Alex Hanson may not be instantly recognisable by name, but his body of work certainly is. One of the most prolific actors in London’s West End, Hanson has had starring roles in Queen musical We Will Rock You, as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, and most recently, as the frustrated and violent Nazi – is there any other kind? – in Marguerite.
He has also amassed an incredibly diverse resume over twenty years in stage theatre, performing in plays such as the recent, critically acclaimed Talking to Terrorists.
Musicals have so much financial investment that they’re like blockbuster films – and similarly, reviews often do not matter. Do you think that they have become immune to criticism? Or are critics out of touch with public opinion?
I’m not sure I agree that they’re immune to journalistic criticism, but often they can survive in a way a straight theatre piece couldn’t. We Will Rock You was ripped apart by critics – I think the reason was because they hadn’t seen anything like that before – this collation of famous songs, loosely put together with a very tenuous plotline – and it was the first time they had been required to pass judgement on this new form. And also, because of the popularity of Queen, the advance was very good, which tends to get up critics’ noses, because it means they have little influence.
Given the number of musicals based on the back catalogues of only so-so ’80s bands, or promoted by reality TV contests, do you think the industry has become more cynical?
That doesn’t entirely tell the story of musical theatre at the moment – look at Billy Eliot, a fantastic original musical, better than the film, even. Marguerite is based on Camille, by Alexandre Dumas. It’s been updated to occupied Paris during the Second World War, and it’s a serious theme; the same story as La Traviata. It’s downbeat, and even though it’s a beautiful production, it never took off – it’s not a family musical.
Programs like How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? have raised the profile of theatre, but have also brought another set of reality TV shows into our lives. Do you think they are good or bad?
My gut reaction is yuck: as actors, the idea of casting someone by public vote is anathema. But it’s not as simple as that – they’re casting youngsters, and the difference between what they know and a kid straight out of drama school is probably not a huge amount, particularly when it comes musicals, where you have the benefits of microphones. As a marketing tool, I thought it was absolutely brilliant, although I have a few quibbles with Andrew Lloyd Webber using the BBC as his own personal advertising outlet. You couldn’t do it with straight theatre – that’s sort of hinted upon when they cast a soap star, who is big in the public consciousness. It invariably folds, which comforts me, really. But then, there’s a lot of stuff that’s very good. All is not lost.
What excites you creatively at the moment?
Theatre is a very fertile place at the moment. Bringing different disciplines in, like puppetry – these skills coming together make things very new and exciting. But then, being an old fuddy-duddy, I still want to do my Chekhov.