Hit West End musical Guys & Dolls is continuing to pack in audiences at the Bridge Theatre in London; and West End star Owain Arthur has recently joined the cast of the show playing Nathan Detroit, taking over from Daniel Mays for 3 months, to 16 October 2023.
Owain Arthur is an accomplished stage and screen actor, with theatre credits including One Man, Two Guvnors, The History Boys, Romeo and Juliet at the RSC, and Birdsong; and screen credits including London Kills, A Confession, Hard Sun, and his latest role – playing Prince Durin IV in The Lord of the Rings – The Rings of Power.
We caught up with Owain a few weeks in to his star turn as Nathan Detroit, in Nicholas Hytner’s smash-hit immersive production of Guys & Dolls which also stars Andrew Richardson, Celinde Schoenmaker, Marisha Wallace and Cedric Neal.
Congrats on your performance as Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls – are you having fun in the show?
Thank you very much. Having had a few shows under my belt now my enjoyment increases each time. Nathan is such a fun part to play, especially when I get to share the stage with a company this talented in a production this exciting. Nathan is so well written that it allows whoever is playing him to discover something new every night. He’s always being pushed and pulled in many different directions and playing with that balance is SO much fun – and it seems the more I enjoy it the more the audience gets involved.
“I have the deepest respect for [Nicolas Hytner], he’s one of the greatest directors of all time and I’m so fortunate to have worked with him THRICE!!!”
How have you found working again with Nicholas Hytner, who directed you in One Man, Two Guvnors and The History Boys?
Nick has given me the best experiences of my life through his shows. History Boys was my first theatre job after drama school and One Man, Two Guvnors was a life changing experience personally and professionally. So, it felt like coming home. I have the deepest respect for him, he’s one of the greatest directors of all time and I’m so fortunate to have worked with him THRICE!!!
What are some of the challenges and joys of performing in an immersive production, where the audience is part of the action?
It’s glorious and so exciting. Even making an entrance through the audience gives me butterflies. It’s an opportunity to give those you’re rubbing shoulders with an intimate and special experience that you simply can’t get elsewhere. Once you’re up on stage there’s no hiding however, which adds to the excitement as the audience are all around you, and it means you’re constantly active, and in Nathan’s case it adds to the pressure he’s under being pulled in every direction. It also makes the show extremely physical as you’ve always got your back to an audience member, so your intentions need to be clear physically for it to be understood by those behind you. And when it comes to the more intimate scenes with Adelaide the stillness makes those moments more poignant.
Is it challenging taking over a role that’s in an established company?
It certainly adds a different pressure. Being compared to Daniel Mays is inevitable and that can eat at you if you let it, but luckily the company have been so welcoming and have worked twice as hard to welcome me in, including Danny, so I’ve been so fortunate. Rehearsals are a different process when taking over and certainly a huge challenge, but Nick Hytner (Director) and Lily Dyble (Assistant Director) have made it clear however, that they want me to follow my own instincts and find my own version of Nathan by giving me breathing space to take my own route through the show, whilst staying within the blueprint. Being in the round gives me a lot of freedom to try different things each performance.
“Looking after my voice is the priority and I think my blood type has changed to ginger and honey by this point.”
What are some of your favourite songs or moments in the show, and why?
This being my first ever musical means that every song is a joy. Arlene Phillips and James Cousins’ choreography is out of this world and watching the dancers strut their stuff brings an extraordinary level of excitement. Honestly, they are some of the most talented people I’ve worked with. Tom Brady’s music arrangements and Charlie Rosen’s orchestration lifts the songs to another level. I’m blown away by the singers too, they blow the roof off the theatre each performance. I’ve never admired so many people all at once. So, I love all of the songs and I hum a different one each day. My favourite moments are when you know the audience are invested and reacting and cheering with joy.
How do you cope with the demands of performing eight shows a week, and what do you do to relax or unwind on your days off?
The show demands a lot of everyone so resting between shows and being quiet is so important – which is difficult for me! Looking after my voice is the priority and I think my blood type has changed to ginger and honey by this point. But on Saturday nights I shall reward myself with a pint or two. It’s important to compartmentalise the show with ‘real life’, which is something I try to do with every character and job I take on. It helps keep a healthy mental state and an appreciation of what I’ve got in my life professionally and personally.
“Performing live is so special. “The show must go on” aspect is exciting and thrilling and bonds the cast and the crew together like no other job.”
You’ve spent a lot of the last few years working on TV in shows such as Hard Sun and The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Have you missed performing in live theatre?
I can’t believe it’s been nearly 10 years since treading the boards. I couldn’t keep off them before that. I wouldn’t change a single thing, however. Working in TV and film for all that time has allowed me to develop as an actor and doing a long running series means that I get to explore characters in different ways and greater depths. Variation is important to keep the cogs turning and being in a musical for the first time is a new challenge that certainty keeps me active. Performing live is so special. “The show must go on” aspect is exciting and thrilling and bonds the cast and the crew together like no other job. Everyone relies on each other and the sense of achievement at the end of each show is a buzz money can’t buy.
What are some of your future goals or aspirations as an actor, and what are some of the roles or projects that you would love to do next?
My goal as an actor is to be the best I possibly can in whatever role I’m given, and to be the best version of myself whilst doing it. Personal sacrifices have to be made to achieve that sometimes and that’s okay if you can find a healthy balance. I’d love to remain in theatre and be challenged even further on stage for a while I think – as long as I have a juicy role to get my teeth stuck into. I aspire to be on Broadway one day, but you never know where you’ll end up being an actor. Who knew I’d find myself in Middle-Earth playing an aspiring Dwarven Prince? I feel blessed with the career I’ve carved out so far, but my knife is still sharp to carry on carving.
West End Theatre Quick Fire Questions!
What’s your favourite West End theatre and why?
The Theatre Royal Haymarket – my best memories in theatre are held there.
What was your first acting role?
Aled Shaw – 9 years as a cheeky paper boy on a soap called Rownd A Rownd for S4C.
What was the last show you enjoyed in London as an audience member and why?
Guys & Dolls at the Bridge Theatre- it’s classy, exciting and groundbreaking.
Which do you love best? The first day of rehearsals, the first night of the show or the last night?
All of them for different reasons and I can’t choose. You should add hearing “you’ve got the job” in there too as there’s no feeling like that either.
What was your very first theatre experience (as either an audience or actor)?
Twelfth Night at the RSC – Christopher Luscombe playing Sir Andrew was magic and I wanted in!
Which role or show have you most enjoyed being part of in your career and why?
Leading One Man, Two Guvnors at the Theatre Royal Haymarket will forever be the show I’ll use to compare other experiences with for personal and profession reasons. It’s the highest bar set so far.
If someone could only see one musical or play before they die, what should it be?
Guys & Dolls, obviously!
What would be your profession be if you hadn’t chosen the theatre and entertainment industry?
I’ve been a professional actor since the age of 11 so difficult to answer that one. I almost took the route of being a medical doctor, but realising that Guys & Dolls should be on the NHS with its therapeutic qualities I guess in some ways I am one now?
Guys & Dolls is playing at the Bridge Theatre, and is currently booking to 24 February 2024.