Love London Love Culture’s Emma Clarendon spoke to the actor about the transfer of Billy Bishop Goes to War to the Southwark Playhouse.
Hi Oliver. For those who haven’t seen Billy Bishop Goes to War could you explain a bit more about what it is about?
Basically, it concerns a retired Canadian First World War hero, a very successful pilot, looking back over his war years, and as he does so, starts to re-evaluate his life, and the circumstances that surrounded his ‘heroism’.
How are you feeling about returning to the role?
I’m very much looking forward to it. One rarely gets the opportunity to revisit a role, and with the added plus of reconnecting with the director and (in this case) the other actor, so hopefully we can add to the considerable success that we achieved with our original production.
What initially attracted you about the part?
The challenge of combining music and drama has always appealed to me, as well as the prospect of playing various different parts while remaining as the main character.
Being based on a real person’s experiences – how did you find the experience of bringing Billy Bishop to life for audiences?
Of course one has a responsibility to “The Truth” as regards Billy Bishop’s life, but one also has to remain truthful to the author’s ‘take’ on his life… so it’s a delicate balancing act, and has to be approached responsibly. The audiences were both intrigued and surprised by the play, as well as being visibly moved by it’s emotionally-charged ending.
What would you say makes Billy Bishop such an interesting character to play?
As with all the best roles in theatre, it’s his multi-faceted and deeply flawed personality which gives him such a fascination.
If people are thinking about coming along – why should they?
Many different reason. It’s a fascinating drama which examines two sides of the ‘Great War’ which are all-too-rarely examined on stage. One is the tremendous contribution given, and sacrificed, by Britain’s Commonwealth partners; and secondly, the war in the air is too-often forgotten when remembering the FirstWorld War, being overshadowed by the awful images of the ‘war on the ground’. Add to that an intriguing character-study, some comedic scenes, and a dozen very tuneful and moving songs, and you have a richly satisfyingly night at the theatre.
By Emma Clarendon
Billy Bishop Goes to War plays at the Southwark Playhouse from until 6 April 2019.