Interview: Matthew Blake, “I’d always wanted to be an actor from a very young age”

Milky Peaks, the new musical by Seiriol Davies currently running at Theatr Clwyd before touring, is set in the titular town, Milky Peaks, in the bosom of Snowdownia.

We spoke with Matthew Blake who stars in the production about the musical, regional theatre, and using an enforced hiatus to improve the show.

The Understudy Q&A for Matthew Blake

Hi Matthew, thanks for taking time to talk to us about Milky Peaks. You’ve had to wait a long time to get here – how does it feel to finally be opening the play?

Hi, thanks for having me! Yes, it’s a huge relief to finally get it open. I am absolutely thrilled to finally be sharing it with audiences after such a long time. Everyone has invested so much time, emotion and money into getting this show open so it’s lovely that we’ve finally managed to do it and so far, is going down well with audiences.

Tell us a little bit about your background – how did you become an actor?

I’d always wanted to be an actor from a very young age (that or a Barbie doll, but that wasn’t really a viable career option for me – I’m 6ft 4). I was lucky enough to get into East 15 Acting school and despite being from a lower income background got some financial help from my college and local authority to help pay for it. It was at East 15 on the Contemporary Theatre Practice that my eyes were opened to what working in the arts could be. My tutor, the late Brian Astbury, encouraged us all to have a political opinion, to devise, write, design, produce and direct – to be able to wear many hats (metaphorically, not literally, he was a practical man – although we did all have to learn to juggle, a skill he was adamant would come in handy. It hasn’t yet). I don’t design or produce any more, but I do split my time between acting, writing and directing fairly equally.

What can you tell us about Milky Peaks and your role?

Milky Peaks is a fun, fierce musical about wanting to belong, community and identity. It’s also camp as Christmas. It’s an ensemble piece: all the cast play a Greek-style Chorus, who are the relentlessly Queer spirits of Wales who live in the mountains and are gods but also a bit ‘Jem and the Holograms’. The Queer spirits tell a “universal story” about a bleak, but happy town called Milky Peaks in the heart of Snowdonia and step in to play the different characters. I play Ms. Pariah Carey, a shabby Drag Queen from Queensferry, who is seen as a bit of a joke by the other townsfolk. It’s down to her and some other lost souls to save the town from destruction. In addition to being in it as a performer, I’m also part of the core creative team who devised it, as well as being the Associate Director.

Has your approach changed from the origin preparations to how you’re approaching it now?

Yes – we used the forced hiatus as an opportunity to edit the script and change things a bit. We simplified things too. The choreographer and movement director (Ewan Jones) also knew us better and how can I say this kindly… tailored the movement to better suit our abilities. It was sort of lovely coming back to the project after such a long time away – we had a new perspective. We also had two new cast members join us. Of course, we were very sad that two cast members didn’t come back, but they both were unavailable doing other exciting things. But on the positive side of things, we gained two extraordinary new cast members who have really made the show their own.

What was it that attracted you to the production?

Well, Seiriol (writer and composer) and I had worked together for years. We actually met whilst working, in a field at a festival, in character. They were playing my 6-year-old brother called Beano and I was their 8-year-old sister called Lilian. We got on so well and shared similar references & stupid humour and we’ve worked together ever since. We used to perform regularly on the Queer cabaret scene, playing self-help guru siblings called the McWizard brothers. We then devised How to Win Against History together, which Seiriol also wrote from our devising process, where we also met Alex Swift (the director) Aine Flanegan (producer) and Dylan Townley (musical director and arranger).

You’ve played in a variety of London and regional theatres, like Theatr Clwyd – how do the two compare?

I’ve done a bit of Off-West End stuff, but I’ve mainly worked in non-traditional theatre settings, either working in immersive theatre with companies like Punchdrunk, Gideon Reeling and Darkfield, or working in community settings. I always love coming to regional theatres – I love seeing different parts of the UK and love getting to know the different departments. The costume department at Clwyd is a particular fave of mine – all the makers there are so talented and lovely, I’ve had quite the laugh with them all (and they’ve seen me many times in my pants and not laughed once – so they’re good eggs)!

Finally, how would you describe Milky Peaks to someone considering buying a ticket for the show?

This is a cliche, but I would say it is a great night out. I know, I know, that’s the most boring phrase I could use but the songs are fantastic, the jokes are plentiful, and it wears its politics firmly but gently and compassionately on its sleeve. It is clever and witty but incredibly stupid at the same time. And if none of that sounds appealing – it’s a camp night out! I urge people to book immediately!