Up-and-coming TV actor Joe Layton is stepping from in front of the camera and co-producing and performing for the first time at the Edinburgh Fringe, where he plays a male stripper in Partial Nudity. The Tatau star took time out of rehearsals, gym sessions and self-tanning to speak to Paul Couch.
The first thing you notice straight away about actor Joe Layton is his accent. The 24-year-old has been living in London for the past six years but that hasn’t moderated his native Bradford inflexion. It comes as something of a surprise given that in his two most prominent roles to date – Kyle Connor in BBC3’s Tatau and Craig Watts in psychological drama Thirteen –he carried a neutral estuary English lilt.
While we’re more used to seeing him on our TV screens, Layton is no stranger to the theatre and is preparing to take a show – written and directed by his sister, Emily Layton – to the Edinburgh Fringe.
Layton explains: “Partial Nudity’sabout a pair of all-in strippers – a stag do and a hen do. It’s set in the grotty back-room of a pub or club in Bolton; it’s a kind of a timeless room – you can’t really tell if it’s the ‘80s or ‘90s or now because it’s really run-down and this is the makeshift dressing room that these two strippers are forced to share.
“It’s a comic concept but we’re definitely also looking at exploring something much deeper such as gender politics and sexual inequality through the platform of this one local lad, Darren, who’s a bit of a Jack the Lad, and who’s got himself tied up in a bit of a web of lies. Because of that, he finds himself about to do his first full strip in front of a middle-aged hen party. He crosses paths with Nina [Kate Franz], who’s an American student at Manchester who’s stripping to pay her tuition fees and living costs and stuff, which from our own experiences we’ve known people who’ve done that and who’ve made a lot of money doing it. They’ve had all sorts of stories and we’ve worked closely with them in terms of the back story and the point of view of Nina’s character, which has been fascinating.”
He continues: “For me, it’s a bit of an open letter to “lad culture”, which growing up was definitely a very big part of my teenage years. It’s the same for a lot of lads but when I grew up I wanted to do some work that showed feminism to be as important to men as it is to women; to deal with this underlying, everyday sexism that affects young men growing up just as much as young girls. We’re breeding a generation who are either ignorant to it or are scared to break the mould.
“It’s definitely a piece that I’d want the people I went to school with to come and see. That being said, the play doesn’t side with one or the other and I don’t think that either character walks away from the situation particularly well off – but nor is it an “all men are wankers” play. But I think it does raise some very interesting points that transcend the conversation these young people have about being strippers into something the guy on the street who’d never thought about stripping in his life.” It sounds a little worthy perhaps but Layton is quick to dismiss that idea. “It starts off quite farcical and there’re some great slapstick gags in it!”
The writer, Joe’s sibling, Emily, graduated from Cambridge last year and has already had one success at Edinburgh with her debut show,Two Thirds, last year, but her brother and his co-producer took an unusual route with Partial Nudity – Emily wrote it to order for the pair.
“My co-producer Kate and I met in New York when I was spending some time over there on the way to LA and we were introduced and found ourselves very like-minded in terms of both being young actors doing well in the industry but having a real passion and a need and desire to make our own work that we feel we can have creative control over. So we got chatting and decided that we would apply to the [Edinburgh] Fringe, something I’ve been wanting to do for years, but I’ve always been working when it been on but this time it just seemed perfect. We’d connected on an issue that we wanted to write about. We were then trying to work out how we could make something we could both be in so we approached my sister who had just graduated from Cambridge and who’d already done the Fringe last year. She’d also just finished a writing course at the Old Vic. So we pitched this idea to her and she said: “Yes, I can write something about that!”. So we let her run with it and she came back with something we’re all really excited about.”
With his six-foot-plus stocky physique, and smouldering good looks, it’s not difficult to see why Layton could pass as jaded stripper Darren, but he’s quick to assure me that he’s not going to be baring all for the audience.
“I’m definitely going to be leaving something to the imagination!” he laughs. “The main thing is that we wanted to make sure people were going to come and see it. If we were going to go all the way, then I think it would be a very specific audience, if you know what I mean. We’ve put a limit of 15+ on it but I think there’s definitely going to be something for that age bracket.
For me, it’s a bit of an open letter to “lad culture”
But there’s been all those visits to the gym and self-tanning to make sure that he looks the part as Darren. “I had to wax my chest for Tatau,” he recalls not-too-fondly, “which was not a pleasant experience and has since changed my attitude to waxing and bodily hair.”
Layton graduated from London’s Drama Centre in 2013 and has been popping up on our TV screens ever since: the aforementioned Tatau, in which he starred with Silk and Crims actor Theo Barklem-Biggs (the two have since become firm friends),Thirteen, and Martine Brant and Peter Flannery’s 17th Century costume drama New Worlds for Channel 4. On stage, he was last seen playing a teacher in Jonny Guy Lewis’ A Level Playing Field at the Jermyn St Theatre last year, and the stage is clearly his first love.
“Stage is what really got me and gave me the bug. I find the rehearsal process so beneficial to developing as an actor and learning more about yourself then, next time I go back to the camera, I feel my toolbox of techniques and knowledge is greater. You grow as an actor that way.”
As is often the case, Layton made his start in the National Youth Theatre. “I had an English teacher who said I should have a go at it and I really enjoyed it. That gave me the confidence to go on and be proactive in my own search for opportunities. I did the summer course and that led to me working with Nikolai Foster, which was my first professional gig at West Yorkshire Playhouse while I was still at school – running off early from the last class of the day to get across to the Playhouse. Also, I worked with Frantic Assembly before coming down to drama school at 18.”
Although based in London, Frantic Assembly now runs a training programme, Ignition, for young men aged 16-20 at venues across the UK. However, when Layton became interested in Ignition, it was early days for the project and the training was only in London, but that didn’t deter the Bradford-based teenager. “I saw on their website that they were auditioning this week of intensive training but it was just for kids from the Borough of Tower Hamlets. Luckily my dad had an office in Tower Hamlets so I used his work address. I got the train down from Bradford to London and put on this dreadful Cockney drawl – or tried not to speak a lot!”
The accent couldn’t have been that bad because, shortly after, he received a phone call from Frantic Assembly’s Artistic Director, Scott Graham and co-founder Steven Hoggett asking him to take part. “Of course, Steven Hoggett’s from Huddersfield! I got through the week and, at the end, he said: “How long did you think you were going to get away with it for?”
Layton’s still only 24 and so there’s plenty of time to grow into his acting skin, but he’s determined to be choosy about the roles he takes. “I think the best TV being made at the moment is breaking away from the moulds of being the “good guy” or the “bad guy”. The main thing I look for is a variation; if you can do a bit of everything and surprise people when they talk to you in real life – you’re not what they were expecting. Villains weren’t born that way. They still inhabit the world where you and I could walk down the same street as the people who have committed those atrocities.”
So will Partial Nudity have a life after Edinburgh? Layton is optimistic that we haven’t seen the last of Darren and Nina. “We’re definitely open to coming down to London and, with Kate’s connections in New York, it would be amazing to take something over there. Because it sits in this one little room, it’s well contained so it would be easy to adapt to somewhere like Trafalgar Studios. We’re also talking to a couple of film production companies about it having a life as a short or maybe a little independent film.”
Partial Nudity performs at ZOO Venues: Monkey House, Edinburgh Fringe Festival from 5 – 27 August 2016
Main image:Channel 4