Q and A with Daniel Ryan, playing Mouse in the RSC's new production of The Mouse and His Child.
From Bottom to Mouse...
Q: The first question we need to ask, is how do you play a Clockwork Mouse?
A: Two weeks into rehearsals, and that's the question I'm currently asking myself. Is it wise? I put on twitter this morning – 'Anyone who thinks playing a clockwork mouse is easy, can kiss my whiskers!' It's like performing in an epic Greek tragedy, and on top of that - you're a toy and you're a mouse.
It's a phenomenal mine-field, and I'm exhausted every night when I get home, as well as thrilled that we're creating this extraordinary world. At the moment – I'm in the 'will we pull it off 'mode.
Q: So do you have a tail and ears for the role? Is movement important for the part?
A: We have design concepts and we have the type of toy that Russell Hoban based the character on in our rehearsal room. I'm presuming I will have a tail.
At the moment we have a rehearsal room full of about 30 rails of old RSC costumes which may help people feel like a rat or a shrew or a parrot, and tables full of all manner of props. We're sticking them together with bits of gaffa tape and feeling our way around it.
Because the whole story from the original book is based around a dump – we are trying to create a world where everything we wear or use is something that can be found there. The creative process at the moment is mind-blowing.
Q: Is this a story that you were familiar with before you started rehearsals?
A: I wasn't familiar with the story at all. What's extraordinary is that if you spoke to any American who was a child or bringing up a child in the 1960s, they would leap up and down at the idea of The Mouse and His Child. There seem to be pockets of people in the UK that know it and pockets that don't.
When I describe the story to people, they say 'That's Toy Story'. I realised then that it had inspired a whole generation of children's film makers and story-tellers. They all come back to this original tale of hope over adversity, family and home, what it means to be on your own, a parent and what it means to be a child. It's just so rich.
Q: How would you describe the story to someone who is not familiar with it?
A: A brand new toy is made and he's delivered to a shop. It gets bought at Christmas. It gets played with on Christmas day, but it's quite an old-fashioned toy. It doesn't excite the children who play with him. He gets thrown out on the scrap heap and of course, toys are no longer toys if no-one plays with them.
That's when the story begins. The mouse and his child (played by Bettrys Jones) are swept up by a hawk, pursued by a rat who is fascinated by them, meet a fortune telling frog and their whole life is mapped out in front of them. They have to choose to follow a path to get back to the place and all the toys that they first met in the toy shop. It's a massive epic journey for them.
One small step for us is a million miles for them. They have to get through all of this to become self-winding and independent and to become free.
Q: Do you think about the audience during the rehearsal process?
A: I haven't done a lot of physical theatre before which is how Paul Hunter, the director, works. It's fascinating. It's imperative that the audience is completely involved in the journey right from the beginning. They will be presented with a group of actors playing animals and toys and they have to get on board very quickly. We are thinking about the audience all the time, as well as trying to plot this phenomenal journey.
At the start of rehearsals we wrote a long list of the things we expected to see in a Christmas show and a list of what we would like to see. So many things crossed over and we are trying to bring them to the production.
Q: Can you say anything about the music in the show?
A: There's already a dance routine choreographed for the show. There will be a small band on stage, and actors will be playing instruments or making instruments out of things they find on the dump.
Music will be integral and there will be a recurring song about home which is sung at the beginning by the elephant.
Q: Have you worked for the RSC before?
A: I left drama school in 1989 and played as cast so cut my teeth back in the day for 18 months. Then I returned about 4 years later in production of Richard III with Simon Russell Beale and directed by Sam Mendes. We toured, then I took over from David Tennant in the West End production of The Herbal Bed.
I came back to the RSC in 2000 to play Bottom in Michael Boyd's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. So it's been a little while since I've been asked back.
I'm so pleased to be back. I'm back in the same rehearsal room where I played Bottom and it's great to be creating something. This part is a real challenge, and that's what excites me. I've never done anything like this before. I'm always trying to do things that I've never done before.
Q: Are you looking forward to working on the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre thrust stage?
A: I haven't been in there yet. Knowing how Michael Boyd works and what he wished the theatre was before he became artistic director, I'm very excited about working on stage which brings us so close to the audience.
You are currently on TV on Sky in the drama series, Mount Pleasant. Can you tell us a bit more about it.
We only finished about five weeks ago. It's on Sky at the moment. It's the second series and we've filmed ten episodes, including a Christmas Special. I have a lovely part, playing a plumber called Dan who is an all round nice guy. I get to work with Pauline Collins and Bobby Ball, and David Bradley joins next week as my dad. It's a really nice show which I hope is back next year with another series.
Q: How have you found working with the director Paul Hunter?
A: It's a fantastic experience. I think the man is a genius. He just makes a room where anything can happen and gives you the freedom to fail and do anything. He's like the conductor of an orchestra. He fills the room with bizarre instruments and then lets you play and somehow, out of that, comes some amazing music. It's a very different way of working than I'm used to and I really like it.
Q: Is Tamsin Oglesby, the playwright, also in the rehearsal room?
A: Yes, she's been with us. We never hold the script in our hands, even if we don't know the scene. Our script at the moment is very much evolving and the final casting was only completed yesterday.
It's a really creative room to be in and Tamsin is watching and tweaking and coming up with new drafts. There is nothing fixed which is very exciting.
Q: Did you ever think in your wildest dreams that your return to the RSC would be playing a mouse?
A: Someone said to me – if ever I wanted someone to play a mouse, you would be top of the list!. I remember when the call first came through – I said to my colleagues on Mount Pleasant – the RSC want to see me for their Christmas show. Their jaws dropped when I told them it was to play a clockwork mouse – but I'm loving it.
Q: Can you sum up your thoughts about the production and the Russell's book?
A: I'm absolutely convinced, that from this production, people will buy the book and read it to their kids. It's Harry Potter, Just William, or any of those universal tales that children can be inspired by. I remember reading Harry Potter to my eldest son, and he'd fall asleep three quarters of the way through a chapter and I'd be loving it so much I would carry on regardless. This is that kind of story.