He gives us fever: Interview with Richard Winsor

Dancer and former Casualty star Richard Winsor talks to us about starring in a new stage production of Saturday Night Fever, coming next year to the Grand Opera House, York.

Why did you want to be part of Saturday Night Fever?

John Travolta’s performance in the film Saturday Night Fever was what got me dancing as a kid. The disco scenes, his solo, his very masculine energy, it inspired me. I remembered all the incredible moments from the film and all its themes, and thought “If we get that clear and honest for a new stage version, it could be really amazing.”

And we are taking it back to that dark atmospheric setting. We’re not shying away from that. It is still going to be a stage dance show, but we really are finding the realism in it.

There have been stage versions before. Is this an entirely new production?

It’s brand new. Everything is new, apart from the story and the music of course.

 

What is Saturday Night Fever about?

It follows Tony Manero. He is a young, enigmatic guy who hasn’t had much opportunity in his life. He’s from a hard-working, down on their luck, Brooklyn family, and works in a paint store for minimal wages. But when he goes to the 2001: Odyssey nightclub, he is the king on the dance floor. He’s a different person there. He loves the attention, the sweat, the heat, the women. When the club announces a dance competition with a prize of $1000 and the chance to dance in the discos of Manhattan, it’s a big deal for him. It offers him that chance to escape.

 

The Bee Gees music is one of the most iconic soundtracks in cinema history. How are you using it in this production?

We wanted to keep the music close to the brilliant original soundtrack. The music supporting the drama and the tragedies as they unfold. We have an electric band guiding us along and the Bee Gees singing the hits, which all adds to the story. Hearing the music played live is amazing.

 

How do you feel about following in the footsteps of John Travolta?

It’s a challenge. I want to draw from him, not imitate him. I’ve got so much to play off – the ways of standing, walking and dancing. But I have to play my own reality, otherwise it becomes contrived imitation.

 

This production marks the 40th anniversary of the film’s release. Is it still relevant?

That’s the thing. With Trump threatening to build a wall to keep the Mexicans out and people with split families striving for a better life, it’s interesting to look at it and think “How far have we come?” 40 years on, and similar families are talking about not being employed and trying to break free. It’s all still there.

 

How is seeing Saturday Night Fever on stage different to watching the film?

The sheer immediacy, energy and atmosphere you get from the stage adds to the experience. That coupled with beautifully sung live music and amazing choreography is fantastic. You get moved in a different way in the theatre. As an audience you witness something so present and real it hits you differently.

 

Are you excited about touring?

I am. I’ve always loved touring. I toured a lot as part of Matthew Bourne’s company. This is going to be a physically and mentally demanding show, but I’m ready to take it to all these different cities.

 

Are there tour dates you’re particularly looking forward to?

I’m excited about going to Cardiff, because that’s where I filmed Casualty. I haven’t seen some of my mates there for so long. They’re getting a big group together to see the show. And Liverpool, because Liverpool Empire is a ginormous, beautiful theatre.

 

How was starring in Casualty?

I absolutely loved Casualty. I learned so much there and worked with many great guest artists. I got a lovely big ending as too. When I suggested I was ready to try a new challenge elsewhere, they said my character deserved to be killed. I didn’t know how to take that, but it is a huge compliment. They can only do it once every two or three years.

 

You began as a dancer and worked for a decade with Matthew Bourne. What was that like?

I joined him as my first job out of college. It was a wonderful time. I was 19 when he asked me to join the company. A year later he started creating lead roles on me. I did Play Without Words, Edward Scissorhands, Dorian Grey, which all led to the second generation of Swan Lake.

I’m still really close with Matthew. He’s a massive support. When I told him about Saturday Night Fever, he was delighted and said, “Fantastic. About time you got back on stage Dickie.”

 

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