Talking Theatre: From Stella To Tom Gates - Justin Davies Interview
There’s a treat in store for fans of Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates book series this Easter as Tom and his friends leap off the printed page to star in a brand-new adventure presented by Birmingham Stage Company at Cardiff’s New Theatre.
“It’s an absolute blast and great fun!” enthuses 22-year-old actor Justin Davies to Andy Howells, who plays schoolboy Norman alongside Matthew Chase as Tom in the show.
“It’s a brand-new story and hasn’t been in any of the books before. A lot of the characters in this play have been in the books, so kids will be very familiar with the characters already.”
Although the story is brand-new, it features all the classic hallmarks from Liz Pichon’s doodles to Tom’s classroom shenanigans that have entertained young readers through 15 bestselling books. The story follows Tom as he attempts to do everything possible to stay out of trouble, but somehow has acquired three sad faces on the school achievement chart. Getting another sad face means Mr Fullerman won't let him go on the school trip to the biscuit factory. Moany Marcus Meldrew is making things worse and now Tom's annoyed his grumpy sister Delia. Even smart classmate Amy Porter won't talk to him!
Justin’s character Norman is on hand to help Tom through this difficult period and also provide support for Tom in his band, The Dog Zombies, in which he plays drums.
Justin says, “Another part of this production is the music element. I can’t sing a note to be honest!,I trained as an actor at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, but I didn’t do any kind of music training at all, so when I got the part and was told I’d be playing the drums I was like “What? Sorry?”
“But it’s all been cool. We’ve been in rehearsals and brought the whole drumkit in for practicing. So yeah, I’ve learned how to play the drums on this!”
“The music element of the show is massive. At the end we do a kind of rock concert, perform some of the songs and the audience are invited to join in, sing along.”
“It’s a comedy as well, some of these characters are funny, so I suggest any kind of family who wants to have a lovely night at the theatre can sit down and just be entertained for two hours!
Justin shot to fame as schoolboy Ben in Ruth Jones Sky One TV Series Stella, but as he reveals, becoming an actor all happened quite by chance.
Justin recalls “I was really lucky getting into Stella because a scheme with BBC Wales, It’s My Shout, came to my school in the valleys to give kids a taste in acting and held these auditions for these short films they make every year. I auditioned and got a part in Be A Man and the guy who ran that, Roger Dennell got a call from the casting director of Stella and asked me to go in and audition for Ben, Stella’s son.”
“I’m one of many when I say I was a massive fan of Gavin and Stacey, so my first audition, it was me, the casting director and the camera. The second audition I walk in for my recall and who is standing in front of me? – Ruth Jones! I thought I was going to faint! Getting to work with her for six years was incredible! The amount of advice Ruth gave me and how she settled me in to a TV set was priceless!
Justin was subsequently nominated for a Welsh BAFTA as best newcomer, something he admits was beyond his wildest dreams. As he fell into acting quite by chance, he sought advice from fellow cast members of Stella about how to progress in acting and subsequently enrolled on a course at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff.
Acting work has followed in a variety of mediums including radio and a role as Worm in the 2016 film Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
Tom Gates Live On Stage features Justin’s first major stage role and one he has embraced with enthusiasm, even turning to his younger brothers book collection when researching the role of Norman.
“I read about 4 or 5 of the books before my audition to get an idea of the world Tom Gates is in. I focussed on my character Norman and what’s mentioned about him in the books. Because it’s a new story, we all try and read Tom Gates books. We’re still swapping books on the tour now, because you’d be surprised at what some of the kids ask you and you need to be prepared for some of the questions!
Breaking new ground with the debut stage production of Tom Gates is also a big responsibility as Justin reveals.
“It’s the first time Tom Gates has been performed on stage, so these kids are seeing Tom Gates performed for the first time. They have an idea in their imagination as to what that character is.”
Tom Gates Live On Stage stops off at Cardiff’s New Theatre for a week over Easter before carrying on a tour which will keep the cast busy up until Christmas 2019. For Justin a return to Cardiff and particularly the New Theatre is exciting.
“While I was at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, we did a few voice lessons on the stage of the New (Theatre). So, it will be mad for me now having watched panto there as a kid, seeing other shows and doing voice lessons on there to be finally in a production myself! I can’t wait!”
Catch Tom Gates Live on Stage at Cardiff’s New Theatre from Wednesday 24 - Sunday 28 April 2019. For details visit newtheatrecardiff.co.uk