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~ Interview (30/09/04) ~


Michael Ball will be reprieving Alone Together, his Donmar Divas show (with some changes) at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, this week, as part of the Singular Sensations season. We went to meet him...

Is the show you're doing at the Haymarket going to be a surprise for your regular fans?

"Not if they saw it at the Donmar! Otherwise, yes, it might be, because the original remit Sam Mendes gave me at the Donmar was to do something different, and I came up with a structure, and songs, that were rather darker than people might have expected. I loved the experience, being in a stripped-back theatre, being so exposed, so close to the audience. The Haymarket is bigger and has a different feel but still has an intimacy about it, and I'm looking forward to it."

Does playing a small venue make you more nervous than a large one?

"When you're in a vast stadium, with say 80.000 people, then it's rather ludicrous - you can't be nervous about that. When you're on a small stage, eye to eye with the audience, then you have to open up to them, there's just you, your voice and a piano, so you have to be completely honest with them.

"And that's great both for you as a performer and for the audience, too. I have fans who come to my concerts and to any musicals that I'm in, and they have a certain idea of me, but also a more distant relationship in terms of the staging. When they came to the Donmar it was a very different experience for them, as it will be in a way at the Haymarket. They realised that I was giving them a very personal evening of songs, that they needed to connect and relate to me and the material in a more intense way rather than sitting back and relaxing to the tunes - so I could see them literally sitting forward in their seats at the Donmar! And I hope they have a similar experience at the Theatre Royal."

Do you have a very active fan club?

"Yes! They're very proactive, they have a great web-site, and they've come to form a sort of community, a very supportive one where they all get to know each other, and are friends with each other and support each other as well as coming to se me."

You tend to make CDs and go on concert tours - and make television shows - rather than appear on stage. How do you feel about theatre and will you be in another stage musical soon?

"I love the theatre, and though the money's definitely much better with concerts and television, if the right part is available then I'll be back on stage soon. There has been talk, for example, of taking Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to Broadway, and I'd like to do that, but not for the eighteen months that's currently being discussed. A shorter time, and I'd be up for it!"

There's something about being part of a community in a show...

"There is. That first day of rehearsals when you meet the rest of the cast, the sense of being part of a team...I liked all that about Chitty, though there's also a responsibility, as the lead role, to set an example for the rest of the company, in the sense of being the first in and last out when it comes to rehearsals, and in keeping cheerful and so setting the tone of the atmosphere backstage. There's also the fact that if a show doesn't work then your head is the highest above the parapet, so you take the blame.

"But that's the potential downside. The upside is that sense of community, and the fun of going out as a group after the show. Generally I'll head for home but if I do go out it's to the usual suspects - the Ivy, the Caprice. At the weekends I go down to the coast, where I have a house, and relax there."

You're still thought of, by many people, in relation to 'Love Changes Everything'. What's your take on that? Does it irritate you or is it just part of the deal, as it were?

I honestly didn't realise what an impact the song would have, or what it would come to mean to so many people. When Andrew sat me down in front of a piano and played it to me, he said "This is going to be a big hit". I realised it was a good tune but I didn't at all anticipate how big a hit it would be!

"That show, Aspects of Love, and that song, 'Love Changes Everything', were a turning point for me, they opened up so much to me, and to my career as an artist, so I can't be anything but grateful to them, and if the song means so much to people, as it does - they have it at weddings, and at funerals - then that's great. It's better than being known for a song that's a flop!"

Roger Moore was originally going to be in Aspects of Love, and when he pulled out of the show, before it opened, he specifically praised you and said you were going to be a star. So presumably you got on well during rehearsals? "

Yes! He was great fun, and very much like the persona he brought to the Bond movies - urbane, stylish, witty, intelligent. We had a lot of fun in rehearsals and he had a good voice. He would have been ideal for the part of Uncle George, but I think the problem was he wasn't at all used to the rehearsal process for a musical - it was a completely new experience for him, as I think he's only been in one ply in his career, and that had been at the very start.

"Being a movie star and performing in films is a wholly different thing, a different process, from being on stage. It broke his heart to leave, but he felt he should, and though I respect his decision I'd have loved him to have stayed and to have confounded the critics by turning in the sort of performance I knew he could."

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