Graham Elwell on his role in Of Mice and Men

Graham Elwell on his role in Of Mice and Men

5 April 2016

by Helena Ascough

Interview: Ensemble member and understudy Graham Elwell on preparing to play the characters of Lennie, Carlson and The Boss at a moment's notice.

I met Graham Elwell who is an Ensemble member in Of Mice and Men and Understudy for the characters of Lennie, Carlson, and The Boss.

Graham Elwell on stage in Of Mice and Men

How do you prepare for the role of understudying three characters?
With great difficulty. It starts off in rehearsals where you watch what’s going on and make a few notes and then going back learning the lines. It’s difficult as you don’t get rehearsals like everyone else. Everyone is rehearsing the parts but you are not, making it difficult to learn the lines. So what I do is record all the cues. I would get my mobile and speak in the other characters [voices from the script] and I would pause and mime my line back.

As we are on tour, we have had three rehearsals… we are very under-rehearsed! But I know all my lines for the characters so if I had to go on I would be able to. But it’s pretty scary and stressful stuff… you have to go through everything all the time because potentially anytime you could go on.

But it’s not like I’m just understudying. I can't just sit in the dressing room and spend my time reading books! I have to do things in the show as well. I’m part of the ensemble, I do sound effects, I’m in the fight scene and I come on at the end. So it’s a lot to do.


Are there any other challenges of being an understudy?
There is a frustration. As it goes on the more confident you get in doing it, the more you want to go on. I’ve not been wanting to go on as I have bust my hand! It looks like it’s part of the show but I actually fractured my hand!


What is it like being an actor on tour?
It’s good fun, I’m enjoying it!  In terms of being on tour, it is strange how quickly it goes. It’s only a week but the week flies by. If you manage your time, it’s good. You can see places that you have not been to and parts of the country you wouldn’t normally visit; you can educate yourself about things.

Halfway through the interview, Graham was asked to go to a ‘fight call’, which the actors take part in every day to ensure that stunts are performed safely. Lucky for me, I was allowed to watch!

It was fantastic seeing how the actors prepare themselves before going on stage. Some actors hum to help them warm up, whilst others use tongue twisters to help with articulation. 

During the fight call all understudies, as well as the main actors, must go through each stunt. I was told that this keeps the actions fresh in the actor’s minds.

Back from the ‘fight call’ I asked Graham: Do you get nervous before going on stage?

Not really, I would be very nervous if I had to go on as it would be my first time [as an understudy] because we have been doing this for at least 5 weeks on tour, plus a couple of weeks in Birmingham. Once you have done that, the nerves are not an issue.


How relevant is the play for today?  
Very relevant. It’s about migrant workers which is still a huge issue in the world. People coming over from Europe to here and into Europe from Syria. This is an example of migrant workers in the US going from place to place looking for work, leading a lonely life… which is similar to people who are economic migrants now. George and Lennie dream of having their own place, exactly what many migrants want.

Of Mice and Men premieres at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, where it runs from 4 to 13 February 2016. It then tours to Cheltenham, Nottingham, Wolverhampton, Darlington, Blackpool, Cambridge, Brighton, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Oxford and Leicester where it concludes on 28 May.