The Wednesday matinee performance of Les Miserables – currently entering its twenty-sixth year in the West End – has just finished and outside the stage door, the street is already filling up with audience members wanting to meet the cast.
I’m there too, waiting for the man who is currently playing the role of Javert; Hadley Fraser, who has agreed to sit down for an interview with The Public Reviews. As he exits the theatre, programmes are thrust under his nose as the eager fans clamour for an autograph. It doesn’t seem to faze Hadley though, who makes time for each and every one of them – signing, posing for photos and happily conversing with them all.
Once he’s made it through the throng, we head to a nearby restaurant so that he can grab some dinner before the second show of the day begins. Hadley is relaxed and refreshingly down-to-earth as we chat while waiting for his food to arrive, discussing the recent closure of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s, Love Never Dies, which Hadley describes as a beautiful piece in terms of visuals, music and performances. Following The Phantom of the Opera was always going to be hard but, believing that “the core of a musical is the book,” he opines that there was something missing in the sequel, though he’s quick to add he was still sad to see it close.
In mentioning Les Mis’ alternate Valjean, Jonathan Williams, Hadley has nothing but praise for him, saying “I love going on with him, he makes it different every time; he’s amazing.” Having to go on stage when people are expecting to see Alfie Boe, sometimes travelling long distances especially for that reason, is a tough load to carry, but as Hadley says, “at the end of the show, the audience are always on their feet for him,” – a fact I can attest to as I was in such an audience myself one night. I recently interviewed Jonathan – along with Bob Gould and Chris Orton – for the feature on My Land’s Shore, a new musical which Hadley reveals he was asked to be a part of. As is often the way however, he couldn’t find the time to fit it in with what he already has going on so regrettably had to turn it down, although he enthuses over how beautiful the music is.
With only an hour allocated for a dinner break, it’s time to get on with the interview as Hadley tucks into his food. In possession of a multitude of questions to put to him, there is still only really one place to begin however…
HADLEY FRASER ON…LES MISERABLES
Hadley came into Les Miserables with the cast change in June and has received rave reviews for his portrayal of Javert, the indomitable policeman who pursues ex-convict Valjean relentlessly across the years. Including his participation in the 25th anniversary concert where he played drunken student Grantaire (a role performed so well, he’d clearly spent many nights down the pub researching it!), this is now his third stint in the show after debuting as Marius back in 2003.
You made your West End debut in Les Miserables eight years ago. What was it like to return to the show?
I’d sort of forgotten the show. It’s not one I knew very well before I did Marius. Also the characters of Marius and Javert are so separate – I think I had no more than about 20 seconds of shared stage time with Marius, so it wasn’t a part I knew very well at all. It’s almost like doing a new show that I haven’t done before. Obviously, doing the O2 (Les Mis 25th anniversary concert) reminded me a little bit of the show and how much my heart was with it. It’s a very special show; it’s one of those ones I hoped that I’d go back to one day and do one of the older parts – I wouldn’t necessarily have thought it quite this soon, but that’s just the way it goes. Sometimes those surprises just come along. I thought I’d do Valjean, you know, a few years down the line…but Cameron (Mackintosh) obviously thought otherwise.
There’s still time…
Maybe! Although Valjean seems like a lot of hard work now, he barely leaves the stage! Javert’s wonderful; you can just go on stage, have a bit of a glamour-moment and then go take a seat.
You bring a lot of intensity to your performance as Javert. What was your process when deciding how to play him – did you read the book?
Yeah I read the book! I was very conscious that there was a set way of casting Javert as this big, tall tree-trunk of a man and I’m not that guy. I’m not like Norm Lewis, it’s just not who I am. So I went back to the novel and thought, “Is there another side to this guy that we can bring out?” There was a quote that I found, “Give to this dog-son of a wolf a human face, and the result will be Javert” and that stuck with me. There’s an animalistic quality to Javert that I thought I could bring out and, sometimes you go too far with that stuff and you think, “Alright, maybe I was a little bit too aggressive in that moment”. But I think part of the reason I was brought in to play the part is to do something different with it. Every new person coming in likes to think they’re doing something different with it; I’m not re-inventing the wheel, but I had to look at it from a slightly different angle as I’m not the usual Javert part.
A lot of people will ‘see’ Javert as Norm Lewis in the O2 25th anniversary concert.
Yeah, everyone has that picture in their minds. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that what’s gone on before is wrong; it’s like approaching any part done before, people do it in a different way. How many Shakespeare’s have we seen where someone will see Lear one way and create a megalomaniac and someone else will play him as a slightly misunderstood patriarch?
