Though Tom Edden has the look of someone born to play Fagin he says it is a combination of luck and “being very pushy” that has resulted in him playing the part in the Crucible production of Oliver!
“I met Daniel (Evans, Sheffield Theatres artistic director) at a party and took the opportunity to go and introduce myself because I had long been an admirer of him both a director and a performer,” he explains.
“I saw My Fair Lady last year which I thought was spectacular so I went up and had a bit of a gush and he had seen me in One Man Two Guvnors. I asked him what he was doing next and he said Oliver and as a joke I said, ‘Well if you need a Fagin, I’m your man’.
“That’s not the kind of thing I would do if I seriously thought they were, I assumed it was cast but as it happened because of circumstances they did need to see somebody. I wasn’t being serious but in one sense I was because I have always wanted to play it, it’s such a peach of a part.”
The actor had understudied Rowan Atkinson and Griff Rhys Jones in the Cameron Mackintosh production at Drury Lane a few years ago.
“There are some parts you covet in a way, you see them being played and you think I’ve got that in me. It’s one of those parts although it’s like a mountain, you look and think I fancy getting to the top of that and seeing whether I can do it,” he continues.
And he is prepared to admit he looks the part. “There is something about my look and my profile that people have noticed and I am very happy about that - if it’s contributed to me being able to play it.
“One of the challenges is that the songs are so well known so we as a cast have to present thim in a ways that is pleasing to everyone but at the same time deliver them in a way that feels fresh and maybe highlight things that maybe people haven’t heard in that song before and I think that’s particularly true of Fagin’s songs.
You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket is there to help enrol Oliver and these songs are an extension of the scenes and the characters’ motivations.”
Edden was part of the smash-hit National Theatre production of One Man Two Guvnors and his role as an inept geriatric waiter won awards on Broadway.
“It was a case of give me an inch, I’ll take a mile. That’s the challenge of this part is that it’s not an inch it’s the whole nine yards.
“Guvnors was two years that was sublime, being at the National, going to New York, it was one of those experiences as an actor you feel it’s very clear why you are doing it because sometimes you graft away and you are out of work or the jobs aren’t satisfying and you take them for the money but to get in a job where the sense of fulfilment and the creative juices being exercised was so alive for every minute of that .
“Everything came together, the writing, the direction the parts, the people, it just worked like a charm.
“Riding that crest was something I will always look back on, the relationships I made and everything.”
Edden comes to Sheffield straight from filming from a couple of screen roles. One is Kenneth Branagh’s version of Cinderella for Disney.
“I don’t have a very big part but when the carriage changes and the horses turn into mice, well I am a lizard who turns into a footman and rather like Fagin people have said, ‘oh I can see you as a lizard which is slightly less flattering’.”
The second is Mike Leigh’s new movie, Untitled 13, a biopic of the painter, Turner, which “I’m not allowed to talk about,” he says. He will only say that he is playing a minor artist and enjoyed “being in a room playing a character who was once in that room and seeing a painting that was painted by that character.
“All I can say is I am so looking forward to seeing it as a huge Mike Leigh fan myself. And having worked closely with him I am bringing all of that into this. He believes in a discipline and a specificity of research and authenticity. If you subscribe to it there are no holes to it.
“You have to be able to answer every single question about your character. and then when you are on stage or in front of the camera you put it all away. You never have to play the character all in one line, you do all that work and then you turn up and throw it away and see what’s in the moment and what’s out there.”
Oliver! starts previewing at the Crucible Theatre on Friday and runs to January 14.