Interview with & Juliet star Tim Mahendran
| By Jade Ali
(Updated on Feb 26, 2020)
& Juliet has been causing an absolute storm in the West End and has quickly become the must-see show! It is a musical theatre/pop sensation that guarantees a good night out, supplying intoxicating joy to audiences’ night after night! It’s everything there is love about theatre in a nutshell and then some and showcases the importance of new writing and new British musicals. & Juliet tickets are currently booking 3 October at the Shaftesbury Theatre.
Recently I got to catch up with & Juliet’s very own Francois played by the brilliant Tim Mahendran. We chatted all about how great & Juliet is (of course), the importance of representation and his great love for Oliver Tompsett. Read below to see what Tim had to say…
Q&A with Tim Mahendran from & Juliet
1. & Juliet just had its 100th West End show and the fanbase is growing fast and steady; how does it feel to be a part of that?
Tim: The same people always come back and watch and it means the world to us. We see the same faces in the audiences who are all showing us the same amount of love and then you see them bring someone along and then the next time they’re there again. Our support and the fanbase is one of our favourite things in this show because it’s for them. This show we made with love, all of us together in the studio for a couple of months. We made it with every ounce of love that we have, so getting that love reciprocated back to us on stage means the world.
2. You trained at Mountview and assuming the West End was, of course, an aim, was being involved with new writing (especially British) something you hoped for?
T: This is such a blessing as a job! I never thought I’d be here. When we were at drama school there were so many long-running West End shows, which there still are, and we were almost prepared to step into a role. You get taught a role and you step into it. I’ve got a lot of friends that did that, and they loved it and they got to go straight into the West End. My debut out of drama school was the best job I could have asked for. I did Spring Awakening at the Hope Mill Theatre [in Manchester] and it was directed by Luke Sheppard who directed this [& Juliet]. The theatre sits 250 and Spring Awakening fit perfectly in that space because of the nature of the show and there wasn’t much pressure for us.
I got to know Luke and the way he works. We didn’t work together loads, on Spring Awakening, so we never got to know each other. The next show I did was also regional, and then this [& Juliet] came about. There was a two-week workshop and Luke asked me to read for a part (that was in May 2018) and so I went along and read it, but I didn’t think I fit the part. I had fun but actually told my agent not put me up for it because I didn’t fit the part. Then auditions came about, and I went for it anyway and as the auditions went further along, I was getting more material and it was with more people, and I realised I really liked the part. It completely flipped on its head; I was like “I have to play this part!”
Obviously, got it and this is just every actor's dream. Oliver Tompsett, who is a West End veteran, said this was one of his favourite jobs he’s ever done because it’s creating something. Every person who goes on to play these characters will be doing it off the back of something we created. That’s an amazing thing! Also getting to work with the people we work with and see the pop world and the musical theatre world colliding. Its been an absolute dream and it still is.
3. What other goals do you wish to cross off next or at some point in the future (not any time soon please)?
T: One for me was always creating a role, so check that’s done! Everyone always says to me “Do you want to just do musical theatre? Or do you just want to do TV?” but I want to do all of it! There’re no barriers between it. Someone tweeted saying, “I wish I could play Doctor Who, but musical theatre is also the dream.” So, I tweeted him back saying, “Or just do both?!” I wanna do it all and experience it all. I feel all the strings of the bow are important and I wanna tick everything off.
4. & Juliet is revolutionary in its diversity and forward-thinking. Your character, Francois, is particularly important for representation; how does it feel knowing you’re giving people the chance to relate to a story in a way they’ve not necessarily had the chance to before?
T: This was a massive thing for us in rehearsal. Myself, Luke and Arun – who plays May – we wanted people to relate. I’ve said this again and again, when rehearsing for the show; there’s going to be 1400 people in this theatre [Shaftesbury Theatre] and they can pick any of the 8 principal characters and they will be able to relate in some way with them.
What’s an absolute gift for Arun and I, is that there is a huge community that has had a certain lack of representation in musical theatre for years, actually in general, and now, thankfully the table is starting to turn and we’re able to represent the huge community that are so supportive of musical theatre, and this show as well. At stage door after a show I sometimes get people coming up to me and saying, “thank you so much for being me”. To have someone say that to you means the absolute world. There was a mum last night at stage door with her son and as she was walking off, she said, “little boys like that need people like you on stage” and I got what she said. It was just the most amazing thing.
It means the world that people can sit in a theatre and they can feel comfortable and relate. Whether it’s to May or Francois, or anyone; representation is such a massive thing. If people are sitting here and having fun and they’re thinking, “that’s a bit like me”, you couldn’t ask for more.
I don’t feel like there’s any other show like it in terms of representation and there are so many different layers to it. Even the little things for example, when Romeo says he has a lot of feelings and Juliet ensures him that’s okay. It’s such a small part but it carries so much importance.
