INTERVIEW: Luke Bayer chats all things Fiver, Jamie & the importance of supporting new British musicals

Photo Credit: Danny with a camera

Luke Bayer is currently starring in exciting new musical Fiver, which follows the story of a humble five pound note as it passes through the hands and pockets of people in London. Luke is perhaps best known for his portrayal of alternate Jamie New in the smash hit musical, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, where he was part of the original West End Cast. More recently he has been performing in a number of cabaret shows and concerts showcasing his incredible vocal prowess, whist collaborating with various West End stars.

We chatted to Luke about what audiences can expect from Fiver, why he thinks Jamie connects with such a wide cross section of people and tells why it’s absolutely crucial that audiences support new British musicals.

You are currently starring in new British musical Fiver at the Southwark Playhouse. Can you tell us a bit about the show? So the basic premise of Fiver is all about human connection via a five pound note. How many times do we look at money and think, I wonder where this has been before it came to me? It’s about intertwining people’s stories and lives to the backdrop of some incredible music but it’s also really moving and very funny. It’s such a genius idea because it’s so simple and original and I actually think the things that do well these days are those that are relatable and real, and that’s what this show is.

How did you come to get involved with the show? This is a funny story because I wasn’t originally involved at all. I did know about it as one of my best friends, Hiba (Elchikhe) has been involved with the project since the beginning, and I knew Alex (James Ellison) and Tom (Lees) the writers. I was actually performing in Main Men of Musicals at Cadogan Hall on the 31st May and Alex called me, and was like “hey do you want to do Fiver?” I had to check my schedule but I knew if I could make it work I wanted to be involved. So in the end I kind of accepted it on the premise that I would be working with Dan (Buckley), Hiba, Alex and Tom. I have always wanted to do something at Southwark Playhouse and I love new writing. It was all such a whirlwind after that, I accepted the job and we had the press pictures the next day! When we had our first sing through the music was stunning and I was like boom – I made absolutely the right decision to get involved.

Why should people come and see Fiver? People should come and see it because it’s new and people should support new British theatre. There are so many shows that don’t originate over here, and don’t get me wrong, I love all the American transfers but I think it’s so important to support smaller productions. I always try to support new things if I can and that is the one of the reasons I would say come and see it. It’s such a beautiful piece, the cast are amazing, and everyone is lovely and can properly sing! It’s nice when something is so raw and it’s amazing as an actor to have the freedom to make choices, which is only really possible when you are part of an original cast. We have the freedom to put our own slant on things, sing how we like to sing, and I think it’s really exciting to see something in the first stages. We have already had people come to see the show like five or six times which is really cute.

You were part of the original West End cast of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. What is it about the show that you think connects with so many people? I think Jamie connects with audiences on such a wide level because it’s a show about inclusion and everyone is welcome. It’s about being who you want to be and it validates people’s unique differences and celebrates them, so everyone can relate to it on some level. It’s a real musical for today, the music is so catchy and poppy and it’s also a true story, you’ve got the real Jamie who comes and supports the show so it has a real close family feel. It’s amazing as a performer in the show to see all these youngsters come together and find their ‘people’. The representation helps them gain the confidence to be themselves which I think is so important. There are also a lot of young people who come along with their parents and then decide to come out afterwards. I think, certainly from the parents’ point of view the show allows them to see things from a different angle, which helps with the acceptance. Jamie also has an incredibly diverse cast and celebrates all kinds of talent which is wonderful – there are just so many good things going for that show.

Is there a common quality that you feel you’ve given to or taken from the role of Jamie? As a character Jamie is very clear about what he wants to achieve but he’s got all these walls blocking him. I think having played Jamie, my outlook has changed and my confidence has grown and I now have the guts to put myself out there. Having the opportunity to tell that story has helped me knock down some of my own walls.

In terms of taking something from Jamie, definitely the importance of kindness. I always felt like when you come out of stage door you are representing the Jamie brand and therefore it’s so important to be kind and gracious. I love talking to people anyway, I can stay at stage at stage door for hours and suddenly think, oh god I need to go home because I’ve got two shows tomorrow, I need to rest my voice! Also, you never know what someone else is going through, so don’t be a douche! You could be that person who flippantly says something to someone sending them on a downward spiral of feeling crap about themselves. So if you can be nice, be nice!

You are building up quite the fan base, on social media in particular, how do you feel that helps you as a performer? I am so grateful for all the people that support me and come to see all the things I do. This is such a tough industry and the audition process can be brutal. To know that I have got people who are rooting for me whether or not I get the job is incredible and I feel very lucky. I think social media is amazing, there are so many good things that can come from it, but you also have to be very aware of the flip side. It’s so easy for words to be misconstrued. I always try to respond to as many people as I can because I truly appreciate the support. It can be very difficult to get back to everyone without sitting on my phone all day which I consciously try not to do – I do my best though! I am very grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way since Jamie. I have gone for jobs recently and people on social media have been really rooting for me. When I haven’t got them it can very hard because I feel like not only have I let myself down, but all these other people as well. I have to really take a step back and remind myself that sometimes it’s so out of my control. I’ve had to learn that as long as I’m happy with my audition that sometimes has to be enough.

