This August, Richard Oliver is set to share the stage with Sylvester McCoy and Robert Picardo at the Edinburgh Festival as a lead in Dan Freeman’s A Joke. While his castmates are giants within the worlds of Star Trek and Doctor Who, Oliver’s career may be more obscure. Yet Oliver stands tall as a dedicated stage actor, a powerful creative force in his own right, and an incredibly kind and generous man to interview. Oliver is dedicated to empowering actors and has even opened The Theatre Space as a base of operations to invite other actors to hone their craft.
Continuing our exclusive look into the development of A Joke, Rogues Portal was delighted to speak to Richard Oliver to provide some insight into what the currently crowdfunding production has to offer. Here he shares his thoughts on acting in the audio medium, sharing the stage with such well known names, and his own passion for theatre as a living art form.
RP: I have to admit I know you primarily from The Minister of Chance and The Light of September, the two major Dan Freeman productions that preceded A Joke. How long have the two of you been working together?
I’ve known Dan for probably over 12 years now, I first met Dan in a local night club ran by a mutual friend where I had gone to see a comedy night. So I imagine I was probably a fan of his Mundo Jazz comedy before we became friends. I was invited onto his live show to do the comedy news and played a few gigs with him performing his character Juan’s novel “Skig Beesley The Worlds Greatest Detective” and from that point onwards I would be asked onto various projects from the sizzler reel for The Minister Of Chance
to ultimately acting in the series
and then onto The Light Of September
. I have been lucky to be involved in various forms of Dan’s work from his comedy podcast to pretty much all of his projects of late, including being cast in his latest play “A Joke”
RP: Do you have much experience with audio drama or voice work outside of Radio Static productions?
RO: I have been lucky to work on several voice overs over the years, but they have mainly been in the form of being an informative voice on a product, for example a security system, so more corporate type work, Minister was my first real opportunity of stepping foot into the audio drama world and as a lead on from this I’ve been lucky to be cast in as one of the lead characters in a new audio science fiction series called The Flight Of The Rocket, which will see me playing alongside Sophie Aldred.
RP: What are some of the tricks to voice acting or audio work in general that a newcomer might not know? What’s something we might think is easy but is actually the hardest part?
RO: I think one of the tricks would be allowing yourself to exist as your character in the real world of the production you are working on, so rather than acknowledge that your in a studio, stood in front of a microphone, it’s good to almost ignore that and allow your imagination to run riot in terms of visualising your surroundings and the world you now inhabit. This is always easy and great fun to do when working with Dan as he directs in a very filmic way and encourages you to engage with the imaginative world of the scene. It’s hard to suggest the hardest part, I think sometimes for me it can be nerves, particularly when your acting alongside some really well known names, like in The Light Of September, sometimes it can take me a while to settle.
RP: A Joke has a three person cast, Sylvester McCoy and Robert Picardo being the other two leads along with yourself. What do you think of your fellow cast members?
RO: If I am totally honest, I’m pretty in awe of Mr. McCoy and Mr. Picardo, both have careers that span almost beyond the year that I was born and also being a fan of both the Star Trek universe and Doctor Who, it’s pretty amazing from that standpoint alone, so to be asked to share a stage with two fantastic, well respected actors is incredible. I am very excited to to have the opportunity to learn from both of them as their work from stage, film, to TV and audio is phenomenal, so it really feels like a once in a lifetime chance to work up close with two actors that I greatly respect.
RP: What do you think you bring up against them that’s unique? Do the three of you have chemistry?
RO: I was very lucky to work with Sylvester on The Light Of September and he is an incredibly intelligent, detailed and sharing actor, so I am looking forward to working alongside him and having the time to play and explore and develop the script and our characters up close, This will be my first time working with Robert but from what I know from his long line of works, I imagine he is the same as Sylvester, I mean both these actors have been working forever in this industry, so they must have all the right qualities and talent to endure, as for my unique skill, I suppose I am the unknown quantity and I imagine the unique quality that I will offer up will be discovered in the rehearsal room and played out on stage and with regards to the chemistry, both these guys are incredible and have been so lovely in welcoming me to work with them, so I hope we can build on that.
