Jos Vantyler chats to Frankly My Dear UK about his role as The Child Catcher in CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG
Jos Vantyler has taken on some iconic roles in his acting career (Mercutio, Dracula and Tom Sawyer to name but a few) but the Irish actor is about to take on his most iconic role yet as The Child Catcher in CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG.
Stepping into the shoes of screen legend Sir Robert Helpmann who starred in the original 1968 film, Vantyler plays the villainous antagonist employed by Baron Bomburst to snatch and imprison children on the streets of Vulgaria.
The new musical production, which features an all-star cast including Jason Manford (THE PRODUCERS, SWEENEY TODD), Claire Sweeney (TELL ME ON A SUNDAY, HAIRSPRAY) and Phill Jupitus (THE PRODUCERS, HAIRSPRAY), is currently on tour in the UK and visits Salford’s The Lowry this week for a six-week run over Christmas.
Yet despite the iconic role being voted the ‘scariest villain in children’s books’ (despite not actually featuring in the original book), Vantyler confesses that he never originally intended to audition for the role.
“I owe all the credit to James Orange who cast it” says Vantyler, in an exclusive interview with Donna Kelly from Frankly My Dear UK.
“I went to see him over a part that was completely opposite to this and he said, ‘I think you’d be great as the Child Catcher’. He really got me on board and put me in front of James Brining [the director]. I knew Brining’s work and I was a massive fan. I’d seen LITTLE VOICE at the Yorkshire Playhouse and I knew he had an outstanding history of working with musicals, as well as straight theatre. So I went in, met James Brining and it went from there. When they rang up and said ‘would you like to do it?’, I was so thrilled.”
Vantyler joins huge list of famous actors who have taken on the iconic part including Lionel Blair, Martin Kemp, Kevin Kennedy, Richard O’Brien and of course, Helpmann himself. But the 28-year old actor is keen to make the part his own and not impersonate those before him, particularly Helpmann.
“My portrayal is completely different to how Sir Robert Helpmann did it. The worst thing I could do was to try and impersonate him. You’d be mad to try and do that. Helpmann did the most astonishing performance to date. I think he’s only in the film for about six minutes but he’s the person you remember. I think if you try and paint something on and copy what someone else did, you’re going to fail.”
“I’ve had lots of input into my own part and have been allowed to try things and experiment. I’ve spent a lot of time with James Brining and his brilliant associate Emily Kempson. The two of them are flawless in terms of theatrical knowledge and their ability to mix drama with musical theatre so everything has purpose and meaning.”
“This is a real person. The effect of what he is and what he stands for – the demise of all things creative, the demise of youth and the demise of new blood – if you play the truthful card then I think it really works and you can do it justice. I hope!”
As well as adding his own touch to the characterisation, Vantyler also hand a hand in designing the costume for The Child Catcher. While elements of the original film costume, such as the black top hat and long black jacket have been cleverly reinvented for the stage costume, Vantyler was able to play about with the character’s facial features to make it truly unique.
“I was given a very free hand with how I did his face. I’ve got him slightly operatic but very much a real person. I didn’t want it to be like a mask, I thought he needed to have a face, a real face that you can see everything register on. He is slightly gothic. He’s the thing of nightmares but he’s a person. He [The Child Catcher] has very long, greasy black hair, a very pale face and dark eyes.”
“It’s a really outstanding and Simon Higlett [Designer] is just out of this world. He’s designed a really great costume. It’s a little bit steam punk, less kind of classical and authentic than the movie.”
Vantyler joins a large cast and ensemble, as well as a huge creative team backstage who form part of the mammoth production. Alongside the backstage teams responsible for the set, choreography, special effects and live orchestra, the car also has its own care team. The first stage version of the magical car, which weighs roughly two-and-a-half tonnes, cost an eye-watering £750,000 to build and is listed in the Guinness World Records as the most expensive stage prop ever.
“Backstage is the most mammoth operation, I’ve never seen so many walkie talkies!” comments Vantyler.
“The car is obviously the star of the show is very well looked after. It’s got its own care team who look after it. Then you’ve got all the safety people. I do some flying in the show and the operation of the people behind that is incredible. There’s a song in the show called teamwork and I think that really applies to this show.”
“Joanna Goodwin, who is the Associate Choreographer to Steven Mear, keeps the show looking like the first night every night. You will never see it look anything other than brand-spanking new, shiny, glossy and tight, tight, tight. She’s wonderful, they all are. Everybody is so involved and so passionate about it and when you come and see it, that’s the thing you notice about it.”
Yet despite the big names at the helm, Vantyler still feels the pressure of living up to such an iconic character and judges his performance by the amount of boos he gets at the curtain call.
“I judge it. If the boos are not a belter then I’ve not done so good” says Vantyler.
“The curtain call is fabulous, there is a real wave of hysteria from the audience. The car gets a huge cheer, I get a massive boo, there’s a huge bit of samba for the Baroness and the Baron and a massive cheer for everyone else. The whole thing at the end is really breath-taking, it really knocks you off your feet.”
Still, the actor is not shy to revel in his role as the baddie.
“I love a baddie, they are my favourite” says Vantyler.
“Over the years when I look back, baddies have really been my biggest successes. My biggest ambition in life is to be a Bond baddie. Who knows, the next time we speak I might have landed myself Bond baddie?”
Jos Vantyler plays The Child Catcher in CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG at The Lowry until 15 January 2017