Interview by Phil Lowe with actor Daniel Cornish (30th Jan 2023)
Just before his departure from Woking and then en route by train to his home city of Leicester we caught up with Leicester born actor Daniel Cornish who is playing Alternate Boy in the National Theatre’s acclaimed production of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. The production runs at Leicester’s Curve Theatre from 31st January to 11th February 2023.
Daniel is keen to explain about his process of rehearsals and his excitement about returning to Leicester Curve to perform.
Phil: Do you get the chance to play the role of Boy very often as Alternate Boy?
Daniel: Yeah. It’s shared between me and Keir Ogilvy the other actor and he does five shows a week and I do three. Originally the show was at The Dorfman and then it went to the West End and because it is such a physical show in terms of the movement and also what it requires emotionally, they realised that no-one should be doing that eight shows a week. So they split the role between two of us which actually is brilliant because during the rehearsal process it meant that we could both discover it together. We got to understand what the other actor was expressing (vocally and physically) and it was a joy to have that open interpretation between us as part of the rehearsals.
Phil: What was it like during the rehearsals? Maybe also tell me about the strongly emotional side of playing Boy. I have listened to an audio version of Neil Gaiman’s book and know how gripping, magical and often emotionally mentally affecting the story is.
Daniel: We had six weeks rehearsal and the way that the play/the story is told is through the eyes of this twelve year-old boy. Everything that happens on stage, every scene that’s created, every character that the audience see is all through the eyes of the boy. Once my character arrives on stage he then doesn’t leave until the end of the show. So the learning process was very much linked to our fantastic cast and quite a few of them are what we call mnemonics. They are the ensemble and they are the people who help facilitate the changes in the boy’s emotions. The first couple of weeks of rehearsals were for establishing cast and character relationships and then, going forward, shaping the whole show. In the last couple of weeks it was more about looking deeply into the acting and the strong emotions and the lad’s vulnerabilities. The boy has been through a lot. The boy’s family are dealing with quite a recent loss of his mother. In the book she just goes away for a while and so her actual death is an important stage production change from the Neil Gaiman book. We did this so that we could explore the nature of experiencing with grief a young age and, basically, how a child deals with that. His young life is an emotional rollercoaster. There is the initial grief of losing his mum and he and his dad don’t get along after the death. There is a rift between the entire family and the boy doesn’t know who to turn to. You then meet this wonderful, mystical and magical girl called Lettie Hempstock played by Millie Hikasa and they go on an adventure together. On this adventure he comes across creatures from another world. The story is really about him discovering himself – his journey of self-discovery and ownership of who he is.
Phil: I think those aspects of dealing with grief at a young age will resonate with many people. Should the audience bring their hankies?
Daniel: It will. Definitely. Boxes of hankies.
Phil: Had you been rehearsing purely for the UK tour or did you have a chance to perform in the West End?
Daniel: It’s a complete new cast for the UK tour. I never played it in the West End and I believe it finished its run there about four or five months ago, maybe even longer. This will be the third time this show has been put on and what’s quite nice having a new main cast and ensemble is that we will be bringing a fresh energy to it.
Phil: Fresh ideas too?
Daniel: Yes, exactly – fresh ideas. The creatives were very keen to give it its own life.
Phil: To what degree did the creative team give the actors any leeway with new ideas. I don’t mean like radical changes – but ideas that were accepted and worked into the final show.
Daniel: They were really open to it. We had quite a few creatives involved but we had Katy Rudd as our director, Jess Williams as associate movement director and a brilliant puppet director called Gareth Aled. A lot of how the show works is that there is a lot of trust in the company. You had to give your collaborative ideas ownership and have personal trust in them. They were very good at facilitating us as an ensemble and as it is a long 23 venue tour it’s important that we have ownership of what we bring to the stage. That way it will never become tired as a performance.
Phil: So, with your upcoming tour visit to Curve I believe that it will be your third venue.
Daniel: Yes, that’s right. We began at The Lowry in Salford and then we were in the New Victoria Theatre in Woking last week which we finished on Saturday. This afternoon I will be back home in Leicester for two weeks.
Phil: And you are staying at your Nan’s in Leicester?
Daniel: (laughs) Yes. It is gonna be a bit of a surreal experience. Someone sent me a photo from Leicester train station where there is a massive promotional poster of our show!
Phil: Brilliant. You are being stalked by posters! To finish up – tell me a little about the city of Leicester where you were brought up and did both amateur shows at The Little Theatre and community plays at Leicester Curve, including The King and I. What is it that appeals about the city for you?
Daniel: I think it’s because all my family and friends are from there and my both my experiences at The Little Theatre and mainly the Curve where I started to think about being a professional actor. Leicester is so rich with what it has going on culturally especially the Curve which we are so lucky to have. It just seems like a full circle that I now get to come back as an adult and act professionally on their amazing main stage. I’ve got quite a few people who are coming to see me – family and friends obviously – but also my old school are coming in with a big group. I think a lot of drama students are planning to see it because you have to write about a piece of theatre at A level. For me – just to be back on the home turf – that’s so exciting.
Phil: Well, thank you very much for your time today Daniel. Save your energies and have a safe train journey back to Leicester. I look forward to reviewing the show on opening night.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane (on tour) is based on the novel by Neil Gaiman and adapted for the stage by Joel Harwood.