An interview with Jack Ryder, co-director of Take That musical The Band
Jack Ryder rose to fame as Jamie Mitchell in EastEnders before becoming an acclaimed director with projects such as The Girls. I had a chat with Jack about new musical The Band, working at Hull New Theatre and Yorkshire, and plans for the future.
Q. Often with theatre productions it’s an uphill battle trying to sell the show, but sales-wise, The Band has gone through the roof hasn’t it?
A. Yes, we are very lucky, let’s just say that (laughs). Yeah, it is a bit of machine; the whole kind of Take That machine is a huge thing, and that’s a bolster for the show, but even things like the advertising, the logo, the band, the poster… It is a brand in itself. It’s become a massive thing and we are incredibly fortunate.
Q. What’s been the show’s biggest challenge?
A. I’ve worked in theatre for quite a few years in terms of the directing capacity. I directed shows like Calendar Girls and The Full Monty, but I’ve never really developed a musical before. I’d worked on The Girls with (writer) Tim Firth and have a very strong relationship with him.
The most challenging thing with this show wasn’t just in terms of developing it. It was what the creative team became, which was this kind of mix; this theatrical side, which was myself, Tim Firth, producers David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers, aligned with this team with (co-director) Kim Gavin, (designer) Jon Bausor and (lighting designer) Patrick Woodroffe, who although have worked in theatrical circles, have also done shows like the Olympics, the Rolling Stones and the Take That concerts, so bringing these two teams together in a collaborative way was quite challenging. But in a way it was so exciting because there were lots of different creative views in the room. And although it was a challenge to begin with, it actually brought so much to the show and has made it what it is.
Q. How is it working at Hull New Theatre compared to any other theatre? Is it a case of going in and doing a recce; making sure the guys can project to the back row, that sort of thing?
A. Yeah, you do that in every venue all over the country because obviously different theatres have different dimensions. They’re all different sizes and different capacities, and different audiences as well. What might land in Manchester and get a big laugh every night will be tumbleweed in Canterbury. It’s quite a bizarre thing, and what that does is it keeps everyone completely on their toes. Somewhere like Hull and Leeds Grand, we take each theatre as it comes. We find the northern audiences are always very welcoming. And always very vocal in terms of comedy, so it’s always a pleasure to come to Yorkshire and places like Hull, because you really feel a vocal response from the audience, much more than you would in a southern ’house’. So it’s always a lovely welcome for us.
Q. Tim Firth is an accomplished writer. It must be half the battle when you’ve got such a great script and a book.
A. Yeah, he’s a genius. And his work ethic is wonderful to be around. I’ve worked with Tim for many years on other shows, and we get on very well. I’ve learnt so much from him. He’s always tweaking, he’s always changing. What I love about Tim, he’s always so open to suggestions. He always listens to the cast and anyone else who is in the room. And he also always comes up with what he believes is the way to go. He’s not a single-minded writer. He is very open and very collaborative and quite a humble human being. And that’s always very healthy to have around and be in the room with. So it’s never been anything but a joy.
Q. If you’ll excuse the obvious pun, you are a Jack of all trades. Which do you prefer: acting, directing or both?
A. Both really. You always learn from both. The acting serves the directing. The directing serves me as an actor. It’s a funny business that we’re in. You never know what’s round the corner.
If someone had said to me five years ago ’The first musical I’ll be directing is Take That musical The Band’, I would never in a million years have believed that. It’s funny how these things come along. You gotta keep an open mind and keep being creative. And keep being open to projects, and creating great stories, pleasing audiences and entertaining people. And we’re doing that, certainly with this show.
Q. Why have Take That succeeded so well when so many other bands have fallen by the wayside?
A. Well there’s a few reasons why. I remember when I was a teenager. There were members of the girls’ school that used to get on the bus, and they’d be at the back with Smash Hits magazine with all the posters. And I remember Take That. I never listened to them as a teenager. I really remember them being so prominent in our culture and in the charts.
The girls were crazy about them, and they were a huge, huge deal.
Then obviously the boys split apart and laid low for many years and did their own thing. They’ve come back with this kind of maturity, and a real humbleness in the sense of having a second opportunity. Their music has matured; their writing’s matured, and their performing has matured, and they give people great shows: their stadium shows that Kim (Gavin) has directed, like Circus. They really do entertain audiences. And we all know that Gary and all of them can write a really catchy tune as well. People generally like them as people. They are normal guys and they’re humble in terms of what they do. Everyone appreciates that.
Q. It’s only a matter of time until we get a big screen biopic of Take That. Would you be interested in directing if the chance arose?
A. Of course. Yeah that would be incredible. I’m sure something like that will come along. This show has been such a joy working with them, and they were always around, which was lovely for the cast. And obviously for myself to ask them questions. And get references and knowledge about them as people and them as a group. So I would always jump for joy working with the boys.
Q. What’s in the pipeline after this? Any films perhaps?
A. No, no films. I’m doing lots of bits and pieces. Obviously directing The Band is taking up a lot of my time right now; making sure that show is in good shape, and all the venues it goes to that we are doing the right job, and the show’s tight. There’s my acting career and there’s lots of things in the fire.
I also write as well so… there’s lots of creative juices flowing. At the moment I’m just concentrating on The Band and writing generally.
Q. And you’ve written a novel?
A. Yes I’ve written my first novel, which is under the eyes of certain people as we speak, and I’m writing my second now.
The experience of working with Tim Firth and working in the theatre world and developing shows like Calendar Girls and working on The Full Monty, talking a lot about story… I’m talking a lot about characters and character development. So it’s been a bit of a side passion of mine to develop my own stories.
I’ve written and directed shorts in the past. When I put my head to the computer and started writing a novel, it went so much deeper for me that it became kind of infectious, so that’s something I enjoy and I’m continuing.