Rising musical theatre star Dom Hartley-Harris only graduated from drama school two years ago and is already performing in his third major production. After Beautiful and Bat Out of Hell in the West End, he opens alongside John Owen-Jones this week in the world premiere of Tiger Bay at the Wales Millennium Centre.
Tell us about your character in Tiger Bay.
I play Themba. He is a man from South Africa who has come to Cardiff to work. He is running from his past and has a secret that has turned him into the man he is today. He is trying to keep his head down and get his work done when he meets a little boy called Ianto, who changes his life; and a shop girl called Rowena.
Themba is defined by the pain he’s suffered. It’s not a happy time for him. He’s also living in an era where people had to work incredibly hard. They would come home at 11pm and be back in work at 4am. It was so tough for these people.
I really relate to Themba coming from a place that is different and finding himself here in Cardiff. My mum is mixed race. Her mum was from Yorkshire and her dad was from Barbados. My dad is from Jamaica. I also grew up in Birmingham which is one of the most multi-cultural places in the UK. So I have a real fusion of cultures in my life.
What’s it like being involved in a completely new musical?
On one hand, being in a new show is hard because you have not got that point of reference for the music or the characters or how it’s supposed to be played.
But that’s also a blessing because everyone is creating this world together without any preconceived notions. When the music is played for the first time we are all listening to the music for the first time. No one knows what it’s supposed to sound like.
It is an incredible experience being around people who are all building this world together.
All of my jobs have been so different but I have never worked on anything that has as much heart and as much gumption as this. The story is emotional and a lot of the songs come from that emotion. You’ll definitely need your tissues!
This is your third musical since graduating from drama school following roles in Bat Out Of Hell and Beautiful: The Carole King Story. Did you always aspire to work in musical theatre?
I was always watching musical films as a child but I’d never thought of it as a career. I was going to be an actor. I was around 15 or 16 when I started doing theatre. I did a BTEC in performing arts and then I went to Birmingham School of Acting to do a BA Honours in acting. But singing I had never thought of.
I never knew my voice in the way people who have done musical theatre from a young age do. Since graduating I have done three musicals. It’s as much a surprise to me as it is to others who know me.
What would your dream musical theatre role be?
I’d love to play Javert in Les Misérables. In Tiger Bay, I am performing with John Owen-Jones who, for many people, is the ultimate Valjean. I’d love to star opposite him and play his nemesis.
How do you manage being away from home for several months at a time while performing?
My five-year-old son is in Birmingham so I go back every weekend. I’ve been doing that for three years now. I see him every chance I get. He’s been to see all my shows and will be coming with my family to see Tiger Bay.
How are you finding life in Cardiff?
I love the people here. They are all so friendly and nice to talk to. They talk to you as if you have known them for ages even if you have just met them. It’s so different to London where I was previously living. We are currently spending so much time in rehearsals but as soon as the show opens and I have the day times free I am looking forward to exploring the city. I really want to see Cardiff Castle.
In Tiger Bay, Dom’s character Themba has a close relationship with Seamus O’Rourke, played by Noel Sullivan. Watch the video on how the actors have been getting along.