Charlie, Lola and Kevin in Norwich
Actor Kevin James is on tour so much that he rarely gets a chance to spend time at home in Norfolk — but now he is back with children's show Charlie and Lola. ABIGAIL SALTMARSH caught up with him.
When Kevin James signed up to do a Computer Science degree at UEA he had no idea his future would see him on national tour standing on stage among some of the best-loved children's characters.
Kevin, 34, who was born in Norwich and grew up in Dereham, had been passionate about the stage as a child but when it came to looking for a career, thought he would head into IT.
'When I was 12, my neighbour was stage manager for an amateur theatre group and asked me if I wanted to help make a set. I loved it and for 10 years took part in productions and helped out backstage,' he remembers.
'It was initially just a hobby — but when I went off to university I realised I enjoyed it much more than the Com-puter Science, and wanted my life to go in that direction.'
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Kevin completed his UEA course but then began working front of house and in the box office at the Theatre Royal, while he also took a part-time theatre course in London.
Since then, he has worked in various roles, on and off the stage and screen.
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A versatile character actor, his recent projects in children's productions include appearances in Babe the Sheep-Pig, Jacqueline Wilson's Double Act, and Charlotte's Web, and in panto, in various comic guises, in Cinderella, Snow White, Peter Pan and Aladdin.
'I like to do both adults and children's productions,' he said. 'It is fun doing shows like Charlie and Lola, where it may well be the first time a child has been to the theatre.
'It is nice to see them enjoying themselves and thinking it will encourage them to enjoy going to the theatre again in the future.'
Other roles have included the national tour of Tess Of The D'Urbervilles, an adaptation of the Marguerite Duras thriller A Place Without Doors, and parts in the Sunsets And Mornings, The Illustrated Games People Play, at the Westminster Theatre in London, The Blue Monologues, at the Shaw Theatre, and I Am Star Trek, at the Edinburgh Festival.
Next year, he is due to appear in the UK premiere of Michel Marc Bouchard's drama Lilies and to play the part of a wizard in film Bogo and Flit.
'I am looking forward to doing more film work,' he said. 'I like doing lots of different things.'
And he added: 'When I played Babe, it was the first time I had worked as a puppeteer. It is very different but I did enjoy it.'
In Charlie and Lola's Best Bestest Play, which runs at the Norwich Playhouse from November 29 to December 11, Kevin plays Soren Lorenson, Lola's imaginary friend.
Suitable for children under the age of seven, the large-scale puppet show is based on the popular children's books by Lauren Child, and was originally created for Polka Theatre in 2009. In the production, created by acclaimed theatre group Watershed, two and three dimensional worlds mingle as the audience finds out if Lola will ever tidy her room or if Charlie will get her to sleep, even though she is not sleepy and will not go to bed.
The puppets, which look like the storybook characters, have the puppeteers behind them. Soren only appears in full colour when Lola is alone. If anyone else is there, he is in monochrome.
'Puppetry is different from other theatre because you are making the puppet act rather than acting yourself, and you have to move it in such a way that the audience is convinced,' he said. 'It works really well here and children do love this show.'
With the first two weeks of this Charlie and Lola tour being in Norwich, Kevin is looking forward to spending some time at home. Then he is off again, travelling round the UK.
'I do only get to spend about a month of every year in Norfolk but I am very proud to be able to make a living from this,' he said.
'I have never regretted making that change of direction. I love what I do.'
n Charlie and Lola's Best Bestest Play is at the Norwich Playhouse from November 29-December 11, �10, �8.50 groups of 10+, 01603 598598 or visit www.norwichplayhouse.co.uk.
WHO ARE CHARLIE & LOLA?
Charlie and Lola are characters created by author Lauren Child. The siblings were originally introduced in a series of books that were later made into a television series. Despite being primarily aimed at children aged 3–7, the books and shows have proved popular with adults.
The first Charlie and Lola book, I Will Not Ever Never Eat a Tomato, published in 2001, won the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal.
Charlie is seven — he likes rockets, making racing cars and playing football with his friend Marv, who lives downstairs. Lola is four, but very nearly five. She likes pink milk, chimpanzees and her best friend Lotta. She is fascinated by everything and very independent. As they come up against life's daily problems (be it a spider or learning how to share), they use their own method of problem solving: imagination and fantasy.