Interview - Daniel Buckley (Eugenius!)

'I’ve been in the industry for 6 years, and I’ve never had this much confidence before. And it’s nothing to do with having a bigger role or having more to do, it’s purely to do with my character and the joy that he brings. He has totally influenced me as a person!' 

I'm speaking to Daniel Buckley, who is currently playing Feris in the new musical Eugenius!, which transferred to The Other Palace in January following a hugely successful concert production at the London Palladium. 

'I know my job and I know what I’m doing in this industry, but there may have been a couple of jobs which knocked my confidence a bit, subconsciously' Buckley tells me, 'but this job solved that, and I’m feeling in a totally different place now because of this job, and I will always be grateful for that.' It's certainly the case that Eugenius! promotes self confidence and self love. In the musical, Buckley plays Feris, the extroverted and imperturbable best friend of protagonist Eugene. The pair are polar opposites, but that's what makes them such a good fit. 

Buckley has been involved with Eugenius! since its highly publicised workshop at none other that the London Palladium, where he appeared opposite actors such as Summer Strallen, Amy Lennox, David Bedella, and of course Warwick Davis, who now acts solely as a producer on the show. Buckley's voice can also be heard on the Eugenius! cast album. Recalling how he first became involved in the show, Buckley says, 'I got a call for this workshop called Eugenius! which I’d never heard of. The brief they asked for was something really confident which shows off your high range.' When he was invited back to audition again and saw the material for the show he admits to falling in love with it immediately. He remembers seeing the initial cast being announced after finishing his final audition. 'I was like, "I need this job"’. 

Of course, he ended up bagging the part, which marked the start of a journey with the show which is still ongoing now. But what was it like to perform the musical in public for the first time at the Palladium? 'I was excited because workshops are usually a very closed door thing, they’re usually invited audience only, and it’s quite usually quite low key'. Of course, the Palladium workshop ended up garnering a lot of positive fanfare, and subsequently a run at The Other Palace was announced. 'The Palladium was such a hit, and they knew Eugenius! had legs, but that it needed work as well, and I was very lucky that they kept me on and they didn’t really want to consider anyone else for the part.' 

Daniel Buckley and the cast of Eugenius! 
Photo credit - Pamela Raith
It's evident that his role in Eugenius! has had a pretty big influence on Buckley, and so I ask whether he relates to his character at all, and if he considered himself to be a geek when he was in school. 'I definitely wasn’t a geek. I was popular and confident within my own circle of friends, but there were outside influences which weren’t very nice to me, so I do kind of relate to that.' He also proffers that, as an actor, he is susceptible to vulnerability. 'I certainly didn’t have his level of confidence, to stand up to people the way he does, but I’ve grown in confidence from this job.' It's impressive to see that a role can have such a notable impact on an actor, but in a musical like Eugenius! where the idea of being yourself is central to the story, it's hardly surprising. Having just seen another of London's newest musicals, Everyone's Talking About Jamie, Buckley notes some similarities in the themes and morals. 'The message is about being constant in who you are and believing in yourself, and there’ll always be people who want to bring you down, but you can’t let that drag you down. You have to rely on your friends and be there for each other.'

Another thing Buckley has noticed since appearing in the show is the enthusiastic word of mouth reputation it is getting. 'I haven’t spoken to a single person who hasn’t come out buzzing. They cannot help the way they feel when they come out of the auditorium.' And for an actor there must be very few things which are more rewarding than that. He continues, 'it's the best feeling in the world, because not only do we have a good time doing the show, but when we leave and see that reaction it keeps us on that high'. 

The cast of Eugenius!
Photo credit - Pamela Raith
Aside from the undeniable feelgood factor elicited at the end of Eugenius! another element which contributes to its popularity is the fact that rides on the fact that pop culture is in the grip of an 80s throwback at the moment. I wonder if being immersed in the world of Eugenius! has given Daniel Buckley an insight into why that might be. He actually has a pretty good explanation for the phenomenon. 'In the 80s anything went, and it was such a creative time. We were seeing people for who they really were, and everyone’s imagination was going wild. You were seeing lots of kids get represented, who were realistic; they swore, they spoke vulgarly about themselves and other people, and people were interested in that. And I think people are nostalgic for that now.' 

And what about people who don't embrace the 80s throwbacks quite as heartily? 'You can look back at any of the amazing cult films and the massive franchises, and you will see every single character represented in all those films. There’s a geek, there’s a stock jock, a bully, an outcast, and what the writers Chris [Wilkins] and Ben [Adams] have done is drawn from all of those things and put them into this show. People think that we’re whacking you with every stereotype, but that’s because all of those stereotypes are in all of those films too.' He elaborates, using Stranger Things as an example. 'You’re watching what would have been represented in Stand By Me and Back To The Future. There were monsters and alternative worlds, and sci-fi and magic, and horror, there was all of those things.' So, I wonder, how do the actors in Eugenius! channel the spirit of 80s movies in their individual performances? 'I’ve had times where I think I’m doing too much and all I have to do it go and look at one of those films from the 80s, like The Goonies, all the performances are massive, and they work because of that. Everything is so heightened. And that’s what our director Ian [Talbot] kept saying; we’re not doing Shakespeare or Ibsen, we’re doing a fun silly show, which is full of nostalgia, and we need to keep it up there to keep the buzz.'

Daniel Buckley, Laura Baldwin and Liam Forde in Eugenius!
Photo credit - Pamela Raith
Eugenius! may very well be a fun show which clearly doesn't take itself too seriously, but despite a huge amount of praise for the 80s nostalgia-fest, a streak of criticism which ran through many print and online reviews was the way which women were presented in the musical, which features a character named Super Hot Lady, who is designed by the musical's likable protagonist Eugene, but still comes across as hypersexualised by today's standards. There's also a seedy movie industry bigwig called Lex, who's attitude towards women is highly inappropriate. Buckley is keen to shed some light on the inclusion and treatment of these characters, saying 'we had conversations in rehearsals, when we dealt with certain scenes, about whether they were appropriate. But the writers aren’t condoning that behaviour, they’re commenting on it and acknowledging that it happened.'

When I reviewed the show I wrote about an uncomfortable subplot geaturing Buckley's character Feris lying to actress Carrie Carter (aka Super Hot Lady) about being an agent, in order to try and seduce her. Buckley informs me that in response to critical feedback, that storyline has completely changed. 'A 17 year old boy pretending to be something that he’s not in order to achieve that jarred with the writer, so now what happens is that she assumes that he’s a movie star in another movie, and he rolls with that'. It's heartening to hear that at a time when the treatment of women in the entertainment industry is such a hot topic, the writers are willing to listen to the reviews and comments being made, and respond by adapting the piece. Buckley explains that 'at the end of the day the show still needs nurturing, and it’s progressing, and to ignore those comments would be ignorant.'

Eugenius! is currently running at The Other Palace, a theatre which is dedicated to discovering, developing and reimagining musical theatre. Given the musical's evolving storyline and ever growing fan base, it seems like the perfect venue. So why should audiences book a ticket? Buckley finishes our conversation with the following statement... 'I can't profess to every single moment of the show being everyone’s cup of tea, and I can’t say to people, oh it’s 80s, or it’s superheroes, or it’s comic books, or it’s sci-fi. All I can say is that it’s retro and it’s fun, and come and see how it makes you feel.'