Performing is such a hard industry and can be very cut throat. How do you cope with the audition process and the inevitable highs and lows that come with it? Just before I got Jamie I was going to quit; I left my agent and I thought I seriously can’t do this anymore, it’s too hard. I signed with a new agent but knew it was my last bit of fight, Jamie was my last audition and I had decided that if I didn’t get it I was done. I got Jamie after two auditions and was offered it in the room, it was insane and a complete blur. I did so many incredible things with the show. Children in Need, West End Live, Pride, and I just feel so unbelievably lucky. I think I will always forever be associated with that show which I am really proud of.  It’s so weird how things work out, and it’s kind of taught me that’s what’s for you won’t pass you by.

It’s also so important to stay tuned into the real world and not always feel like you need to talk about auditions and work, because that’s what it is – its work. It’s so important to go out and live your life and have fun, even when you’re in a job and working! As performers we’re so grateful to be performing and we LOVE it but we’re only human and sometimes need to treat ourselves to a bath or a chilled night just to regroup. After Fiver I am going on holiday for a week with my family, and my best friend Chloe. I am really excited for that, I haven’t been on a family holiday for years. I am so looking forward to just sitting in the sunshine, drinking 25 gin and tonics a day and having a great time. So I think it’s important to have a balance.

You have been doing a few concerts recently, how do these compare long term musicals and which do you prefer? Good question! I love both to be honest. I love doing concerts because I sometimes meet people who I haven’t worked with or wouldn’t get the chance to work with. For example I did Godspell a few weeks ago with Laura Baldwin who is in Waitress and Rachel John. I literally had the best day with them; we all got on so well and had such a laugh. Laura bought me a Nando’s, so obviously we’re now best friends! That’s the way to my heart by the way so everyone take note! Also, when I do my own concerts I get to sing with guests of my choosing, so it’s a completely different vibe. That said, I do love being in a show and the buzz of getting on the stage every day. It’s kind of thrilling sometimes when you are a bit tired or not feeling it because those are the days you find something new in your performance. I remember once on Jamie my voice was so tired and John (McCrea) was off so I went on and the the Dance Captain and Resident Director actually said I think that’s one of the best shows you’ve ever done. It’s so funny how everyone’s perception is different, because I didn’t think it was because I was so conscious of my voice.

What has been your biggest career highlight to date? Obviously Jamie is absolutely up there. I’m on Ackley Bridge this week which is amazing; I literally had the best time. I booked that on a bit of a whim and I did the self tape for it in my auntie’s kitchen as I was doing a workshop at the time in London. Honestly if showed you the footage you would wet yourself laughing, it’s hilarious! We did it at about 12 o’clock at night and my auntie is really posh and kept saying “Luke, your taps are getting sloppy now because you’re tired, hurry up, we need to go to bed”. So I really didn’t think I would get it. I can dance but I trained at Mountview, not somewhere like Bird College where you do full out dancing and I’ve not done tap since I was at Mountview! I had the best time doing that show and it has opened my eyes to TV and I would love to do more of it.

If you could change just one thing about the industry with the wave of a magic wand, what would it be? I would love for there to be better access to more new work. I think it’s really hard, especially in this country, to get funding. I am not hugely familiar with the producing side of it but from what people say it’s so hard to get people to fund and support new writing. Whereas in America I think there is a much bigger appetite to back new work.

How and when did you start believing in your own work and talent? That’s a good question and a funny one because I think when you are at drama school with 40 other people, you’re always insecure and convinced you’re the worst of the group. I used to be so worried about my voice cracking or people thinking I was rubbish and I think I got to a point where I thought; there is more to life than this. I think it’s so important to do this job because you enjoy it and I always say that to younger people when they ask me for advice. The moment I started doing that the belief in myself came through. I think you also have to allow yourself off days and accept that you’re only human.  It’s never as bad as you think it is, so you’ve got to learn to forgive yourself. I would say that realisation has come more recently for me, and even having done concerts in London I was worried about singing and that it would be rubbish but I eventually learnt that it’s a wasted energy and it’s all about enjoying my performance and being happy with it in my own mind.

What was the last thing you saw at the theatre and what do you wish you had seen but missed? The last thing was probably Les Misérables. I went to see my friend Amara Okereke who was playing Cosette and she was INCREDIBLE – she’s an absolute star. I missed The Ferryman and it was next door! I also missed The Inheritance because we had the same show schedule and I didn’t have any holiday left – so gutted!

We then asked Luke some Dress Circle Antics quick fire questions…

Sondheim or Lloyd Webber – Sondheim

Broadway or West End – Broadway

Who would play you in the story of your life – Lucky Blue Smith, he’s taller than me and a model, so I choose him!

Dream Role – Something that’s not been written yet although I do want to a gender swap Little Shop of Horrors

Favourite musical number – You Don’t Know, Next to Normal

Go to audition song – Flight by Craig Carnelia

Favourite musical – Once on This Island

Your inspiration growing up – My sister and Kerry Ellis

Tell us something no one knows about you – A few people know this because I talked about it at my concert but I killed my sister’s hamster when I was little. I squeezed it to death because it bit me! So don’t mess with me!

Fiver runs at the Southwark Playhouse until Saturday 20 July. However, at the time of publication the remaining performances have now sold out.

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