A bus called Priscilla rolls off the Australian desert and into the Hawth Theatre Crawley next week. Aboard the bus is singer, actor and TV presenter Duncan James who is currently playing the role of ‘Tick’.
Duncan takes time out of his busy schedule to talk to Sammi about his role in Priscilla, the chart topping band ‘Blue’, his sexuality and flipflops.
Duncan James | Interview
The excitement is mounting in Crawley where you are performing next week. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is such a vibrant and joyous show, is it as much fun to be in it as to watch it?
Yes! Priscilla is such a great show with a lovely talented cast and it is so much fun to be in. It is a joy going to work every day. You cannot help coming away from the show with a big smile on your face whether you are a member of the cast or watching it as a member of the audience.
So the touring and doing the same thing 8 times a week hasn’t become mundane?
This is the first tour I have done in a musical and I have found there are always new things happening, it is really exciting.
I think if you did 8 shows a week for a year in the same venue, as with any job it would get stale and you would naturally go stir crazy, but what keeps it fun on tour is that you are always in a new places and venues, new things to see, new audiences, new restaurants to eat at and new bars to visit. It is lovely.
For example. We arrived in Torquay on Monday and we are here just for a week and it is gorgeous here! I am walking about in beautiful sunshine, and just stopped to buy some lovely whelks, I love seafood and it is so nice getting it fresh and by the sea.
Some people enjoy living out of a suitcase but I actually do. I find it lovely having someone coming in and making my bed every day, picking up my clothes and giving me fresh towels. It’s great :D.
Being so well known for being part of the band ‘Blue’ how easy was it for you to adapt to musical theatre?
I have actually done quite a bit of theatre. I initially got involved in amateur dramatic society shows from the age of 4 and actually studied theatre and trained as an actor, I always knew that this was what I wanted to do. ‘Blue’ just happened to come along and take off and that’s what I became known for but that’s not what my background was.
Did you have to audition for the role of Tick in Priscilla or did they approach you?
I was approached, I think they thought of me because the part of Tick resonates my own life; being a father then coming out as gay. I think they knew that I would relate to the role and believed I could do it.
I had already worked with David Ian the producer when he cast me as Billy Flynn in Chicago, so he was familiar with my work as a performer and believed that I could do this part, enough to give me the chance to play it.
Were you familiar with the show and what it entailed?
I knew the show, had seen it and loved it! Although I did question whether I could pull it off. I had a lot of self doubt. I had never dressed in drag before or done anything like it so it was going to be a huge challenge for me.
Has it got any easier with time?
I think so, now I am more comfortable in the role than when you saw me in Brighton, I think I have developed the character of Tick further and I really am enjoying it now. I have played with the part a little bit and tried to make it my own. I play it very differently to how Jason Donovan plays it but that’s good, I didn’t want to be a carbon copy of him and I like the way that I have found my own feet. I am really loving it,
I loved your interpretation of Tick, how does splitting the role work between you, Jason and Darren Day?
The tour has been predominantly myself and Jason, with Darren being pulled in to do the dates that neither Jason or I could do. I opened it in August last year and I took a couple of months off to do panto and some Blue gigs and now I have just returned and shall be in it until June.
That’s an awful lot of costume changes. The costumes are wonderful in Priscilla, which is your favourite?
I have 13 costume changes throughout the show. Even when I was doing panto at Christmas I only had one costume change. I think my favourite is probably the dress made from flipflops because it is so iconic to the film.
With the sheer amount of costumes and props that you use in Priscilla, do you have to adjust the performances depending on the venue?
Yes we do, some venues are much smaller than others. Here in Torquay this week the theatre has extremely limited backstage space and there is hardly any room at all. Different props come and go depending on if they can get them in at the side of the wings.
For example, usually the 3 divas are able to fly on and off the stage but in some venues like here and Brighton they don’t have the facilities to do it so we have to adapt the show to make it a flying or non-flying show.
We had rehearsals all last week to adapt the show for Torquay, but we know the show so well now that it runs like clockwork so it is nice to have the odd change to keep us on our toes and that is what makes it fun.
It sounds like you are having a ball!
Yes I love it so much, life is good, I have just had some whelks and I have just ordered myself a salted caramel soya latte at the seaside. What could be better?
Do people recognise you as you wander around the streets ordering coffee and seafood?
I have my hat and sunglasses on so I am trying to go a little incognito today which is nice. I find that if I don’t wear a hat more people recognise me because of my hair. Sometime it is nice to just wander around and get a cup of coffee. Everyone has these camera phones these days so I find if you stop for one person you soon have 30 people surrounding you and then you are stuck and can’t do anything.
You have a huge following and a fan base from both sexes.
Yes I am so lucky. I get lovely people following me on my twitter page saying lovely things. Some people have even contacted me asking for advise with issues about their own sexuality. It is really nice to give something back and be able to help because of my own experiences. Social media is fabulous for things like that. People are able to reach out to people, and interact with them which is lovely.
You seem very comfortable and content with where you are now.
I am, I am going to be 40 in a couple of years and I am lucky that I am in a good place, I am finally happy with myself, I know what I am and what I do.
I am loving life at the minute, I am lucky enough to be playing the lead in a hit touring show, I am very happy that I am still a part of Blue, I am working hard, I have good health and we have just heard that my wonderful daughter has got a place in the Royal Ballet School, I couldn’t be more proud.
Yes life is good and I cannot wait to come to Crawley next week and perform there!
Duncan James was interviewed by Sammi O’Neill for Theatre South East.
Photos (c) Matt Crockett
We cannot wait to have Duncan performing back in the South East too! Duncan James is performing in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert at the Hawth Crawley from 18th – 25th June, there are still a few tickets left so grab them while you can.
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert will also be playing at
Orchard Theatre, Dartford 25 – 30 April 2016