I wouldn’t necessarily say I’ve gotten to the bottom of Javert yet. I don’t think Javert is inherently evil, I think he’s just massively misunderstood. He has his version of justice and what is right and is animalistic about how he establishes that.
Well you’ve certainly discovered new areas of Javert – I hear he has a first name…
When I first tweeted about coming back to the show, I used the name ‘Roy Javert’ and it’s taken on a life of its own. His name IS Roy Javert. I found a first folio of Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Miserable’ and in that, he’s actually called Roy!
You’ve come into Les Miserables as part of a strong cast, i.e. Matt Lucas and Alfie Boe. What has your experience of working with them been like?
With Alfie and Matt coming in, it was a reinvigoration of the show almost. Again, that’s not to disparage those who’ve come before, but it was a special time for me to come in really. It certainly made it an attractive option for me to come and play opposite them! They’re a delight, onstage and off. I’ve shared a dressing room with Matt for eleven weeks now and gotten to know him quite well and that’s been great. It’s always such a rush to witness them onstage night in, night out, because they’re very special performers. I almost feel like an audience member, even though I’m onstage.
And it’s Matt’s last week in Les Mis now. Have you got anything planned for a Muck-Up Matinee?
No, I actually think Matt’s got stuff planned! I’m not a big lover of muck-up matinees. I used to be but I think, if something’s funny then you should have done it by now. You can’t take yourself too serious though, there’s always room for a sense of humour, but there are going to be people at that performance who maybe haven’t seen the show before and want to experience it for the first time. I’m sure there’s something planned – knowing Matt, it will be something very funny but very subtle.
HADLEY FRASER ON…SHEYTOONS
Music is a big part of Hadley’s life; listening to it, singing it, playing it… Ramin Karimloo once said that Hadley is one of those people who can pick up any instrument and just play it; a natural musician. The two have been friends since Ramin understudied for him in Les Mis 2003 and have become something of a sensation with their folk/rock/bluegrass band, Sheytoons. The name is a Farsi saying which means to, ‘climb down from the Devil’s donkey’.
Sheytoons write all their own songs and, since their first gig at Lauderdale House in October of last year, have brought in more people to perform with them: Rosalie Craig (vocals); Tom Deering (keys); Nick Pini (bass); Graeme Fox (drums); Jess Murphy/Sonya Cullingford (fiddle) AND Joe Huby/Harry Cargill (banjo), as they develop the acoustic sound they originated with.
It was during your first stint in Les Miserables that you met Ramin (Karimloo), who you formed Sheytoons with. When did you both start writing together?
Last summer. Ramin had got his album deal with Sony and he really wanted to write some of his own stuff, but was a little unsure about which direction to go in, so he invited me in. I’ve been playing with bands for years; I’ve played guitar for 25 years or so. It was also because I’d been away for three years and we hadn’t seen much of one another, so it was an excuse to hang out really, and to create something artistically as well. Lots of people talk about setting up a band or doing an album, then never get round to doing it. I think there’s that North American desire and willpower to actually make that happen; Ramin said to me, “We’re not going to just talk about it, we’re going to do it.” It’s been a slightly different result though; it’s not going on the CD as that’s going in a different direction. We’re both so busy at the moment that it’s unfortunately been put on a bit of a backburner. It won’t ever go away, we’re always batting around ideas and we’ll hopefully sort out some more gigs for later in the year when we’re both free a bit more.
A lot of people have been asking for a Sheytoons album.
We’d love to do it! It’s one of those things that, to really do it to the quality we’d like to, instead of speeding it out there, we’d have to take two weeks and go to a studio somewhere in the middle of nowhere with the band and get it down, with a producer on board. That takes time, it takes money and the project hasn’t yet found its feet in that way. We will one day record it, of that I’m sure. It’s just a question of when it will happen – by that time, Ramin will hopefully be able to play the banjo (laughs) and we’ll have enough tracks that we’re happy with to be able to fill a whole album.
It started off with you, Ramin and a couple of guitars, but the band’s grown a lot since then hasn’t it?
There are a number of regular members now, not just Ramin and I. There’s my partner Rosie and Tom Deering, who I play in another band with (Knights of Hyperbole). They’re all equally busy in their own right: Tom’s out on the Grease tour at the moment; Rosie’s just finished at the National… It’s always a question of being able to get everyone together; it’s very, very hard.
HADLEY FRASER ON…HADLEY FRASER!
