Interview – Scott Hunter on telling the ‘beautifully human’ story of Yank! at the Charing Cross Theatre

Off-Broadway musical Yank! will transfer to London’s Charing Cross Theatre this summer for a seven-week season from 3 July to 19 August, just months after its acclaimed UK premiere run at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre.

SCOTT HUNTER will reprise his role as Stu in this poignant love story based on the true, hidden history of gay soldiers during the Second World War.

Directed by James Baker, Yank! has a book and lyrics by David Zellnik and music by his brother Joseph.

Scott spoke with Musical Theatre Review’s Polly Sisley during the early stages of rehearsals.

What was it that encouraged you to get into the performing arts?

I consider myself to be relatively late to the game. I started singing when I was 14, whereas a lot of my friends were doing it from a very young age. One of my teachers, who actually went to Guildford School of Acting when she was younger, really encouraged me to perform.

So, when I was in Year 9, I was Galileo in my school’s production of We Will Rock You. From that moment, I found myself always searching for reasons and ways to perform. I would do every school production and found all the local amateur theatre societies. I then met someone who was going to Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. A couple of years later I decided to do the same and spent three years studying at Mountview. But, like I said, I feel I’m quite late to the game, I felt like I had to play catch up a lot.

Do you still feel that way now?

Not so much now I’ve completed my training. But my musical theatre knowledge is always growing. For example, I only listened to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat for the very first time this year.

For most young performers, that musical is a staple in their lives because they probably would have been in it at one point. In rehearsals, especially during training, I found myself constantly having to watch and learn what the discipline was, or little tricks of the trade. But it’s really not something that goes through my head onstage.

Barnaby Hughes and Scott Hunter in the original production of Yank! at the Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester. Picture: Anthony Robling

You mentioned your teacher was the someone who encouraged you to do your first ever production. Was there someone specific who inspired you to get into performing?

There are definitely a few people. I had a particularly great drama faculty at my secondary school. In Year 7, when I first started drama, I didn’t mind it, but I’d never done anything like it before.

I then remember my best friend wanted to audition for the school play which was Shakespeare’s The Tempest. He said to me: ‘Please come with me, I’m too nervous’, so I did. It ended up being the classic cliché of me getting the part instead of him.

I had an amazing drama teacher called Wyn Richards who was incredible. He taught me how to read, speak and understand Shakespeare. He was inspiring because he showed me that we can actually study theatre, it’s not just a fun pastime.

My other teacher, Miss Reece, was the one who helped me to sing. She heard me singing when passing through the corridor one day and encouraged me to believe I had a voice. I also met a lot of inspiring people when I went to drama school, but I would say those two teachers were the ones who really springboarded me into believing I had an ability.

And now you’re been in rehearsals for Yank! How have they gone? 

They’ve gone really well. There are four new cast members and it’s been really lovely to have new faces and new personalities in the room. Just like anything that you do for too long, there’s the potential of falling into the trap of becoming slightly stale, so it’s nice to mix things up a bit.

It’s also good to learn the show again with new people. It’s looking like it’s going to be a really great cast. We were really lucky up in Manchester; each actor was just perfect for each role played. We were worried that trying to replicate that in London would be really difficult, but they’ve done it well.

Yank! received great reviews following its run at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester. Because the level of expectation is now so high, is there more pressure ahead of the London shows?

There definitely is that feeling in the room of ‘we need to work as hard as we did, if not harder’. We had a kind of freedom in Manchester because we were completely creating these roles. They had been done Off-Broadway, but over here in the UK, this was us creating these roles, this piece. From that lack of expectation comes a real empowerment as an actor because so rarely do you get to completely create a character from nothing.

This time, there is definitely a pressure or feeling of expectation that we need to match the reviews and make sure we’re delivering a high standard for the Charing Cross Theatre.

