewards are really worth it and my co-stars Fra Fee, Madalena Alberto and Lucy Williamson inspire me every night.
I love the opening of act two where Grahame gets to break the fourth wall and hold court with the audience. I sing two very different numbers: Two Guys at Harvard which is a very knock about slapstick number with a tap dance on crutches, which is fun! It then segways into a much darker song First Came Mercy, it’s a showstopper that challenges the audience to look at their views towards disability and its the tipping point for Grahame where he finally gets confined to a wheelchair and discards the crutches, so it has a powerful punch and I think to write a song that reflects a poignant moment in someone’s life is a very unusual thing to do.
Ken as Ray Say Photo Credit: Scott Rylander
Prior to The Fix you played Ray Say in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice which was the last show at the old Union Theatre. Was Ray a part that you had considered playing?
Yes, I had heard a lot of good things about the Director, Alastair Knights and Ray Say was a role that I really wanted to play. I have very strong memories of seeing the original production when I was a very young man and being in awe of Pete Posthlewaite who originated the role. I’m a proud northerner myself and the idea of living for your dreams is in my DNA. In fact friends joked that I just had to be pushed on stage to play Ray. There is a good deal of Ray Say in me, of course, but he is much more of a northern braggart and philanderer.
What I wanted to do with the character of Ray was to find some warmer tones in him, I mean Ray probably has several kids of his own scattered around, and the connection that he makes with LV, although it’s mostly mercenary, there is some credibility and care attached to it. The houses I personally grew up in resembled Mari’s and I can remember house parties in the 70’s and 80’s which I used to observe from behind the sofa.
You had fantastic chemistry with Charlotte Gorton who played Mari, did you feel that the relationship developed from the start or did it grow as the show progressed?
It was there from day one, we just connected with each other and we did some really solid work, I don’t think we could have had a better Mari an the whole cast were a tight ship. The thing about Little Voice was there was nothing about it that let it down, it was remarkable in every aspect and that is quite rare when you work within the constraints of fringe theatre. The audiences we had were really moved by the piece, which was down to the power of the writing as well, it’s a modern classic, which considering it’s almost twenty five years old is quite something. I loved being able to be part of the last show at the old Union Theatre and to move across the road to the new theatre and be part of The Fix is special. I’m a lucky boy!
How many times have you performed at The Union Theatre?
Four times in the past two years, so it’s really gotten under my skin, it’s an inspiring brand to be a part of. I hope to back there again, soon – watch this space!
What inspired you to become a performer?
Apparently from being very small child I wanted to be a ballet dancer, but my father said “over my dead body” and I didn’t realise that I wanted to be one until I became obsessed with ballet about six years ago. I phoned my mother up and said I can’t stop obsessing about it and she said it was all I wanted to do but because my father was so against it I then channelled that into drama and I think it’s an accident that I ended up as an actor. I was good at it, though and people clapped so it became like a drug and I didn’t want to do anything else. I’ve been lucky enough to have made it my career and I’m very blessed.
So, finally, what will you miss most about The Fix when the show closes, tomorrow?
I’ll miss the kids, they’re such a great bunch in the ensemble, some of them are only 19 years old and it’s their first ever job and they’re full of hope and chutzpah and it’s a real tonic to be around them.
Huge thanks to lovely Ken for his time, break a leg for the final performances of The Fix!
Feature Photo Credit: Darren Bell.