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Warwick Davis on why he set up his Reduced Height Theatre Company
WARWICK Davis has played a plethora of roles in his career from being an Ewok in Star Wars to a professor in the Harry Potter film series, but he still longed to do a play. As a 3ft6 actor he found the opportunities weren't there for him, so he set up his own theatre company for actors under 4ft tall. Their first show is coming to the Swan this month.
It is fair to say Warwick Davis is perhaps one of the UK's most recognised actors. He played Professor Filius Flitwick and Griphook in the Harry Potter films, Wicket in Stars Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and the title characters in Willow and the Lerprechaun film series. He also starred as a version of himself in the sitcom Life's Too Short, written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.
But despite all this, the 44-year-old still wanted to perform in a play, but found there was a lack of opportunities. In response he set up The Reduced Height Theatre Company, which will offer shorter actors the same roles as taller colleagues.
Their first show is a much-loved farce called See How They Run, with Warwick playing the Reverend Lionel Toop. He said: "It is a ground breaking concept and I think people are intrigued by it.
"I have been thinking about it. Probably a couple of years ago I started thinking about it.
"I really wanted to be in a play. I have done panto- twice at the Wycombe Swan actually- and I have done a musical in the West End.
"I still had the desire to be in a play in a more traditional sense- set in a country house.
"I love getting to see those sort of plays. Although I was offered a diverse range of different things, but not a play.
"I decided the only way to go about it was to produce a play and put myself in it."
He has produced the play, which is nowadays widely regarded as one of the best farces written by Philip King.
Set in 1944 in a vicarage in the village of Merton-cum-Middlewick, it is a quintessentially British play featuring timelessly funny characters - a maid, a spinster, a German soldier, retired actors, a bishop and a handful of vicars. A plot of mishaps and mistaken identity causes the action to spiral out of control, culminating in a houseful of bishops, deacons and other assorted clergymen.
There are nine cast members, and two under studies.
Warwick said: "Farce is notoriously difficult to pull off. I thought as it is the first time let's really hit the ground running and really challenge ourselves.
"I kind of enjoy the time period this is set in- the mid 1940s and middle England.
"I like that time as it is quintessentially British."
And he said he has been really pleased by the reaction from audiences.
He said: "It is sort of better than I expected. I, of course, have confidence in it. But the reaction has been quite overwhelming.
"That is really what you want to achieve when you produce a show- great audience feedback and a great evening in the theatre.
"I am not just saying this but people have been saying their ribs hurt and faces hurt from laughing. It should come with a health warning, I think."
He said he has also received letters from parents, who have said they have taken their son or daughter to the show, which has been their first time to see a play at the theatre.
Warwick said: "We are introducing youngsters to a different form of live theatre, which is great. "There is nothing better than watching a live performance. Anything can happen, and usually does."
He said he found producing the show difficult, as he doesn't like to compromise on things. As a result he hasn't stayed on budget but believes the audience deserve the best.
Just before the tour started Warwick appeared for one month as Patsy in the musical comedy Spamalot, based on the film Monty Python's Holy Grail in London, which he said was one of his favourite roles so far.
He also hosted a press conference to announce the Monty Python reunion.
He said: "Yeah, I got to meet the whole team. That was a dream come true.
"I have always been a Monty Python fan.
"In See How They Run I go into a John Cleese moment. It is really fun and I go completely mad at one point."
Warwick starred as a fictionalised version of himself in Life's Too Short, written by Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais, which aired on BBC2 from 2011 to 2013. There were eight episodes.
He said: "It was really hard work. Comedy is one of the hardest genres to work in.
"You have to get every little nuance right. The schedule on that is particularly gruelling.
"There were some laughs. Ricky and Stephen behave like four year olds. "They love to have fun but they get the job done.
"It is actually a great working environment as they get a lot of stuff done in a day."
And of course, many fans will recognise him as Professor Flitwick and Griphook in the Harry Potter film series, which were filmed at Warner Brothers studios in Watford. The studios are now a popular tourist attraction as fans can tour the set and see the hard work which went on behind the scenes.
Warwick said: "There is so much amazing art. It would almost be a crime to destroy it.
"I have fond memories of working with the people. It is lovely to have it preserved."
Warwick had to wear prosthetic make-up for both roles.
During the studio tours there is a video of Warwick with the make-up supervisor, Nick Dudman, who explains how they changed people's appearances in three video clips.
He said: "If either made a mistake we had to start the whole thing again. It was quite challenging to get that completely right.
"I thought, 'I am going to have to live by this for years to come.' "Nick, who was in it, is a make-up supervisor, so for him it was a lot more of a challenge."
And he said he think the studios show just how much work goes in behind the scenes.
He said: "I don't think the audience always considers the man hours- the amount of effort and dedication people put in.
"If anyone looks down at their popcorn or glance at their phones, I think,'What you just missed then was hours of work by someone and a lot of dedication.'"
See How They Run is at the Wycombe Swan from March 31 to April 5 at 7.30pm with Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2.30pm. Tickets range from £17 to £27, with a £1.50 booking fee. Call 01494 512000 or go to www.wycombeswan.co.uk
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