I’m trying not to focus too much on the reviews as such, I just want to communicate the story in the most effective way I can. We’re trying our best to ensure people hear, understand and feel for this story. It’s beautifully human and rarely told. So, if we focus on that, hopefully the pressure will not be playing on our minds!

Yank! highlights the hidden history of gay soldiers during the Second World War. It seems to be a musical that avoids clichés… 

Yes! It’s one of the reasons I was so drawn to the piece when I first read the book. I haven’t read something so well written in a very long time, especially for a musical. At the core of it, the musical is about love and how love can overcome adversity.

It just so happens that the two people who we follow are men. It really is and should be about what love can overcome and how important it is. At the same time, it explores how two men dealt with being in love during the war. Every relationship struggled in the war, but in this case, we follow two men being in love. Not only are they missing, yearning and pining for each other at points, but we also explore their relationship with society.

Do you think it’s important that this story is communicated to people?

You know, I think it’s so important. When I was younger, I didn’t see myself in a lot of theatre pieces. I didn’t relate to anything immediately, I had to find similarities with my characters. Sometimes that’s really fun and a big part of our job, but what’s really nice now is that we’re beginning to see a more accepting view on all kinds of love, gender and sexuality.

However, I still don’t think there’s ever been a character I’ve understood like I have Stu. It’s a unique, one of a kind piece in the way it handles the story. It doesn’t focus on being a ‘gay piece’. It’s about two men falling in love and the dangers that come with it. The lovely thing is, within the story, we can’t escape talking about masculinity within the army and the pressures of being a ‘man’.

You mentioned identifying with your character. You’re playing Stu. Can you tell me a bit about him?

Stu is the mid-western American boy who’s always been an underdog. He’s always felt like he doesn’t fit in anywhere. I think he’s always known there’s something different about him. After being conscripted into the army, I think he hopes to find a community and somewhere he can finally become a ‘man’. I think he feels terribly that he has to reach this ideal level of being a man that society has constructed.

All the while, he soon realises that he is falling in love. Having never been in love before, he’s learning what love truly is. When he realises he’s fallen for a man, everything seems terrifying and confusing, but to him it’s the most beautiful thing.

Stu’s not built for the war; he’s not physically or emotionally strong, but he proves himself in the musical through what he has to go through. At the end of the show he learns to accept himself within a world that’s telling him he’s completely wrong.

To me, Stu’s the bravest person I know. That sounds silly because he’s a fictional character, but this whole musical came from real stories. I hope the audience will leave the theatre feeling moved by a story they may not have heard before. I also believe they’ll come away feeling highly entertained.

Do you enjoy playing him?

I love it!

You come across as very passionate about him…

I’ve always read and digested interviews with actors I have respected. They always speak about their characters as real people. I always found it quite humorous, but now I really understand it. I’ve learnt so much throughout this process. When you create a character, you truly have to invest and believe in them. I just believe that Stu is. I believe that he exists.

There’s a book written by Allan Bérubé called ‘Coming Out Under Fire’, which Yank! Is very closely based on. Reading that book has helped me buy into the reality. Although Stu doesn’t factually exist, I’ve learned so much about him and so many things from him. At the same time, I’m able to do a tap number and sing some great songs, which always helps!

You’re reprising the role of Stu in London following the production’s run in Manchester. Is there a part of you that wishes you could play and explore a different role within the musical?

I think I will always see myself as Stu. I’m very similar to him in so many ways. I relate to him so much that I couldn’t see myself not being Stu in this story.

That being said, as an actor, I would love to try some of the other roles. There are some parts that are obviously very wrong for me, but I would love to give them a go. But for me, I’m very attached to Stu, and leaving him behind in Manchester was a strange process for me, but I’m so happy I get to revisit and learn more from him In London.

* Scott’s stage credits include Cinderella (Trinity Theatre), Grease (European tour) and Howard Goodall’s The Kissing Dance.

Readers may also be interested in:

Yank! – Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester – Review

Full cast for London transfer of  Yank!News

www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk

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