Billed as ‘a classic rock musical of Shakespearean proportions’, brand new musical Knights of the Rose is set to charge its way into The Arts Theatre, London on 29 June for a nine-week run. Leading man Andy Moss, best known for his long-term run playing Rhys Ashworth in Channel 4’s Hollyoaks, took some time out of a very busy rehearsal schedule to chat to Nicole Craft about the show.
To go from eight years in a soap opera to playing lead roles in big musical productions is quite the jump, but was it always going to be theatre for Andy? “I originally trained in theatre but my first proper job was for two years in Cutting It, remember that show about hairdressers? I’m very used to TV but it’s nice to come back to theatre…it’s a chance to brush up on my Shakespeare [too], I trained a lot in Shakespeare at college, so it’s nice to have a chance to go back to my roots”. “As an actor, you never really know what job is going to come up next so it’s great to have experience in different things”, he adds, expressing his gratitude for the opportunities he has been given so far.
For this production, Andy is taking on the role of Gawain, one of the noble Knights of the Rose who are out to defend their house and their honour. With language like epic, glorious, chivalrous and triumph used in the general synopsis, it’s clear this is meant to be a big, powerhouse production but Andy says his character isn’t all guts and glory, however, and part of his role is to try and hide his inner-old-romantic from his comrades and try not to show his weaknesses.
Although he only has two songs to sing – Bed of Roses, a duet he says showcases his character’s softer side, and Blaze of Glory, – the addition of a live band on-stage and the general nature of the genre means they are still significant vocal challenges. “Although it’s actually nowhere near as song-heavy as Ghost, I think I had seven songs in that, I still have to do it eight times a week and so it’s bound to be a stretch on the vocal chords”, Andy says, pointing out that some of his co-stars have much bigger tasks taking on some cracking songs with operatic ranges to boot. With a score including classics from Bon Jovi, Muse, Black Sabbath and Bonnie Tyler, the production is certainly packed full of entertainment potential and Andy agrees it is almost set-list in nature; “It is like a set-list, it’s almost like playing a gig…because it’s in The Arts Theatre as well, it all feels really intimate”.
Having grown up surrounded by some of the classic rock songs that feature in Knights of the Rose – being in rock bands at college and having a dad who used to “belt them out in the car” – Andy admits he was certainly attracted to the musical side of the production, although it wasn’t his only reason for feeling so excited about the role; “I’ve wanted to work with Racky Plews for a long time”, he explains, “I’d seen lots of her work and it was the perfect opportunity”. Add to this the challenge of a brand-new role to make his own and the aforementioned coming full circle to return to theatre, it felt like an ideal next step for him to take.
As previously mentioned, this isn’t Andy’s debut in terms of musical theatre and his first foray saw him diving headlong into the role of Sam Wheat in a national tour of Ghost the Musical; another role he was partly attracted to for the production’s somewhat rocky, gravelly score. But is taking on something that is completely new to everybody better or worse than tackling something so well-established? He picks neither but instead settles on “it is more interesting”. “Ghost was amazing and a fantastic first gig to have got, but I was told where to stand and how to look… I have absolutely no disrespect for Ghost at all, but being able to make a role my own is fantastic. It’s nice seeing everyone getting excited, say if I miss off the end of a line, or sing a song a little bit more gravelly”.
With the jump from Hollyoaks to Ghost being arguably bigger than the jump from Ghost to Knights of the Rose, and Hollyoaks not exactly giving much by way of an opportunity to showcase one’s voice, were there ever any elements of not being taken seriously in that first audition? “I like to think I got the part on my own merit. I just walked in there as any other actor, not as someone who had been on the TV. I sang Unchained Melody as nicely as I could and then just concentrated on my acting after that”. Andy goes on to say that he had no idea he had been stunt-cast, “I hadn’t even heard of stunt casting!”. “As the show went on and it all got more comfortable, my voice warmed up, and by the end of the run we were getting great reviews and standing ovations. I think I proved myself in the end, or I hope I did anyway” he laughs. “No, I definitely did, and it was another step up the ladder and ultimately lead to this so I’m really thankful to Bill Kenwright and Ghost for that”.
As for Hollyoaks, whether we like to admit it or not, most of us of a certain age have our very own era of the soap, that period of our lives when we had too much spare time on our hands and watched it, but was it as utterly chaotic to act in as it was to watch? Andy Laughs, “Completely mental!”. “We were all just kids. I had so many crazy storylines. We would go on set with no idea what our lines were or what we were doing but the show would be going out in four weeks, so we’d just get on with it”. Despite the madness, he says it was brilliant fun and proved to be great training in all of the crafts he’s now using to really build his career: “I’m very thankful to Hollyoaks for being a great starting block. It’s really nice to get to speak to people, like yourself, who grew up with me on television. I was growing up at the same time as them while they were watching me on TV after coming in from college, and now we’re all doing other things”.
So, with Andy now having delved deeply into both television and theatre, where does his heart ultimately lie? He admits to loving TV but, although they are both very different disciplines, he has to lean towards theatre. “There’s nothing quite like the buzz of a live audience clapping and cheering at the end of a show, and sneaking out the back door to listen to people chatting about the show as they leave”. As our excitement and anticipation for the opening of Knights of the Rose builds, we can’t possibly disagree.
Directed by Racky Plews and created by Jennifer Marsden, Knights of the Rose opens on 29th June for nine weeks only at The Arts Theatre.
Nicole Craft | Image: Contributed