It’s fairly early in the morning when I sit down to interview Steffan Lloyd-Evans, the star of Mischief Theatre’s The Comedy About a Bank Robbery. Less than 14 hours ago I have watched Steffan, and the rest of an outstanding comic cast, perform a range of vocally and physically demanding gags with a level of energy that makes me exhausted to even think about, so I’m expecting this conversation to be slightly more demure – surely any normal human would be, you know… tired?
But apparently not. The first thing that strikes me as the interview begins is that, much like his on-stage character Sam, Steffan has an infectious level of energy and charisma that is captivating to listen to.
We begin by chatting about the play. The Comedy About a Bank Robbery is the latest outing from Mischief Theatre, the team behind The Play That Goes Wrong and Peter Pan Goes Wrong, and Steffan explains that this distinctive style is partly what attracted him to the project. “It’s a type of comedy that’s a combination of style, physical comedy and incredibly witty wordplay,” he says. “And that’s a combination that really marks it out as something a little different.”
The distinctive theatrical style is certainly an element that stands out in The Comedy About a Bank Robbery, but given that most readers might recognise Steffan from musical productions like Into The Woods and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, I wonder how Steffan makes the leap from singing to acting with such ease.
“I was always brought up to believe that singing meant nothing unless people believed what you were saying,” he explains. “And that was more important maybe than some of the wonderful technical things – that you could sound like an opera singer if you were lucky enough, but if nobody believed you, you wouldn’t really get anywhere.
“It is very different in style, but as long as an element of truth pervades the piece, I don’t think it makes much difference, as long as you take the audience with you wherever you go.”
The need to keep the audience with you is surely one that is integral to The Comedy About a Bank Robbery, a play that relies on sharp wordplays and occasionally absurd plot twists to maintain momentum, and Steffan’s character Sam is possibly the most important link between play and audience, as the most relatable and down-to-earth character in the almost farcical world of the script.
Explaining his character, Steffan says: “Sam is growing up in Minneapolis in Minnesota, and the town is absolutely full of crooks, so he ends up picking pockets as a way to get by. He’s sort of plodding through life, getting one up on people, until this wonderful girl comes into his life who is far smarter than he is and can run rings around him, and he ends up in this horrible, bizarre situation where he has to rob a bank in order to cover up the fact that he was in her apartment and – well, I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s sort of a series of unfortunate events for him in which he ends up in some pretty uncompromising situations”.
Can he see any obvious similarities between himself and his character? “I would love to say no. But yes, probably! I think he can be quite naïve… but he’s incredibly energetic, he’s always trying to find the good in everything and keep things ticking over, and he’s got masses of energy, which are all things I would like to think about myself. You’d have to ask my friends and see if they’d say the same.” He pauses. “I’m not sure I actually possess those qualities, maybe I just want to!”
Aside from the high level of energy required from its actors, the show also demands a lot of physical exertion, with various gags involving characters hanging off the walls and ceiling and lots of physical comedy. Surely that must be quite demanding?
“The most challenging part was the stamina… to get my body to that point took a while, for the first few months I could basically do nothing other than the show, I was a sort of walking zombie! Your body does learn though, and I’m really lucky because I come from a very physical background, I did judo for a long time and free running, and I absolutely adore physical theatre.”
Steffan’s father is also in show business, so I ask if his dad’s profession as an opera singer affected Steffan’s own desire to go into the theatre. “It’s difficult to say that it didn’t! I was around that a lot as a child, and was very fortunate to see a lot of those shows, a lot of kids don’t have that opportunity.
“I was surrounded by music, so originally the theatre was where I wanted to go, but then I realised sort of what we’ve been talking about – about the story being more important. For seven-year old me watching opera it didn’t matter what language it was in, it was whether I felt I could follow the story or not – that was how I would decide whether I was bored or loving life!”
My final question is perhaps the hardest one yet, but Steffan seems to have had this question before as he groans before answering. “My dream role? Ah, I hate this question, it’s so hard to answer! There’s a couple of plays that I’ve absolutely adored since I was young… it’s not necessarily my casting, but Eddie Carbone in A View from a Bridge, maybe Death of a Salesman – obviously when I’m much older. And John Proctor in The Crucible! I mean, who wouldn’t want to play that? I just want to scream ‘because it is my name’ as loudly as possible. Musical theatre wise, whatever comes my way. I’ve been very lucky to have done a real mix of things, but most of the time I sort of like to make people laugh.”
It’s an aim which, I can confirm, Steffan and the rest of the cast are more than succeeding at.
Catch Steffan Lloyd-Evans in The Comedy About a Bank Robbery at the Criterion Theatre, booking until April 2018.