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The final say: Actor Barry Haywood on his purrfect role in Cats

The Newcastle-born actor has been part of Cats for 18 years, on and off and is looking forward to the show's Theatre Royal run

Actor Barry Haywood (left) with Nicholas Pounder
Actor Barry Haywood (left) with Nicholas Pounder

I was born in High Heaton and grew up on Longbenton estate which isn’t there any more... you can’t even park without a permit these days.

 

I had a bit of a broken home life in Newcastle. There aren’t many happy memories from that time. I was on my own a lot and so often took the easiest option, as teenagers do. I’m sad I wasted my school days.

 

I’m one of the rare Geordies who couldn’t stand football. At my school, if you didn’t like football there wasn’t anything else to choose and I hated it for a long time because of that.

 

I never had anything to do with the theatre. I was married young, had a child and moved down south with my wife and daughter to try and better ourselves. I was training to be a mental nurse.

 

When my marriage broke up, I ended up in Brighton doing construction. I was feeling low because I didn’t have any mates or anything and then someone told me a local amateur theatre company were looking for someone to build sets and things.

 

There was this huge network of theatre and opera companies. It wasn’t long before I got dragged into a production of Cabaret because they were short of men to play Nazis. It was ironic because I look quite Jewish.

 

After that, they asked me to audition for Pirates of Penzance. After the second rehearsal, they suggested I had singing lessons because they thought I could do well.

 

I applied to lots of drama schools and got accepted to a couple, but I couldn’t get a grant. In those days it was all about the Equity card so me and some mates got together and did a close harmony cabaret act to get ours.

 

My first professional job was in a tour of Jesus Christ Superstar, and then I found myself often covering people in lead roles.

 

In the business we call ourselves swings, but it’s a role more generally known as the understudy.

 

You’ve got to have a different mentality, a certain kind of mindset to do that job. People always assume if you’re the understudy it’s because you weren’t good enough to get the role, which isn’t true.

 

It’s easier to cast one role or the other than it is to find someone who can cover more than one.

 

I’ve been involved with Cats for 18 years on and off in London and all over Europe and the UK. I love the show so I don’t mind doing it a lot.

 

People say ‘what else have you done?’ I have done other things but it seems that every time Cats comes up I’ve been available.

 

I cover two of the main characters - the two old cats in the company. I go on for Old Deuteronomy sometimes and Gus, the Theatre Cat. They’re the big costume cats. They are more dramatic pieces than dance. I’ve had a fair whack at them over the years.

 

It’s unlike anything else because it’s based solely on the book of poetry, out of which they have created this dramatic piece. It’s a feast for the ears and eyes.

 

I think this might be my last tour, though. I’m 55 now and I’m starting to feel it.

 

There have been lots of bits and pieces in between. I’ve done the odd bit of opera,but Andrew Lloyd Webber has paid my mortgage really through Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar, Whistle Down the Wind.

 

I’ve definitely been a jobbing actor and I’ve had my lean spells over the years. It’s always feast or famine but you get by and I’ve always got my DIY skills to fall back on.

 

I’ll never forget the first time I stepped on stage at the Theatre Royal. It was in a production of Joseph and I couldn’t believe I was there. I remembered being up in the gods when I was eight or something with my mam... I never thought I’d ever be doing that myself.

 

I’ve never been into the fame thing. It’s nice to be admired by your peers but I can imagine the celebrity thing would drive me mad. I like my privacy too much.

 

I don’t do Facebook and Twitter. Email, telephone and text is more than enough.

 

Cats comes to Newcastle Theatre Royal from July 1 to 12. For tickets call 08448 11 21 21 or visit www.theatreroyal.co.uk

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