RP: Do you have any fears about bringing A Joke to the stage? You seem to be the most engaged in theatre as a medium compared to the rest of the cast.
RO: I think it’s always a fear when approaching a new piece of work as you obviously want it to be a roaring success, engage with its audience and somehow contribute to changing the world for the better, but i think outside that, being able to work alongside such an incredible team, including Dan & Deb, I think most fears are put to rest as I know I’m in safe hands.
RP: I saw you were recently involved in the launch of The Theatre Space. Would you like to tell us about that?
Sure, The Theatre Space
is a project that I created to be a home for actors from all backgrounds, experience and ages to share their skills, learn, perform and practice. I guess the idea was born out actors spending what can be a long time waiting for your agent to call or having a quiet patch, my idea was to facilitate a space that wouldn’t cost the earth to be involved with where actors could come together in professionally directed productions as a way of sharing their skills with the outside world and use it as a tool to look for more work.
We work with actors of youth theatre age right up to adults and that is supported by our in-house professional company who work with new writing. And also theatre has always been my first love, so to have a space in which we can practice our craft everyday just made sense.
RP: The other side of that is that you now have to make the switch from being in the creative lead back to being an actor in A Joke. Is it easy for you to let go with someone else in charge of the production? Or is there room for collaboration here?
RO: I think I find shifting that role very easily and also I’ve been incredibly lucky that the projects I choose to work on outside my Theatre Space role, are always led by very collaborative teams, where your opinion and ideas are valued and that’s something I find incredibly exciting, being able to shift role from director one minute, to acting and then to playing in a support role on a project, helping out wherever I can, I love having the opportunity to do that, it makes the whole job feel like your part of a fantastic team. I don’t think I’m precious in any way shape or form and am more than happy to be the tea boy and make the brews when needed. I think I’m probably quite driven by the need to learn more about my craft, so being able to experience all aspects from acting, directing and producing suits me to the ground.
RP: Why The Edinburgh Festival? What makes that the right fit for A Joke?
RO: I have been fortunate enough to perform at Edinburgh several times over the years with my own company and I think its the perfect place to take a risk, particularly with new writing as the whole city is in a mode of wanting to be challenged by new exciting productions and also see a play which is unique and I think A Joke most certainly is that, from its beautiful writing to the combination of both Mr Picardo and Mr McCoy playing opposite each other.
RP: Why should our readers fund A Joke? What makes the play worth getting excited about? Is it a straightforward comedy or is there some drama there too?
RO: Without sounding too gushing about Dan’s writing, when I read the first draft I was blown away by how very “Today” it was, it brought to my mind the plays of Beckett and the play has this fearless honesty, which whilst being incredibly funny, questioned ones very existence and what it is to be alive. So for me the play is a fantastically well written one that I would love to see performed anyway. And also I think the combination of McCoy and Picardo make it a very unique project, bringing those actors together to play opposite each other.
RP: So, I asked your other two castmates what would happen if their Doctors switched roles. I can’t use that question with you, but let me ask you this: what role that you’ve played would you like to see each of them take on?
RO: I am a huge fan of the Shakespeare heavyweights, Macbeth is a role that I’ve returned to on many occasions and I still cant work him out fully and one i think I could keep playing until my ears fell off, I think there is something incredibly human about Sylvester and Roberts performances, so I think Macbeth would be one I’d like to see them take on, both those actors are real heavyweight characters and id love to see them take on the Scottish King.
RP: What’s your favourite joke?
RO: My favourite joke is this one my daughter Lily would always tell me when she was little.
Q: Why are pirates pirates? A: Because they ARRRR!
RP: And finally, why did the chicken cross the road?
RO: I’m pretty sure she crossed the road to grab a ticket for new play A Joke where she stars on all the posters.