Many people won’t know that Hadley didn’t originally plan to work in the entertainment industry. He actually wanted to be a journalist but decided to pursue his ‘hobby’ after university; a road his fans will surely be very glad he travelled down. There’s more to Hadley than just musicals and Sheytoons however. He has enjoyed a varied and well-chosen career path since graduating from the Royal Academy of Music, including a move to America where he spent a couple of years on Broadway and doing TV work. Not only limiting himself to across the pond however, Hadley has also ventured into the world of television in the UK – who could forget his untimely death at the hands of those dastardly Cybermen in Doctor Who?
A big passion of Hadley’s has also been new writing, something which he has steadfastly advocated. Having offered his support to many a new writer, he is also dipping his toe into the inky waters of the writing pool himself as the book writer for Houdini, a new musical based on the life of escapologist extraordinaire, Harry Houdini. Created by Jamie Allan and Simon Wheeler, the musical – which also features Ramin Karimloo in the cast – was recently work-shopped in August.
Speaking of albums – any plans to do one of your own?
Of course; it’s something that I’ve always thought about. I don’t think I’d do a musical theatre album per say, it’s not who I am outside of work. My outside interest is not really ‘that way’ musically. I think I would do my own writing and maybe also some writers I’ve worked with who, have written musical theatre stuff, but are a little bit more of songwriters; people like Scott Alan, Dougal Irvine and Grant Olding.
Dougal is working on his album now. Are you singing anything on there?
He asked me to but again, it’s just one of those things that, if you commit to too much, then you end up not doing your best work. Rosie and I were going to sing a duet on it actually, but I’m sure he’s found someone equally fabulous to do it.
Dougal and I were at university together actually, we go way, way back. Our lives are entwined; we don’t see each other for ages and then suddenly we’re working together again. In that time when I was away in America, he really took off and I think it’s absolutely valid as he’s such a wonderful writer. He’s very funny and touching at the same time and he’s getting the success he deserves.
You’ve been very supportive of new writing. You’ve worked with Dougal obviously, as well as Bobby Cronin, Scott Alan and doing The Great British Musical concert…
With Scott, that was the thing that really made it take off in the first place. He came to see me on Broadway in The Pirate Queen; he’s very good friends with Stephanie J. Block who I was in it with. I didn’t know who he was, but he sent me this song and it was absolutely amazing. Fair do’s to Scott, that’s opened a few doors here and there; I’m probably more known in America for that than anything else.
I think that supporting new writing is absolutely crucial. I do as much of it as I can but again, when you’re doing your own thing you can’t do it all. You want to do your best for someone if they ask you to do it.
You recently work-shopped the new musical Houdini, which you’re also writing the book for. Can you talk about that?
It was kept quiet for a while because there were a few issues with investors and things. I’ve never done script-writing before but I didn’t want that to be a reason not to do it – I like to try new things and stretch myself by branching out a bit. There’s a lot to pull together when working on a big show like this. Houdini has lots of collaborations between the music, the book, the magic… I would like to work on something smaller at some point, by myself, as well.
With Houdini, we had hoped to get it ready for early next year but it’s looking more likely to be next autumn instead. That’s probably better really, it gives us more time to get it just how we want it.
Mark Shenton (The Stage) came in during the workshop; it was kind of scary having a critic there at such an early stage, but Mark has seen everything and knows his stuff. It was nice that he came along.
What was it like to work over in America for a few years?
I loved it, I’m glad I had the opportunity. I was very lucky; to be plucked out of relative obscurity to do The Pirate Queen on Broadway was absolutely astonishing. It didn’t have the success I hoped it might have as there were problems with it, but it had a beautiful score. I just think it wasn’t the right time for that show unfortunately.
It’s still talked about quite a lot.
There are a few songs from it – one of Stephanie’s and one of mine – that are still done very often at auditions and cabarets and things. They love it in Japan, there’s been a few productions there. I don’t know if they’ve changed any of it but yeah, they love it – I’m glad somebody does!
I’d go back and live in New York at the drop of a hat if the right thing came along. After The Pirate Queen went under, I’d had enough of musical theatre and stage work for a while and decided to go down a different track.
Matt’s heading out to LA soon, so I might go over and see him at some point.
You seem to choose your theatre work very carefully; before The Fantasticks, you hadn’t done musical theatre for five years. You’ve said in the past that you want to be seen as an actor and not just a ‘musical theatre’ actor?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud to be a part of the musical theatre community. There are some people out there who say, “I don’t do musical theatre,” yet everything on their CV is musical theatre; I’m proud of all the musical theatre that I’ve done and I get a kick out of performing it. I’ve always wanted to do different things, mainly because I get bored quite easily!
