THE FULL MONTY – OCTOBER 10-15
Best-known as an Albert Square heart-throb, Jack Ryder remains a big name in the acting world with a sterling reputation behind the scenes. He is directing an all-star cast in The Full Monty and he bares all (not literally!) to Vicky Edwards explaining more about the production, his time in Walford and why he is looking forward to bringing his latest production to Norwich. Jack Ryder has phenomenal attention to detail. Lucky enough to inveigle my way into his rehearsal room to watch him work with the cast of the brand new tour of The Full Monty, I marvel at how he picks up on the smallest nuances. But each time he stops to ask an actor to try something differently, the subsequent re-run is immediately enriched, the dialogue more sparkling and the character more credible.
“Even when I watched movies as a kid I always noticed the scene itself rather than the actors. As a director I do go very much into the detail of things because then something magical starts to take place,” he explains. Running my eye over his CV, it confirms what I have witnessed during the morning’s rehearsal: Jack has come a long way since getting bumped off as Jamie Mitchell in EastEnders in 2002.
“Directing was something that was always whispering to me,” he admits. “As Spielberg once said, the things you choose to do in life don’t usually come in loud shouts or chants; they come in whispers and you need to listen hard for them. I think directing had been whispering to me for a while but it took me time to hear.”
Initially hired to act in the smash-hit stage production of Calendar Girls, Jack became increasingly fascinated with directing. Spotting both his talent and his interest, the producers promptly hired him as Assistant Director on the subsequent tour.
So where does his talent stem from – is he from theatrical stock?
“No, not at all,” he laughs. “I was very late coming to theatre – being a 90s kid I grew up watching movies on cable telly. My dad occasionally took me to the opera, but I found it quite boring and so I’d sit and play with my toy cars instead,” he confesses.
Wanting a break from the limelight after EastEnders, Jack spent the next four years acting in theatre productions.
“I never trained as an actor so everything I know I have learned hands-on. EastEnders came about by accident when I was sixteen. I went to a workshop with a mate who wanted to audition and I got spotted. I’d never even done a school play before then,” he grins.
In which case, Jack’s school definitely missed a trick when this little cracker was on their roll, because, as well as directing Act of Memory, a short film that attracted huge interest and that was selected for a host of international festivals, including the famous Cannes Film Festival, as an actor he has done everything from Shakespeare to farce. On television he’s popped up in shows like Holby City, Popcorn and In the Club, while on the radio he has even done a stint on The Archers.
But while Jack’s school drama teacher kicks him/herself, their former pupil is focussed absolutely on The Full Monty, the movie version of which became an instant hit in 1997.
So what makes this tale of Sheffield steel workers who form a strip troupe such an enduring story?
“It’s the writing,” he says, without hesitation. “Simon Beaufoy [who also wrote the award-winning film] really gets that balance between comedy and heartfelt truth. You have drama and big moments and then on the next page you find hilarious comedy. He is so clever at that light and shade, and also at writing in a way that means that actors and directors connect so readily with the material that it makes the process of getting it on its feet so easy – it’s all just there.
“And it endures because of its truth. You can take off all the clothes in the world but if the audience hasn’t been on the journey and believed every moment then it won’t amount to a thing; you’ll never get that incredible reaction. At that final dance they don’t just think ‘Yay! We’re at a strip show!’ The audience has followed these characters and they’re watching Lomper, Gaz, Dave and the boys; they’re with them and they believe them.”
And he won’t stand for any of the lads overplaying that final scene, no matter how vocal the audience is.
“My hand is extremely tight on the reigns when it comes to the cast staying in character and forgetting the audience completely,” he says, a note of sternness creeping into his voice.
“But I have cast some amazing actors and so as a director I don’t have to get too mechanical; the boys bring an authenticity to the rehearsal room that is a breath of fresh air.”
Joking that, having directed Calendar Girls and now The Full Monty, I can see a theme developing, and asking if he is known as the go-to director for any show that involves actors getting their kit off, in response Jack throws back his handsome head and laughs.
“If anyone hears about a play that has nudity in it, they ask if Jack Ryder is directing! But actually I was involved in The Full Monty on stage at the very start of its development, which is why I feel especially protective and proud of it.”
His pride is more than justified. Moving me to tears one moment and then to helpless laughter the next, this is a show that absolutely deserves its ‘not-to-be-missed’ reviews.
Of the tour itself, which runs until April 2017, Jack is delighted that the show will be ‘back by popular demand’ at some theatres including Norwich from October 10-15.
He has particular affection for the city crediting his mum and Steve Coogan for his appreciation of the fine city. He said: “My mum loves Norwich and she keeps telling me that she wants to move there. She’s always visiting. And then there’s Alan Partridge – I grew up with Alan Partridge and I love him! I also directed Calendar Girls there.
“Norwich is one of those places that when you’re on the train heading there you get a very good feeling. It is a city I am very fond of and I’ll definitely be popping in to see the cast there.”
Needing to return to rehearsals to work on the scene in which the boys remove their ‘undercrackers’ for the first time, before he goes, I ask Jack what he does for fun and relaxation.
“I don’t get much down time, but when I do I spend it with my family and developing little projects. I’ve just written a novel,” he shrugs, suddenly shy, before saying goodbye and thanking me for my time.
Unpretentious, supremely talented and a genuinely lovely guy, I assure you, Mr Ryder, the pleasure really is all mine.
The Full Monty, Monday 10-Saturday 15 October at 7.30pm, and Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2.30pm. Tickets £8-£32.50. Discounts for Friends, Corporate Club, Over-60s, Under-18s, and Groups. Captioned performance at 2.30pm on Wednesday 12 October.
To book, call the box office on 01603 630000 or log onto http://www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk