Thursday 6 July 2017

Carry On Blogging Interview: Jack Lane

Actor and writer Jack Lane has received rave reviews for his play Wisdom of a Fool. The play covers the life and career of the legendary British comedy actor and comedian Sir Norman Wisdom. I caught up with Jack recently to find out more about his fascination with Wisdom and how his play came about...

- First of all, It would be great to find out more about how you came to be an actor?  

I'd always been fascinated with Cinema and Theatre from an early age. Towards the end of my school years I became involved with a local amateur dramatics society and began working backstage and in projection rooms at my local Theatre. I initially never intended to tread the boards. I worked as a Theatre Technician for ten years. It gave me the unique opportunity to learn every aspect of theatre. By working on hundreds of productions I was gauging what an audience does and doesn't respond to. The first time I felt the need to perform was after seeing my first west end musical, Mel Brooks' The Producers. I was in awe of the lead character Max Bialystock. The entire production blew me away both musically and comically. But it was the character I'd fallen for, how he made me feel. I wanted to evoke those same feelings in an audience. To tell a story and take them on a journey. It's been my passion ever since. I was asked to perform a number in a review show shortly after seeing it by a local company and that's where it all began.

- Can you remember when you first became interested in the life and career of Norman Wisdom? What is it about Norman that made you want to write a play about him?

I grew up watching his films at a young age, I loved his slapstick humour, as I grew older I began learning about his life and what he'd been through. I wrote to Norman aged 13 and he replied, I guess that stuck with me, that he'd made time to reply. When he passed away in 2010 I made a promise to myself that I'd attempt to write a play on his incredible life and career. It's a classic underdog story which the British have a love affair with. Many comic performers of the era have had their lives and careers dramatised in some way. Morecambe & Wise have had three plays, Cooper even more so, some having also made it to a television drama. But nobody had touched on Norman. Considering his colossal fame in the 50s and 60s, how important he was to the flagging British film industry and knowing his background I felt a need to remind everyone of how incredible his story was.


- Can you tell me a bit more about your play, Wisdom of a Fool? What can the audience expect from the production? 

A roller coaster of story telling. It's first and foremost a story of a young man over coming the odds, discovering a gift to make others laugh and pursuing a passion. It's a hugely uplifting story with some important life lessons along the way. I wanted audiences to leave with nothing but admiration and a new found respect for what the lucky little devil achieved in his life.

- To me, the idea of doing a one man show is incredibly daunting - what's it like to perform?

Truthfully? It's exhausting to perform; emotionally, physically and mentally, but to do Norman justice and to play the type of performer he was, that's simply what's required. It is daunting, it's tougher than originating a character. You’re constricted in the skin of someone people already have a reference for. The hard part is making that look natural and living up to expectation.

- I read that you play over thirty characters in Wisdom of a Fool - first of all, how is that possible?! And secondly, what kind of issues does that present for staging the play? 

I spent five months workshopping this back in 2015. Making sure each character was individual, where I had reference for someone I'd research their voice and slightly exaggerate it, in the case of Norman's father where there was no reference, I'd create a character from the information I'd gathered on them. The issues that can arise is the lack of fluidity when changing characters, making sure the audience aren't getting confused with the narrative or that it was looking messy or awkward.


- One of your greatest supporters is the lovely Morris Bright, Chairman of Elstree Studios. I had the pleasure of meeting Morris last year. How did your association come about? 

Morris had heard the play was in development and supported us from day one and attended our opening night. He was a friend of Norman's for many years. His knowledge, passion and love for not only for Norman but also the business is infectious. He makes time for everyone which is a rare quality. He's become a very dear friend.

- Of all Norman's films, do you have a favourite and why? 

Tough question, I do have a soft spot for Follow A Star. It showcases his every ability; actor, clown, singer and song writer.

 - Why do you think Norman Wisdom's popularity has endured over the years? 

Skilled physical comedy will always be funny, quality comic timing will always be funny. Norman endures because of his universal appeal, much like Chaplin.

- In your opinion why is it important that we continue to honour the legacy of great British comedians and comedy actors like Norman Wisdom? 

To keep their memory alive for new generations and to enable them to enjoy their work. Every comic or comedy performer owes them a debt of gratitude. There's always an influence. You can trace the timeline. For example: Dan Leno - Charlie Chaplin - Norman Wisdom - Lee Evans. Another would be Sid Field - Eric Morecambe - Vic Reeves. It's an insight into the evolution of British comedy, it's influence and culture. 


- As I write a blog all about the Carry On films, I must ask if you have a favourite film in the series and if so, which one? 

It's got to be Carry On Cabby. It's full of those typical Carry On one-liners and features superb characters. The Taxi chase scene always brings a smile to my face. Plus it's got Esma Cannon scene stealing at every possible opportunity!

- Finally, what's up next for you?

I'm currently filming a short film based on the life of blind marathon runner Dave Heeley. In August I'll be performing along side David Benson at the Edinburgh Fringe in the Dad's Army Radio Hour after which I'll go back on tour with Wisdom of a Fool for the autumn.

Many thanks to Jack for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find out more about his play, Wisdom of a Fool here

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan on Facebook and on Instagram

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