Back in 2020, Chris Ryan received a call from Director Simon Phillips. ‘Simon said, you’re my choice to workshop this new musical of mine.’ And when Phillips calls, there’s really only one answer.
At this point Ryan had worked with Phillips once before, on 2019’s Shakespeare in Love. ‘I immediately felt a kinship with his sense of humour. He’s the sort of director that I feel quite free to be a bit stupid and often in that stupidity, some really good stuff comes out.’
The source material for the new musical wasn’t what Ryan expected, however. After reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s Come Rain or Come Shine he thought, ‘how is this going to manifest as a musical?’ But when they entered the rehearsal room it all made sense. ‘I saw how Tim’s music wove its way through the narrative and I really understood their vision for it. They were creating something a little bit quirky, very much in the spirit of the book,’ he says. ‘And I think the heartfelt parts of the story really fulfill that classic musical theatre feeling,’ he adds.
What’s more, according to Ryan, is the music is part of the tapestry of the storytelling. ‘It’s so ingrained,’ Ryan says. ‘It’s not something that sits outside of the storytelling.’ He thinks this will be surprising for audiences. ‘The music and lyrics come through the dialogue and the dialogue bleeds into the music.’ And though performing conversations through songs can feel slightly unnatural for him and is challenging, ‘merging between the two states is really fun.’
Angus Grant, Gillian Cosgriff and Chris Ryan in Come Rain or Come Shine. Photo: Jeff Busby
Beauty amongst the madness
Ryan plays the charismatic, yet slightly smug, Charlie, who we first meet as a university student. He is almost the polar opposite to his flatmate Ray – a jazz-loving, humanities student. Charlie prefers The Knack over the classics from the Great American Songbook and is studying economics. The latter he shares with Emily. And though Emily bonds with Ray over their mutual love for the jazz standards, when we encounter the trio thirty years later – still all friends – it is Charlie and Emily who are married. They are high-flyers in London, both working in finance, and Ray has been living in Spain teaching English.
‘It’s a beautiful story of friendship, really,’ Ryan says. ‘Ray is a beautiful guy at the centre of it, who despite perhaps not ending up with the person that he really wanted to end up with, and whose life took a very different path, he remains this strong and constant friend to them, which I think is really beautiful amongst all the madness of the show.’ Ryan also says that the show explores a dilemma many reach in their mid-life. ‘The sweet spot for the show is capturing that moment in time where you're young enough to feel like you're the same person you were in youth, but old enough to be terrified. Like life might not have worked out exactly as you planned it.’
Chris Ryan in Come Rain or Come Shine. Photo: Jeff Busby
Interestingly, Ryan employs a Zen-like focus to play Charlie. ‘Charlie doesn’t overthink things. He says the first thing that comes into his mind. He thinks he’s God’s gift to solving every problem in the world.’ Which is a challenge for Ryan. ‘I have a lot of self-critiquing going on in my brain, so I try to come in with a Zen-like focus to try and keep out any of my own self-judging voices because I just don’t think he does it.’
It’s also been a bit of fun playing such a spirited character. ‘I think Charlie is someone who has never really grown up. He has stayed a particular age, like a teenager or in his early 20s really,’ Ryan says. ‘I think I was quite like that when I was younger, but I have well and truly shed that skin.’ Ryan says he remembers that time of being completely carefree and believing all his ideas were brilliant. ‘So I’ve been tapping back into that time, which is great fun.’
Angus Grant and Chris Ryan in Come Rain or Come Shine. Photo: Jeff Busby
And with a story that covers emotional terrain and high-comedy in equal measure, Ryan knows that audiences will almost be another character in the show. ‘In a story so bonkers the audience is a really vital element,’ he says. ‘When you feel an audience going on the ride with you it gives you great confidence to really commit to the absurdity and the farce elements.’ Something particularly important for playing Charlie. ‘He is so fast-thinking on his feet, it will be vital for me to really bounce off the audience every night and try new things … within the realm of the show’s premise, of course.’
Come Rain or Come Shine is on stage until 23 July at Southbank Theatre.
Published on 13 July 2022