T: Exactly! It’s representative of race, shapes and sizes, sexuality, of everything. With Romeo, there’s this image that he’s this big hunk and is a fighting maestro, but he’s actually not. There was a draft of the script where Romeo challenges Francois to a duel, but they came to the conclusion that he’s more sensitive and Jordan Luke Gage plays that incredibly.
What I love about Thursday matinees is we get a lot of school groups in. A while ago, Arun and I got a tweet saying, “I came in with my school today and for once I was sat around all these people and I felt so safe and represented.” That was so lovely. If he’s reading this then thank you!
5. What is the most rewarding part of being in & Juliet?
T: At first a lot of people turned their nose up at this show before it came out because they heard the concept and they thought this was going to be just another jukebox pop musical, mixed with a rewrite with one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays and a lot of people turned their noses up straight away. One of the most rewarding things at the start was them coming to watch and admitting it’s really good and eating their words.
Now, it’s that you get people that come here, and the majority of people just have fun. For me, I think theatre is a massive escapism. Life can be horrible at times and it can be challenging, and to come to the theatre and then we can give people two and a half hours of sheer joy and take them away from the stresses of life, then that’s incredible.
6. For those that still haven’t seen & Juliet, why do you think people should come and see the show? Why do you think it is different to any other musical right now?
T: It’s its own thing. This is a colliding of two worlds; pop and musical theatre. We have three inspiration points that our director [Luke Sheppard] pointed out to us at the beginning which are: musical theatre, pop world and British pantomime. Specifically, Will and Anne who move towards the pantomime side of it. They’re constantly in interaction with the audience; especially William. There are scenes like where all the brothers come back together; that is so British Pantomime. We wanted to lean into each aspect. Obviously, the boy band is a huge pop moment and that whole section is very pop and musical theatre.
There’s nothing like this show anywhere. We’ve had the best of the best work on this. David West Read, who wrote the script and is an incredible writer, Max Martin… need I say more, and Bill Sherman who orchestrated the show. Then, of course, there’s Luke Sheppard who is the catalyst of all of this and he is the most intelligent, talented man I’ve ever met. I trust him with all my life, in his work, I know whatever he says is 100% the right thing. So, we’ve got this man in the middle and then you’ve got some of the greatest around, all working together, and it makes this show.
We don’t pretend to be anything we’re not. People say it’s cheesy and it is and we’re trying to be. There are traditional musical theatre shows out there, if that’s what you want, but if you want to come and see something you’ve never seen before and you just wanna have a good time, this show is the one!
7. & Juliet is derived from two of the greatest writers of all time; William Shakespeare and Max Martin, why do you think this combination works so well?
T: I wonder if William Shakespeare was to come and see the show, what he would think. Max Martin’s song catalogue is ludicrous, he has so many songs, that, of course, they’re going to fit into anything. He’s just so good at what he does. What I love about David’s work [book writer] is there are so many references to the actual Shakespearean script. It can go from “super dope” to “deny thy father…” and it’s a colliding of the modern world and Shakespeare, which I never thought could work, but now I couldn’t imagine it any other way.
You wouldn’t think that ‘Everybody’ would fit in but during a show when I sing “oh my god, we’re back again” after the brothers have just reunited… I don’t know which would have come first when he [David] was writing it, but I do know the character Francois is called Francois purely because of the line in ‘It’s My Life’, “Like Frankie said, I did it my way”.
8. It’s the same with May being called May for the line in ‘It’s Gonna Be Me’ and I love seeing people’s reactions to that.
T: When we first read the script, we fell about laughing, but now with the audience and the way they invest in the characters, you still get the few people who laugh because they get the joke but the majority of people whoop and cheer because they’re so happy that those two picked each other.
9. If you could swap characters with anyone (and they’d have to play Francois) who would it be and why?
T: I love Shakespeare for what he is and what Oli [Oliver Tompsett] has done with him; which is hilarious. I used to worship Oli. I used to listen to him on the way to sixth form because he was my vocal inspiration, and still is. He was just this hunk that can sing like a god, but then we started the show and I met him, and he introduced himself and I replied, “I know!”. For his part, he sings very little for what he usually sings in a show, but he loves it because he can just act and show people, he’s not just an amazing voice. He’s a genius actor. We don’t have many scenes together, but each night with him is different. It keeps it fresh and it keeps me on my toes. So, for what he’s done with the part, I would like to do Shakespeare.
10. Do you think he’d be able to play Francois?
T: Oh god no! He’s good but not that good.
Miriam and I have had this chat a lot. I don’t need to say how talented Miriam is because everyone in the West End knows and everyone in the world will soon know. But yes, she is amazing as is the part of Juliet. I’d have to lower the keys dramatically. I know that if she had to play a character, she would pick Francois because we’ve spoken about it many times. So, it would have to be Juliet!
& Juliet tickets are currently booking until 3 October 2020 following the recent West End extension at London’s Shaftesbury Theatre. We also have an exclusive opportunity for you to win a pair of tickets to see the show; check our social pages to see how you can enter!