INTERVIEW: Chris Jenkins talks about THE BURNT PART BOYS

TWW Chris Jenkins

Chris Jenkins was most recently see in The War Of The Worlds at the Dominion Theatre; Billy Elliot: The Musical at the Victoria Palace Theatre and Spamalot at the Playhouse. He is now joining the cast of THE BURNT PART BOYS and I sat down with him to chat about the show.

You are about to star in The Burnt Part Boys which is having its European premiere at the Park Theatre. For those who may not be familiar with the show, can you tell me what it is about and the character that you play?
The Burnt Part Boys is set in Pickaway, a mining town, in West Virginia in 1962. The Pickaway Coal Company’s mine, locally known as The Burnt Part, closed 10 years earlier due to an accident which left 4 miners dead. The mine is due to be reopened and Jake and Chet, who are following in both their dead fathers’ footsteps, have been hand picked for the job. Jake’s younger brother, Pete, who is obsessed with John Wayne’s The Alamo doesn’t want his father’s remains to be disturbed and takes it upon himself to keep the mine a shrine with explosive consequences. He undertakes a journey on a forgotten path to The Burnt Part with Jake and Chet close on his tail.
For Pete, this is a coming of age story.
For my character, Jake, it’s a story of rediscovering his lost youth.

We last saw you in the Dominion Theatre spectacular that was The War Of The Worlds where you understudied (and played many times) the part of The Artilleryman. It was a crazy show to watch but what was the experience like of working on it?
You thought it was crazy to watch? I can tell you, it was crazy to do! The only way to describe the show to people was that it’s epic in every dimension. I’ve never worked on a show that had so many different elements to come together; projections, fire, flying, bungees, automation, a huge rock band on stage that moves, not to mention the 20 foot robot Martian walking across the stage! All this with 2 weeks rehearsal and 2 days technical rehearsal! I can honestly say that I have never worked so physically hard in my life. Choreographer Liam Steel really put us through our paces trying to add a physical dramatisation of the attack on Horsell Common, he was really wonderful. We all really bonded as a cast, it was a very challenging show and if it wasn’t for everyone there, I think we would have had a meltdown.
Ever since I first heard “Brave New World”, I thought ‘I have to sing that’ so it was wonderful when I was asked to be the understudy, it was probably only a week or so after that that I had to go on with just hours notice. So with very limited rehearsal, I went on stage with Jeff Wayne behind me and the original Artilleryman, David Essex in the wings, to sing my first ever solo on a West End stage; a hugely iconic song, a massive theatre, an epic show. I was absolutely terrified. It was one of those moments where you’re saying lines onstage without a clue of what’s going to come out of your mouth next. Thanks to the cast and crew, I got through it and I got to play it for the rest of the week. David gave me his very enthusiastic seal of approval and Jeff loved that I played him Welsh – it was a humbling and unforgettable experience.

Do you have any dream roles that you would like to play over the years to come?
It’s funny, I don’t really have many dream roles. In fact, I can’t really think of any! I think I love discovering what I’m capable of. Every new role that I’ve taken I’ve not been sure if I could do it but I’ve gone on to discover something else about myself and I think that’s the most exciting thing as an actor.
I’m sure it’s in very early development but I would love to be involved in the musical adaption of the film Pride, if it happens! I sobbed throughout that film. I connected to it so much; I’m welsh, I’m gay and I have family who were miners (not to mention that The Burnt Part Boys is my 3rd job in a row that I’ve played a miner!). So if don’t get that, there’s no justice in the world!

There are lots of exciting shows coming to London in 2016. Is there anything you are particularly looking forward to seeing?
I have a long list of things I need to see!! Here it goes: Show Boat, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Play Goes Wrong, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Globe), In The Heights, Funny Girl. Oh god, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do!! I’m really looking forward to An American In Paris, it’s a very classy show. Oh and of course Hamilton.

If you could be the opposite sex for the day, what theatre role would you love to have a go at playing?
I mean it has to be Kim in Miss Saigon, obviously.

It is no secret that one of my favourite shows is Spamalot which you appeared in back at the Playhouse Theatre. What are some of your favourite parts about that show?
I think it’s one of my favourite shows I’ve ever done. Working with Chris Luscombe was a real pleasure, he really understood the piece and how it needed to constantly evolve, he always gave us freedom to try new things which is a godsend! I’ve never worked with funnier people, every night it felt like we were messing about with our friends for 2 hours. We worked with a wonderful eclectic bunch of people: Joe Pasquale, Les Dennis, Warwick Davies, Bonnie Langford, Carley Stenson… I mean the list goes on. Not to mention the reel of celebrities and Pythons who played ‘God’ donating their fee to their chosen charities.
The whole experience was ludicrous and laugh a minute.

Why do you think people should come to see The Burnt Part Boys at Park Theatre?
It’s rare that we get musicals like this over here; a beautiful heartwarming and breaking American tale of loyalty, duty and sacrifice interlaced with a simply stunning folk/bluegrass sound. It’s musical theatre treasure! Once you hear those harmonies, you’ll be hooked. If you’ve not been to the Park Theatre yet, you will definitely be going in the future, it’s a stunning neighbourhood theatre in Finsbury Park built in 2013. It creates a warm community feel and produces great work of exceptional quality, it’s one to keep your eye on. But main selling point is Hazel their beautiful theatre dog, who doesn’t love a theatre dog?!

Thanks for having Tea With Wilma

Photo: Richard Lakos

THE BURNT PART BOYS plays at Park Theatre 10 August – 3 September 2016