PREVIEW: The Lion in the Winter (The Pumphouse Theatre)

L to R: Brendan Lovell (King Philip II), Alex Walker ( Geoffrey), Emma Fenton (Princess Alais), Erroll Shand (King Henry II), Elliot Wrightson (Richard the Lionheart), Louise Wallace (Eleanor of Aquitaine) and Daniel Bonner (John).

A timeless classic [by Sharu Delilkan]

L to R: Brendan Lovell (King Philip II), Alex Walker ( Geoffrey), Emma Fenton (Princess Alais), Erroll Shand (King Henry II), Elliot Wrightson (Richard the Lionheart), Louise Wallace (Eleanor of Aquitaine) and Daniel Bonner (John).

Although The Lion in the Winter has been around since the 1960s, it’s actor Brendan Lovell‘s first time acting in, let alone reading the play.

The 27-year-old actor admits he had never heard of American playwright James Goldman’s play, that debuted on Broadway in 1966, until the audition.

But he’s by no means new to acting. Far from it, Lovell’s been in the public eye since popping out of an oven as The Gingerbread Man at age 4.

And even though he didn’t go straight into acting following high school, his long hiatus came to a close in 2010 when he found himself back on stage in a series of pantomime plays, while studying screen acting at the South Seas Film and Television School.

“I didn’t realise how much I missed the buzz of being on stage until I did those pantomimes. I was playing a musician in Pinocchio and the reaction from the kids who booed me off stage and wouldn’t let me sing the song was absolutely amazing,” he said.

Having been bitten by the acting bug again, Lovell has recently been in Galatea Theatre’s productions of Speed Daters and Mrs Van Gogh. He has also recently been learning the Chekov technique under the tutelage of director/actor Elena Stejko at the Actors Studio.

So when the opportunity presented itself for Lovell to audition for King Philip II in The Lion in the Winter, it was a no brainer.

“I decided to watch the film to get familiar with it and absolutely loved the clever dialogue – especially the amount of venom in each of the lines which is very effective. I also loved the power play between everyone which was very interesting to watch,” he says.

Lovell’s keen interest in the script obviously shone through, evident by director Rob Owen’s comment that Lovell was the first to be cast out of all the characters during the audition.

“He basically nailed it from the minute he walked in. From the moment opened his mouth you could see that he had just got the character down pat. We had some very good people audition for King Philip II but no one had the slant that he came in with it. He had the physicality of a snake’s movement, something not an easy thing to define but what he had brought to the character was not only the right personality but an ability to manipulate himself physically in keeping with King Philip II’s snake-like character,” says director Owen.

Although originally set in France during the 12th Century, Tadpole Productions’ version has uplifted The Lion in the Winter from its medieval context and brought it into the 21st century.

“Dysfunctional Royal families transcend millennia and warring families at Christmas in any era makes for great theatre,” says Owens.

The story is about the manipulation between Henry, Eleanor, their three surviving sons Richard, Geoffrey, and John as well as their guest, King Philip II of France (the son of Eleanor’s ex-husband, King Louis VII of France). It also involves King Philip II’s half-sister Allays, who has been at court since she was betrothed to Richard at age eight, but has since become Henry’s mistress.

Lovell has really enjoyed working with the other cast members that include Daniel Bonner, Emma Fenton, Erroll Shand, Alex Walker, Louise Wallace and Elliot Wrightson. He has had particular fun working with Erroll Shand (NZ Underbelly).

“It was a bit surreal at first working with Erroll, having previously watched him as Terry Clark on Underbelly and recently on The Almighty Johnsons. But I always like working with experienced actors because you learn a lot from them,” says Lovell.

Owen is equally happy with the pairing. He says that Lovell and Shand bounce off each other perfectly.

“Both the guys have the ability to know if one makes an offer the other one responds to it. Watching them in rehearsal brings a smile to my face every time.”

Tadpole Productions’ The Lion in the Winter debuts at The Pumphouse from 31 May to 9 June. Details see The Pumphouse Theatre

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