I was so glad I had the opportunity to do a TV show in LA for six months because I didn’t really know what that world was. I’ve done a few bits of TV over here, but nothing major; like, one episode of Doctor Who and that was it! But now I feel I could go onto any set and know what to expect and how to perform in that circumstance. I think that if you want to have a career that lasts into later on in life, it’s crucial to have a big breadth of things on a CV. It also gives you a wider scope as an actor and a bigger palette to choose from; life gives you more colours to paint with. It’s a horrible analogy, but doing different media allows you to select your brush. For me, it’s all part of the process. I wouldn’t want to paint the same picture all the time. I’d tell people that; I’m an actor, but one who does musical theatre quite frequently.
HADLEY’S FAN QUESTIONS
Opening up the floor to the people who are following him on his journey, fans of Hadley were given the chance to send in those burning questions they had always wanted to know the answer to (everyone was very well-behaved; there wasn’t one inappropriately personal question among them!). If every single question sent in had been used, Hadley may still have been sat there during Les Mis’ evening performance and the Queen’s Theatre would have had a rather upset audience on their hands, so just a handful of them could be selected:
1) Did you audition for Javert and if so, what was your audition song?
(sent in by Sandy Carnavale)
I did audition for Javert, but only after they’d asked me to audition specifically for the part, so I used ‘Stars’ – and ‘The Confrontation’ actually. I had to audition with Alfie – (No pressure then…) I know! There were a couple of moments when I looked at him and just went, “You’re Alfie Boe. I’m singing with Alfie Boe.” I had to stop because I forgot my words!
2) What’s your dream role in any show?
(sent in by Hayley-Hope Newman)
Maybe ‘Sweeney Todd’ one day. I’d like to play Todd. I think that’s a few years down the line though. Other than that, not really. I’ve made a point of doing a lot of new stuff and that’s what I love really.
3) What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made onstage?
(sent in by Eleanor Brooke)
I did perform once with – in Les Mis you have these trousers with flaps on that basically cover up your privates and one day, I did it with the flap down and didn’t realise, and I had pink underwear on. Once I got offstage, I realised my pink pants were on show to the entire audience.
I did get stuck at the top of the gate once as Marius, before ‘Heart Full of Love – it always seems to be on this show! My trousers got stuck, again with the trousers… They got caught on the gate, so I had to do the first verse of ‘Heart Full of Love’ from the top of the gate. The Cosette was in stitches.
4) (One from the American fan base) Do you plan to work or tour in America again?
(sent in by Louisa Jo)
Yes, but it would have to be the right thing. I’m getting to that stage of my life now where the personal life has to match the professional as well, so if I could go out there with Rosie then that might work out. I’d absolutely love to go back out there though. I’ve had a couple of enquiries about Broadway shows but, either the timing hasn’t been right or it hasn’t been the right show.
5) Why doesn’t Google know what a ‘tondara’ is?
(sent in by Carrie Purewal)
THAT I’m afraid will have to remain secret! It’s a made-up word of my dad’s and it’s on my Twitter purely for my dad’s amusement.
There are so many more questions that could have been asked: “Is he vying for a part in the Les Miserables movie?”, “What does he really think about those Hadley Fraser parody videos that keep popping up on Twitter?” and “Is he secretly irked that Ramin has become such a huge name, even though he began as his understudy?” Sadly though, these are answers that will have to wait to be discovered another day as it’s time for Hadley to return to the Queen’s and transform himself back into everyone’s favourite French policeman.
Before he leaves though, Hadley makes mention of a big announcement that should be revealed any day now. What is this big announcement? Well – you’ll just have to wait and see!
Interview by Julie Robinson
For more news and details on Hadley Fraser, you can visit www.hadleyfraser.com.
Tickets for Les Miserables are available at www.lesmisofficial.com.
Photo of Hadley taken by David NolesINTERVIEW: Ten Minutes with Hadley Fraser,
Tags: Alfie Boe, Bobby Cronin, Dougal Irvine, Grant Olding, Hadley Fraser, Houdini, Interview, Jamie Allan, Jonathan Williams, Les Miserables, Mark Shenton, Matt Lucas, Musical, Norm Lewis, Ramin Karimloo, Rosalie Craig, Scott Alan, Sheytoons, Simon Wheeler, Stephanie J. Block, Sweeney Todd, The Pirate Queen, Theatre, Tom Deering, Victor Hugo