The Reviews Hub’s Rich Jevons talks to veteran actor Andy Hockley about playing Grandpa Potts in the new stage adaptation of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at West Yorkshire Playhouse.
Had you seen the film before taking on the rôle of Grandpa Potts?
Yes, I remember when it first came out! I saw it in the cinema when it was released in 1968 and I was eight years old. Since then, I’ve seen it umpteen times on the television.
What do you thinkis the lasting appeal of the story?
I think what James Brining managed to bring out with the stage version is basically about a fractured family. It is very odd, one of the actresses playing Jemima said very early on in rehearsals, which made us open our eyes quite wide: “There are no mummies in this”.
And she’s absolutely right. There’s the Baroness, who hates children, and there’s no mention of truly’s mother, and of course, the children don’t have a mother. So they are quite a fractured family and I think it’s the way the story is told that is quite cathartic. I think the lasting appeal is of hope, reconciliation and fantasy.
It changed from Ian Fleming’s original story once Roald Dahl got hold of it, he made it a lot darker. The Child Catcher doesn’t exist in the original story. The things that are important in the story have changed over the years, but I think it has a universal appeal.
What has it been like working with James Brining?
James wanted to give the story more depth from square one. You think of it as being quite light and fluffy. But actually, there is that theme of a widower trying to bring up two children. Then, for whatever reason, they end up living with his old dad who is bonkers as well. In addition, there’s the effect that truly has on them, he wanted to give her a lot more significance. So it’s been really interesting to work on.
Can you tell us a bit about your character, Grandpa Potts?
He has obviously been out in the Empire, he has been to India and he is reliving it. He is a bit bonkers! But he’s very patriotic and is a model for the two children. He is high on morals and aspires to be posh and aristocratic. He would love to be something that he isn’t.
What has it been like working with the ensemble and the creative team?
It has been great because we all learn off each other. I’ve been in the business 31 years now and you never stop learning from watching how people work. We all approach the work differently and work at different paces, but everyone is geared up to making the best production. The dance ensemble is just amazing. They work so hard and are so talented. It has been a fantastic company to work with.
I’ve known the choreographer Stephen Mears for years, I worked with him when he was an actor. He is arguably one of the best choreographers in the world, not just in this country. His work is globally recognised. The quality of the creative team is breath-taking. Simon Wainwright’s work on the projection and the way he has worked in conjunction with the designer and the lighting designer so that everything flows and works together, I think is just stunning.
So you are actually touring for a year?
Yes, it is like a life sentence! But I’ve toured before and my wife is very understanding. I Facebook her every now and then, to remind her what I look like! I’m used to being away, it is part and parcel of my work. We probably get more quality time together than if I was at home. Of course, the downside if I was at home, is that I would be unemployed. You have to go where the work is.
Is it nice to be doing a family show at Christmas?
Yes. I’ve got a history of doing panto at the Coventry Belgrade for 16 years. But what has been lovely about doing this in Leeds, is the sense of nostalgia from the audience. People know all the tunes and bring their children and pass the nostalgia on to them. A whole new generation of children is enjoying what is a fantastic story.